Now That Dallas Got Busted, It's Boom Time for Mug Shot Magazines

Categories: Crime, Media
bustedbabes_screengrab.jpg
One of Busted's spokeswomen featured in its "Busted Babes" YouTube spot.
That Twitter feed of mug shots from Denton has been around for more than a year now, and online collections of goofy mug shots were all over well before that. But for dead-tree sentimentalists who love the feel of the newsprint as they flip through pages of miserable strangers, Dallas didn't have too much to offer. Until a few months ago, anyway.

Then came Mugly!, the Dallas edition of a mug shot newspaper from Austin, that's been serving up "the true face of crime in Texas" since January at a dollar an issue. Since March, though, the shame-rag market's gotten a little tighter since the arrival of Busted, which has local editions scattered across 10 states.

Busted's local edition covers Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Irving, and sticks to a template common to each of the papers: 20 pages of mug shots in a grid, broken up by special selections like "Clownin' and Frownin'" (the photos are mostly frowns) and the mug of the week. For some reason, there are also a few articles including entire paragraphs of words. Thankfully, though, they're printed in hard-to-read fonts on color backgrounds to dissuade you from breaking your eye contact with the tired, drunk and ashamed.

Busted's been around since at least late 2008 and was founded by a former real estate agent in Central Florida named Ryan Chief. I've left messages with Chief, hoping to hear more about his paper's local edition, but Chief told WBAP that Busted sells 11,000 copies at 250 spots around Dallas-Fort Worth. While Chief makes overtures at calling his newspaper a public service, or satisfying basic human curiosity, in past interviews he's been ready to admit he's pretty much just out to make a buck.

Chief stakes most of his public-service claims to Busted's page of registered sex offender mug shots. In a February interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chief points out that all he's doing is helping make public information easier to find. "It informs communities of recent arrests...By doing so, we're educating them on what's going on in their community," he told the newspaper.

In a Willamette Week story following the debut of Busted's Portland edition last year, Chief says, "I'd be bullshitting you if I didn't say we glamorized it just a little bit to make it a little interesting."

Some commenters on a 2008 post by Michigan blogger Luke McReynolds complained about being included in Busted even though they were never convicted -- though Busted's site says it's glad to issue retractions in those cases.

Whether they're worth much as a public safety measure or crime-fighting tool, plenty of mainstream newspapers run mug shot databases of their own. Brian Baugh, the University of North Texas student who built the DentonPolice Twitter, even used the feed as the basis for an academic paper on the dangers of "The Indiscriminate Release of Public Records to the Public during the Information Age," to quote his working title.

I'll have an update once Chief gets back to us, hopefully with more details on the local operation and how they make their editorial choices -- he might try telling us they're chosen at random, but this guy on page nine -- arrested for driving drunk with a kid in the car and wearing what looks to be a hospital gown -- can't be an accident.

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