I have seen the future of newsprint, and it's in The Slammer, literally.
Indeed, with all the bitching and moaning in the bloody Fourth Estate about layoffs, the Web, and the end of newsprint, here's a weekly newspaper that appears to be thriving at a dollar a pop, for sale in convenience stores throughout the greater Phoenix area, and soon to expand to Tucson, according to its North Carolina-based editor and publisher Isaac Cornetti.
Cornetti's tabloid is kinda sorta like a local version of the SmokingGun.com, without the celebs and legal docs. SmokingGun.com does have a section for mugshots of regular ol' offenders. But they tend to cherry-pick unusual shots and eye-candy. If anything, The Slammer is, well, indiscriminate, featuring page after page of the great unwashed, many of them freshly plucked from the files of Maricopa County law enforcement, in particular from -- you guessed it -- the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Via phone from Raleigh, NC, Cornetti admitted that he gets a good deal of his content from the MCSO, simply by lifting it off the sheriff's Web site. But the MCSO does cooperate with him, he says, as do other law enforcement entities, coughing up pics of their most wanted as well. Gratis, of course.
"We rely on them to provide that information," said Cornetti. "The majority of our mugshots come from the sheriff's office."
I couldn't help but notice an ad on page two of the pub that states "Welcome Maricopa County," and features a pic of Sheriff Joe in his uniform and a background shot of what looks like a courthouse in, um, North Carolina. Cornetti insists there was no tit-for-tat involving the mugshots and Joe's little ad, which he said The Slammer put up on its own without prompting from our corrupt top constable.
On the other hand, it can't help but keep The Slammer on Joe's good side, though, Cornetti joked that the MCSO would probably prefer the entire back page.
(Don't give 'em any ideas, Isaac. And if you do, make 'em pay from the pink underwear fund.)
Cornetti said he got the idea for The Slammer from a similar publication he spotted in Florida, and that they've been going gangbusters since starting up in 2007, with a circulation of 50,000 in three areas of the Tar Heel State. The expansion to Phoenix occurred around twelve weeks ago, spurred by the area's "robust growth." So far, the circ here is 10,000, and climbing.
Though not all the photos are local, Cornetti, who operates under the nom de slime "Dash Dangerfield" on the masthead, is inventive in the way he packages the mugshots. Features include everything from a "Slammer Salon" rife with bad hair-dos, to two-page spreads of "Celebrity Lookalikes," with ringers for stars such as Laura Dern, Chris Farley, William Hurt, Winona Ryder, and the Octomom. There've also been spreads of mom and kid-killers for a Mother's Day spread, and one titled "Newlywed, Newly DEAD," spotlighting brides who've killed grooms, grooms who've offed brides, and newlyweds slain by others.
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Lurid? In poor taste? Icky? Why, all of the above. Plus, you might just see someone you went to high school with. And you can peruse it for free on ye ol' Interweb.
Interestingly, according to a write up Cornetti received in Raleigh's paper of record The News and Observer, he did some time in his youth for "larceny, marijuana possession, and breaking and entering." Asked how he would've felt to see his mug in print back then, he replied that he probably would've found it amusing at the time.
While I'm sure some will be concerned about the rights of the accused, such as they are in this day and age, I'm afraid I can't get too worked up about that. I know, for instance, if I ever get collared for DUI, I can pretty much expect that some blogger will post my jailhouse snapshot. That's the world we live in, and I wouldn't care to see such public records circumscribed.
Okay, maybe The Slammer won't save newsprint. But it would be fun to see Joe Arpaio's mugshot in there for real some day. Or at least Chief Deputy David Hendershott. And the way things are going with the SCA scandal, that might be a real possibility.