All Mugshots, All the Time: A New Small Town Newspaper

4:17 PM, Sep 3, 2010   |    comments
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If Bad and Busted is not the most popular newspaper in Oconee County, it may nonetheless have the most buzz.  

"Newspapers are tanking, and this is one that appears to be successful," said Sheriff Scott Berry.

Bad and Busted is a very thin 12 to 16 page tabloid with a very simple concept:  It publishes the names and the charges and the photographs of the recently arrested.  It has five editions that cover 28 counties in northeast Georgia

The publisher is an Oconee County resident who won't show his face and wouldn't speak with us unless we withheld his name.  

"I would imagine the draw is that probably a lot of people are real nosy and they want to know what their neighbors are doing," said the publisher, meeting with 11 Alive News at a Watkinsville coffee shop.

"They're all innocent until proven guilty," he said of those depicted in Bad and Busted.   Of the newspaper's name, he says "Well, that's just a trademark on a magazine.  We're in over twenty counties in northeast Georgia, and it's a catchy little name."

"I think there's a certain amount of public humiliation about having your picture in the newspaper like this or displayed anywhere else," said Scott Berry, the longtime sheriff of Oconee County, a bedroom community outside Athens.  He says for some suspects, the newspaper is worse than the jail time.

"I've had people come into the lobby waving (the newspaper)  in my face, very upset about it, absolutely more upset than about being in jail."

Berry says the newspaper uses public record and has a right to publish mug shots -- even when it gives equal space to suspects charged with vastly unequal crimes.  That rankles residents like Jacques Cooper, who says he was once arrested in Oconee for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket. 

"I figure if they have the bad and busted, why don't you put the Bad and Busted out for people who are in there for murder or something serious, or a felony charge? Why would you put people in there for simple stuff?   I have friends in (Bad and Busted) for misdemeanors, and it doesn't make any sense.  Why would you put people up like that?" asks Cooper.

The publisher says there's no irony in his refusal to show his face, which he conceals "because of safety issues and my family," while talking up a tabloid that features the faces of his neighbors.  He predicts his newspaper will expand to small towns across Georgia. 

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