(Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the mugshots were not removed. Instead, they are no longer being used as leading photos.)
Flint, MI — Controversy struck following MLive.com-The Flint Journal’s recent coverage surrounding the arrests and convictions of three Michigan House of Representatives candidates – mainly because of the use of candidate mugshots in two of three stories that ran on Jan. 2, 2020.
While MLive did not remove the mugshots, they did include campaign photos of 34th District State Rep. candidates Sean Croudy and Vincent Lang in response to the backlash. A story was also written about candidate, Michael Clack, but the news agency used a courtesy photograph of Clack instead of a mugshot.
The issue caused community outcry on social media and moved the Flint/Saginaw Association of Black Journalists (FSABJ) to issue a press statement and reach out to MLive leaders in the Flint office. The statement said the use of mugshots and content of the stories on the past arrests of black, male candidates is of concern.
“Newsrooms have a moral responsibility to report accurately using ethical standards and reporting fairly without bias,” said FSABJ President Ebony Stith in a press statement issued on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. “I am glad I was able to talk with Flint Journal’s news leadership to open the dialogue on how we can better serve the Flint and Saginaw community in reporting stories that matter.” Stith said she spoke with MLive leaders the day following the incident.FSNABJ President Letter to Mlive
In the past, MLive has reported the criminal records of political candidates as a standard practice which Flint resident and business owner Dorian Jackson said he understands but three articles and the use of mugshots in one day, he said was overwhelming.
“I think a lot of people were just upset and saw the injustice in it,” Jackson said. “I understand the need to do background checks on candidates but the use of the mugshots pissed me off. People are going to remember the mugshots when they go to vote. That’s what people do and unfortunately that’s what people do when it comes to black men.”
Jackson is supporting Santino Guerra, who is also running for the 34th District seat, but made a Facebook post saying the news coverage of Croudy was unfair.
“The original post that I made has been shared more than 200 times,” Jackson said. “It’s crazy. It’s taken a life of its own. It’s been shared by everybody, not just blacks, everybody.”
MLive leaders acknowledge that while it is the responsibility of the media to report on the backgrounds of candidates in an election, especially their criminal history, outlets “should publish contemporary photos of the candidates instead of or alongside their mug shots, particularly when the arrests occurred years ago.”
“We thank the Flint/Saginaw Association of Black Journalists for bringing their concerns to us,” said Clark Hughes, MLive Regional News Manager, in a statement sent to Flint Beat on Monday, Jan. 6. 2020.
“In the past, The Flint Journal and other MLive locations across Michigan have used booking mug shots in stories of candidates and their criminal histories, as they are part of the story. After hearing from the FSABJ, we agreed that we should also run the candidates’ campaign photos. We took the feedback to heart and made a change that we feel is in the best interests of the reader and of the candidates.” The mugshots were moved the following day.
Stith said she spoke with MLive.com-The Flint Journal Newsroom Leader John Counts about her concerns and gave suggestions on how to better report these things in the future, according to the FSABJ press statement. FSABJ also made a request for a more well-rounded approach to reporting, suggesting that future stories include voter comments and context to the individuals’ lives and achievements since their arrests.
Croudy said he agreed with FSABJ’s statement surrounding MLive’s coverage of the matter but declined to make any additional remarks. Lang, did not immediately respond.
Flint Beat Publisher and Editor, Jiquanda Johnson, said editors have the task of making hard decisions in the newsroom, especially with sensitive issues like crime and race.
“It’s important to know your community,” Johnson said. “No newsroom is perfect but being willing to listen and make changes is what is important in this journey. Flint is a predominantly black city that struggles with a number of systemic issues. I am happy to see that MLive made the necessary adjustments and I hope that it doesn’t impact the Jan. 7 primary election.” Johnson is also a member of FSABJ.
There are 11 candidates running for the 34th District State Representative’s seat including Clack, Croudy, Lang and Guerra, who serves on the Flint City Council. Flint residents Charis Lee, Candice Mushatt. Cynthia Neeley, Sherwood Pea and Claudia Perkins-Milton are vying for the seat along with Flint City Council member Monica Galloway. Adam Ford is the sole republican candidate running unopposed during the Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 special primary election.
The candidates are hoping to finish out the term left open by Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley after he won the 2019 mayoral race against Dr. Karen Weaver.
After the Jan. 7 primary, a special election to be held during Michigan’s presidential primary election on March 10, 2020 will determine who takes the seat. The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Sheldon Neeley’s term in the House, which ends Dec. 31, 2020.
To win a full two-year term, they will have to run again in an Aug. 4, 2020 primary election and Nov. 3, 2020 general election.
(Note: Flint Beat Publisher and Editor Jiquanda Johnson is an active member of Flint/Saginaw Association of Black Journalists.)