Professor Matt Waite featured in Fusion’s documentary on mugshot websites

Professor Matt Waite featured in Fusion’s documentary on mugshot websites

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - 7:00pm
Matt Waite
Matt Waite

University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications professor of practice Matt Waite was featured in Fusion’s “The Naked Truth” series episode on mug shot websites because of his expertise building one of the first bots to generate such a site.

In 2009, Waite was working as a reporter and computer programmer for the Tampa Bay Times as news organizations were beginning to create mug shot gallery websites as a way to generate revenue. Waite and his team created a software bot that would gather the images from law enforcement websites and drop them into the newspaper’s gallery.

The Tampa Bay Times would be one of the first major daily newspapers to create a mug shot gallery, and the editors would quickly realize the danger in what they had created.

“We immediately recognized that we’re basically creating a digital scarlet letter here,” Waite said in the documentary, “and it will be the first result in Google for anybody’s name any time ever and none of us are comfortable with that.”

Fusion correspondent Natasha Del Toro traveled across the country to interview several experts on the subject for the eight-part piece, including Waite in Nebraska and Neil Brown, the executive editor of the Tampa Bay Times. In “Mugged: Inside the Shady Industry that Profits on Mugshot Photos” she looked to answer the question “Where’s the line between what’s newsworthy and what’s profitable exploitation of arrestees who may have done nothing wrong?” according to the Fusion’s YouTube channel.

“Some places see it as a business opportunity and a reflection of the times we’re in and the desperate need for revenue,” Waite said in the documentary, “and the arguments of that is journalism and a public service are really thin and not ones as a journalist that you can latch onto.”

Before joining the CoJMC faculty, Waite was an award-winning reporter and programmer. Waite developed Politifact, a website that fact checks what politicians says, became the first website to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Before becoming a web developer, he was an award-winning investigative reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and St. Petersburg Times. In 2009, he co-founded Hot Type Consulting, a company that builds applications for media outlets.

At the CoJMC, Waite founded the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Drone Journalism Lab, the first drone journalism lab in the country. In September, he obtained a manned-aircraft pilot’s license so the lab can obtain federal permission to fly drones outside again. The lab is now waiting on the FAA’s approval of its application.

“The Naked Truth” series is a new documentary series that debuted this year on Fusion, in which the network’s investigative team produces digital, social and documentary content about major issues in the United States. Fusion is a “media brand for a young, diverse and inclusive world,” according to their website.

To watch the documentary,