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Journalistism jargon: Mug shot

I forget the particulars to this story, but here is my best recollection:

This is a prison mug shot of O.J. Simpson

While working as a sports reporter at the Hanover Evening Sun, I was helping coordinate a story and its layout. The coach was approaching a milestone win or was receiving some accolade. I called the school – again, I’m not sure which one it was – and asked someone in the athletic department if they had a “mug shot” of the coach.

The response was unexpected.

“My God, what happened?” the woman asked.

I said I was working on a story and she said she couldn’t believe the coach would have done anything wrong.

I started laughing.

This is a political mug shot of President Barack Obama.

She thought I meant police mug shot. I explained that I just meant I needed a photo of the coach’s face and that he was not in any legal hot water.

Like any industry, journalism has its own jargon. Every Wednesday, I hope to bring up some of the terms you would hear if you were sitting in the newsroom on a regular basis. We’ll look at words such as bonnet, capsule, cutline and slot, and provide you with their definitions and the reasons we use them.

So let’s start with mug shot.

This is a column mug shot the York Daily Record runs of Bill O'Reilly.

When you hear a journalist talking about a mug shot, we could be discussing a prison photograph, but it could be something as innocuous a small photo of any person’s face.

Newspapers often use those to help layer (jargon we’ll delve into at a later date, I promise) a story. We use mug shots of politicians, business leaders, sports stars and entertainers. But you don’t have to be famous to be in a mug shot. We could use them for nearly any source (ah, more jargon leaking in) or subject in a story.

One other place you see mug shots is next to an opinion column. We do that to signify the writing is an opinion piece from that writer and not news reporting.

Hope that clears things up.
Bonus jargon:
Now, what’s a mug line?
That is the text, usually of just a person’s name, that is under a mug shot.