Crime Pays for Pulpy Tabloid 'The Slammer'

By: Shawn Moynihan Crime roundups have long proven a popular newspaper feature. But The Slammer, a paper completely devoted to mug shots and crime stories, has scored a winning formula in putting perps on Page One.

Based in Raleigh, N.C., the Slammer currently serves readers in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and High Point, as well as Phoenix and Atlanta. It's found only in the newsracks of convenience stores like the Circle K, Han-Dee-Hugo, Pantry & Kangaroo and Wilco-Hess, where it sells for $1 a copy, and can run up to 28 pages. Editor/Owner Linda Cornetti launched the weekly in October 2007 with her son, Isaac. Today, it boasts a circ of about 50,000. Not bad, for a newspaper whose slogan is "All Crime, All the Time."

"I can't explain the popularity of it," says Cornetti, who grew up reading the twice-a-week crime roundup in the former Smithville (N.C.) Herald. Even then, she says, "I could see the potential" for a publication devoted to such fare. "We're serving a segment that wants to know what's going on around them, and they want to feel like they're taking a proactive role in making things better," she adds.

The Slammer features mug-shot profiles of criminals sought for offenses ranging from probation violations to murder, as well as mugs of randomly selected individuals, already busted, from each municipality it covers. But what makes it an entertaining read are the blurbs, which Cornetti confesses to writing, that accompany each mug shot. One recent posting: "Fellas, if you are looking to ask a pretty gal out on a date and don't mind a long, long rap sheet, Sarah Williams may be the one for you. But before you can take her out for a burger and a flick, she's got an appointment to keep with Sheriff Steve. ..."

Cornetti jokes, "I've always had a real penchant for pulpy stuff."

When selecting a new market in which to publish, the paper solicits info on local offenders from county police, municipal departments and sheriffs. Keeping the offenses straight from jurisdiction to jurisdiction "can be cumbersome," she says. For example, in North Carolina, it's DWI for "driving while impaired." In South Carolina, it's DUI for driving under the influence.

"We customize every issue for the market area," she notes, adding that while most authorities are forthcoming with such data, others aren't always so accommodating.

A journalism major in college, Cornetti is no stranger to the court system and its characters: She spent 10 years as a substance abuse counselor in North Carolina. Part of the paper's mission, she says, is to keep residents informed of what their neighbors are up to. "A lot of people don't have access to a computer or know how to use the Internet, and they see us as a source of information," she explains. "There's a widespread perception that we're helping make their communities safer.

"I got a letter last week from a woman who said, 'I'm not a newspaper reader, but I read your newspaper every week, and it tells me everything that I need to know,'" Cornetti adds. "It was touching to me that [we] can be an inspiration to anyone to start reading a newspaper."

The Slammer maintains a limited online presence. "We would love to expand our Web product, but we're not there yet," Cornetti adds. "There's a segment of our readership that doesn't want to be seen buying it, so we know that segment would be well served on the Web. It's a guilty pleasure."


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