People going missing in the United States is a common occurrence. But when they go missing, how the media covers them can be dramatically different based on the color of their skin.
The Columbia Journal review has created a tool that could help Americans better understand racial biases in the media coverage of missing people.
Typically, when an attractive white woman goes missing in America, the media will go above and beyond to cover the story as much as possible and for good reason. More media coverage, means more exposure, which puts more pressure on authorities to solve cases.
This phenomenon, which was coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill, is called “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
“If you go missing and the press devotes a lot of attention to it, you have a better chance of a decent outcome, whereas you don’t if they ignore it,” Kyle Pope, of the Columbia Journalism Review, told NPR.
“The implications of this are literally life and death — the amount of media coverage you get immediately after you go missing has a direct result on what happens to your case,” Pope said.
“Missing White Woman Syndrome” refers to the mainstream media’s apparent fascination with covering missing or endangered white women, and its often ignored coverage of missing persons of color.
The issue has sparked conversations in newsrooms around America about how the media can better cover stories about missing Black men and women.
To help you understand racial biases in the media, CJR has created an online tool that allows users to calculate their press value based on current reporting in America. It will then estimate how many stories mainstream media would write about you if you went missing.
The tool, which is called “Are You Press Worthy?” also reveals the local and national publications that would carry your story and the percentage of Americans that would have heard about it.
According to NPR, to generate the database, researchers and the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day/New York surveyed roughly 3,600 articles about missing people reported last year by U.S. news outlets — including TV, radio, newspapers, and digital media, according to a news release.
This allowed researchers to match the sampling in combination with factors such as age, gender, and race from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database to create the analysis.
After you finish calculating your “press value,” the tool sends you a social post that tells you the percentage of Americans who would hear your story.
According to the National Crime Information Center, more than 600,000 people go missing in the U.S. each year.
In 2021 nearly 521,000 people were reported missing in the U.S., 40% of those cases being missing persons of color.
According to the Black and Missing Foundation, 38% of people who go missing in the U.S. are Black, which is double the U.S. Black population of about 14%.
CLICK HERE to check out “Are You Press Worthy?”