Gabby Petito Case Ignites Debate on Disparity of Media Coverage for Missing Coloured People

© REUTERS / SHANNON STAPLETONA makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen, after a woman's body found in a Wyoming national park was identified as that of the missing 22-year-old travel blogger, near North Port City Hall in North Port, Florida, U.S., September 22, 2021
A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito is seen, after a woman's body found in a Wyoming national park was identified as that of the missing 22-year-old travel blogger, near North Port City Hall in North Port, Florida, U.S., September 22, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.09.2021
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When it comes to media coverage of missing white people rather, many scientists refer to the so-called "missing white woman syndrome", which describes how news outlets prefer stories about young, white, upper-middle-class women who have vanished to stories about coloured people.
As the case of Gaby Petito, who went missing after embarking on a cross-country road trip with her fiancé and was eventually found dead, received widespread media coverage, many observers brought up an issue of what is known as "missing white woman syndrome" describing how the media appears to favour white people when covering such stories - and ignores coloured people.
Although the massive drive surrounding the Petito story appeared to boost efforts to search for clues, particularly because social media was so largely involved, there are a lot more cases of missing people that could benefit from the same kind of attention, observers say.

“It’s kind of heart-wrenching, when we look at a white woman who goes missing and is able to get so much immediate attention,” Lynnette Grey Bull, a leading advocate for Wyoming’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, told NPR. “It should be the same if an African-American person goes missing, or a Hispanic person goes missing, a Native American — we should have the same type of equal efforts that are being made in these cases.”

Among those who recalled the term "missing white woman syndrome" was MSNBC host Joy Reid, who wondered why people of colour do not receive the same media attention.
This is not the first time the issue of such disparity in media coverage has been raised in the US. Back in 2014, Take Part magazine released a report highlighting possible race-related reasons for hundreds of thousands of missing Americans being ignored. According to research conducted in 2010 by Seong-Jae Min and John C Feaster, missing African-American children and women were significantly underrepresented in television news coverage. A study published in 2016 by Zach Sommers of Northwestern University also suggested it was likelier for white people to appear in news coverage as victims of a violent crime than people of colour.
The term "missing white woman syndrome" first appeared in 2004 when used by PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill at a journalistic conference.
However, researchers outline that it may not be directly connected to "overt racism", since diversity in newsrooms, demographics and the amount of online interest also affects media coverage of certain events.

“Journalism in general tends to be reactionary, and if we see something blowing up on one of these platforms, we’re going to jump all over it,” said Martin G Reynolds, an executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, cited by The New York Times.

He also told The NYT that newsrooms are not reflecting the diversity of the country, and "until journalism corrects this, we are going to continue to be more and more irrelevant to the audiences that reflect the future."
Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing on September 11, 2021 after traveling with her boyfriend around the country in a van and never returned home, poses for a photo with Brian Laundrie in this undated handout photo.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.09.2021
Family Lawyer Confirms Human Remains Found in Wyoming Belong to Gabby Petito
The massive media attention that the Petito case garnered, however, prompted round-ups on the FBI missing people cases that are in need of fresh leads. In 2020, according to FBI data, more than 540,000 people went missing, including more than 340,000 juveniles.
USA Today reported that the FBI has conducted an internal audit of its field offices and came up with a list of 43 active missing person cases of people under the age of 21 that need fresh leads, with some of them remaining unresolved for decades.
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