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New Database Establishes Racial Bias in Missing Persons Cases

Thousands of people are reported missing in the United States each year. While not every missing person case will get widespread media coverage, the fight to locate them — whether alive or dead — is always the main priority. When it comes to missing person cases involving people of color, that same media attention quickly dissolves, ultimately feeding into the phenomenon of 'Missing White Woman Syndrome' — a phrase coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill that addresses the media's fascination with covering attractive, middle class-looking white women in comparison to missing persons of color. This so-called media phenomenon never sat right with Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), who decided something had to be done. "Everybody talks about it and says 'We got to do something about it,' and nothing happens," Pope said In an effort to start the conversation on how both newsrooms and individuals cover stories involving missing people, CJR launched a new tool that allows users to share their "press value" with the world if they were to go missing, NPR reports.


The new tool, called "Are You Press Worthy?," estimates that younger, white women will get increasingly more news coverage than other racial groups — such as Black, Latino and Indigenous people. Go generate the database, researchers at CJR and 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. From this, researchers were able 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. "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.

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