Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Missing Minorities and Media Coverage

Media execs in a 2005 USA today article (linked below) defend the 'race' issue in media coverage of missing women by stating that when choosing to air coverage, race isn't a factor. But rather, they look for a compelling, emotional aspect that makes the missing woman's case interesting. For example, the "runaway bride" Jennifer Wilbanks was like a real version of the Julia Roberts movie. She was bizarre and had the 'deer in the headlight' eyes.
And Natalie Holloway's disapperance was "every parent's worst nightmare." I imagine the same is true for the Elizabeth Smart story. But more important to me is what media execs are implicitly saying, which is there is nothing compelling or emotional or interesting about missing black, female toddlers or missing black female teen runaways. Isn't every missing persons case emotional and compelling to some segment of the viewing audience? Holloway and Smart were beautiful blondes. And let's not forget the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. She was beautiful, blonde, young AND rich.
But white people with blonde hair aren't the 'only' genetic makeup of a viewing audience. Similar to Katrina, I feel race and class are strongly interwined here. If a prominent, wealthy black woman went missing, we just might see coverage. Not because she's black or even a brunette (presumably), but because she's rich. And to the typical media exec, that would be the only 'compelling' thing about her disapperance. And let's bring sociology to the mix. Don't most people identify with 'victims' who are a reflection of themselves? My best friend looks more like Tamika Huston than Natalie Holloway. So I may identify with Huston's disapperance slightly more than Holloway. And I"m woman enough to admit that. And it may not be politically correct for them to admit, but most media execs are white males who are more likely to think of beautiful, blonde white women as 'victims.' Its who they identify with more. So that is what we see on TV. Just like in a majority of cases (but certainly not all) we socialize with people who look like us. And it just so happens in a lot of cases (but certainly not all) that our friends with similar interests, that we grew up with and went to school with are the same race as us. So whether we admit it or not, 'race' is an factor (intentionally or not) in deciding what gets on air.

To view the referred article:


At Wednesday, October 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with this post and with the woman quoted at the end of the USA Today story who said that it would seem that only young white women go missing in this country. I'll admit--before reading the story today, I'm not sure that I had every heard of Tamika Huston. But I'd certainly heard of Natalee Holloway, JonBenet Ramsey and Laci Peterson. Endlessly.

All of that coverage goes toward the separate issue of over-hyped sensational news, but the point here is right--sensational or not, the disappearances of this type of women are being covered, and others are not.

The same sort of gap exists in other coverage, as well. Things get ignored or over-covered because of race, gender, social status and location.

It's really too bad, because the stories that slip without much mention are often more interesting then what we see day after day on TV, in the newspaper, and all around us.



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