Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The coverage gap when people of color go missing

A poster seeking information on Rilya Wilson, a young Miami girl who has been missing since 2001
A poster seeking information on Rilya Wilson, a young Miami girl who has been missing since 2001
Photo by David Friedman/Getty Images News

A post several months ago titled "Why you’ve heard of Caylee, but not Brisenia or Marchella" explored the dramatic disparity in news coverage when it comes to missing or murdered children, as well as adults. Cases involving white victims - particularly young, attractive white women - make national headlines and tabloid talk shows. The same can't be said for people of color, adults or children, who meet a similar fate.

Multi-American's sister blog DCentric in Washington, D.C. has a post addressing this disparity that is tied to the premiere of "Find Our Missing," a new television show dedicated to missing African Americans that encourages viewers to come forward with information. Put together with collaboration from the nonprofit Black and Missing, the show will kick off featuring the cases of Pamela Butler and Unique Harris, two black Washington, D.C.-area women who have disappeared. From the DCentric post:

Particularly when it comes to national news, cases of missing white women tend to get more attention than people of other races. The problem extends beyond not adequately covering minority communities; media coverage and attention can be crucial in solving cases of missing persons.

Why does there tend to be such a coverage gap? In Multi-American's Q&A post in July, Poynter Institute faculty member and media ethics expert Kelly McBride dissected the role that race and ethnicity play in how these cases are reported in the media. Her answers were candid and at times unsettling. An excerpt from one:
It’s possible that the people making decisions in newsrooms have a default assumption about what’s normal (functional) and not normal (dysfunctional) for white families. And it’s possible that they have a default assumption about families of color that are the opposite of what they assume for white families. Maybe some of that is true or all of it is true. But it plays into how editors make news judgments.

The complete interview can be read here.