A turning point for missing minorities in the media

The media frenzy surrounding Gabby Petito sheds light on media disparages.

Opinion by Emily Faith Grodin, Staff Writer

The case of Gabby Petito is still dominating the media since being reported as a missing person last month. A string of updates and new findings holds the attention of news outlets and viewers.

People have turned to social media to call out the news media for its lack of coverage on missing minorities. Twitter user Carol Ward shared some perspective on how Petito’s case received coverage grossly disproportionate to minority groups.

“An estimated 64,000-75,000 Black women and girls were missing in the US as of Feb. 2020,” Ward tweeted. “There are 5,700 missing and murdered indigenous women nationwide and over 400 have gone missing in the last decade in WY, where Gabby Petito’s body was found.”

Although the search for Petito has come to an end, an entirely new one has begun for boyfriend Brian Laundrie, who has been missing for over a week. Laundrie is now the sole person of interest in Petito’s case. The storm of media coverage surrounding Petito’s case is a prime example of how a well-covered story can help propel a case forward. But for many missing individuals, especially those of color, there is no media storm that follows their disappearance. The coverage that people of color receive in the media is disproportionate to the actual number of people missing.

According to The Black and Missing Foundation, 40 percent of the total number of people missing currently in the United States are people of color. This is a shocking number given the fact that people of color only make up 13 percent of the country's population.

The missing and murdered indigenous women crisis is one that is finally receiving some of the attention it deserves and severely needs, because Ward is not wrong. An organization called Native Hope reports that in 2016 there were a total of 5,712 reports of missing American Indians and Alaska Native women and girls. Of those cases, only 116 were logged in NamUs, the federal missing person database used by the US Department of Justice.

There is no denying that these minority groups could benefit greatly from the media covering they are missing. Media coverage on any given topic must consider key factors. Information, footage, photos and interviews are all needed to create a compelling story. In the case of Petito there has been no shortage of content to keep reporters busy; her story is an example of the power behind widespread information.

Much of the problem was simply that these disparages suffered by missing people of color and indigenous women were not widely known. But in the past few weeks, social media and smaller news outlets have allowed advocates to speak out on the matter.

If any good has come from Petito's story, it is this; the public is finally learning of this bias in the media, and they want it to change. Now it is up to news outlets and journalists to take the same energy that has been put into Petito’s story, and push for more coverage of these groups that have been ignored for too long.

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