Editorial: Race should not affect coverage of media issues

Editorial Board

Two girls on two different campuses went missing last week. Hannah Graham, a student at the University of Virginia went missing Sept. 13. Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. has been charged with a felony of abduction with intent to defile after a video in the area of where Graham was last seen shows Matthew chasing her. Matthew is currently being held without bond in Galveston County, Texas, until Charleston Police arrive, which is expected to be within the next two days. The other case of a missing girl hits closer to home, ISU student Tong Shao has been missing since Sept. 8 and still has not been found. 

Graham’s case has been widely publicized by both regional and national news outlets while Shao’s has already been slipping from the public eye here in Iowa. The explanation for this disparity could be linked to the information and evidence in the Graham case being more readily available, but that does not excuse news organizations for letting Shao fall from public view.

You may have heard about Graham being missing, but you may not have heard that Shao was missing. What is the difference in these two cases of missing people?

The first and most obvious difference is that Graham is an American student while Shao is an international student from China. A 2010 study on genders of missing children shows that 80 percent of children that are in the media as missing are not black, therefore, although black people have a higher rate of going “missing” they are only reported in the media 20 percent of the time.

There is a clear ethnicity gap when it comes to who is going to be getting coverage in the media. There are about 64,000 African American women that are missing in the United States while only 34 percent of missing persons cases that have been filed are for African-Americans, according to mic.com. This goes to show that only a little over half of missing African-Americans have had a missing persons case filed on their behalf.

“White women occupy a privileged role as violent crime victims in news media reporting,” said Charlton Mcilwain, a professor and researcher at New York University and a co-author of “Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns.”

The socioeconomic standing of missing persons seems to be another determining factor in how much media coverage the individual will receive. Graham, as well as past cases such as Elizabeth Smart in Utah, represents the increased attention that is given to middle class citizens and families. Meanwhile, those who fall below the poverty line often find themselves ignored, if not marginalized, by mass media sources.

A missing person’s age, ethnicity, their families’ income and whether they are male or female should not matter. If there is a person missing, the information should be provided by as many media outlets as possible. Tong Shao deserves just as much coverage in the media as Hannah Graham. Just because Shao is not a young, white girl from the United States does not mean that people do not care about her.

As a country, we should realize that the media is being influenced too much by race and ethnicity when it comes to who is going to get coverage in the news. There needs to be reporting done on people of all races and ethnicities. If someone is missing, they have people who care about them, no matter their race, gender or color. We should strive to cover more missing people in the media, not just the ones who are most relatable to the American public or the wealthiest.