‘How much press are you worth?’ New calculator tackles inequality in missing persons stories

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By David Bauder, Associated Press

The Columbia Journalism Review unveiled a tool on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022 that calculates the number of stories your disappearance would net, based on demographics. (AP Photo)

If you went missing, how much press would you be “worth”? The Columbia Journalism Review unveiled a tool on Thursday that calculates the number of stories your disappearance would net, based on demographics.

It sounds morbid but the exercise is designed to call attention to “missing white women syndrome,” the tendency of news organizations to pay relatively little attention to missing people who don’t fit that category.

The late journalist Gwen Ifill is credited with coining the term two decades ago. Yet in the interim, there’s been little indication that coverage decisions have evolved.

“It’s like a bolt that has been rusted in place,” said Jelani Cobb, dean of the Columbia Journalism School.

The media firestorm around the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito last year renewed scrutiny of the practice, with Petito’s own family imploring media to give all missing people the same attention.

Researchers at CJR and the ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day/New York examined 3,600 stories about missing people done last year by U.S.-based news organizations, cross-referencing them with age, gender and race details from a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The data was used to generate a rough estimate of how much public attention a person would get based on who they are, said Kyle Pope, CJR’s editor in chief and publisher. The starkly named site AreYouPressworthy.com asks users to enter their age, gender, location and ethnicity.

Bauders writes about the significance of this trend in media.

Missing Black people have been universally ignored. Minneapolis formed the nations’s first task force about missing Black women less than a year ago.

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