Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Why are some missing people reported on and not others?

On New Year’s Day the body of a woman was found on the Sandringham Estate. Initially the report was that “human remains” had been found, since then this has been amended to confirm that it was the body of a woman, and the last report suggested that she had been dead for between one/four months. Police have launched a murder investigation.

As I read the reports it dawned on me that there haven’t been any reports of women going missing recently (in the past one/four months), as often when a body is discovered the reports are often made in conjunction with the line that “police looking for X have found a body.” But this time there have been no such reports, or even suggestions as to the possible identity of this poor woman.

And for me it raised the question, what is it that makes some peoples’ disappearance more newsworthy than others? I can think of some cases where people have gone missing and their disappearance has been high profile in the media, Claudia Lawrence, Jo Yeats, Sian O’Callaghan, all in the past couple of years, and sadly all with tragic outcomes. Yet a woman has been murdered, and the first we learn of her death is when her body was discovered. And if she hadn’t been found on the Sandringham Estate, I wonder whether we would ever have learned of her disappearance, or would only her family and friends ever have learned of what had happened to her.

Of course it could be argued that hundreds of people go missing every day, and that the media cannot possibly report on all of them. But the media does report some of them, and I do wonder what sets those that are brought into the media spotlight apart from the rest, that their disappearance becomes national news until there is an outcome, while the rest seemingly go unnoticed?

Who was this woman? Where was she from? Was she even reported missing? One can only assume so. But if so, why was her disappearance not worthy of news coverage until she was found at Sandringham?

And maybe that is the key. Maybe the media only considers a person worth reporting on if there is something interesting about them. If they are pretty/disappeared in unusual circumstances. Claudia Lawrence's disappearance was mysterious and unexplained (and is to this day); Jo Yeats disappeared at Christmas, after a party, and her disappearance was totally out of character according to her friends and family. Sian O'Callaghan disappeared after leaving a nightclub, it's something that I think every young woman dreads, after all it's not the first time a young woman has disappeared in such circumstances. And now the body of a woman has been found at Sandringham. This too is unusual. Except the difference here is that we didn't know of her until this interesting piece about her, i.e. the location where she was found, made her newsworthy.

The fact that hundreds of people go missing every day is tragic. And presumably some of those will ultimately be found dead, without so much as a report in the press (maybe in the local papers but rarely the nationals). But what is more tragic is that even if you disappear you have to have something special about you to make your disappearance worthy of reporting on in the media.

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