Imagine you inherited two figurines from a relative. One is hideous and makes you wonder why your aunt ever bought it. The other is a stunning piece of artwork. But since they’re from a beloved relative who remembered you in her will, they both are displayed in your home.
One day someone bumps into them and sends both crashing to the floor. You don’t care about the ugly one; you’re secretly happy to get it out of the house as you sweep it into a dustpan. But you’re heartbroken to see the beautiful figurine shattered into a dozen pieces. You carefully collect them, get a tube of glue, and pray you can put the thing back together.
Why the difference?
Because people get emotional and care a great deal about pretty things that are broken.
And the media knows this. Especially when it comes to missing persons.
So let’s find the common denominator in a bunch of famous missing or murdered persons who have gotten national news coverage over the past years. JonBenét Ramsey. Natalee Holloway. Elizabeth Smart. Gabby Petito.
Attractive? Check. Blonde? Check. Tragic story? Check. Rich? Bonus. And you’ll create even more emotion if it’s a child.
Brunettes, unattractive females and minorities need not apply. If you’re a male missing person, forget it, you’re not even on the media’s radar. Aliens visiting from outer space would think the only missing people on this planet are attractive blonde girls.
All because of the “pretty things that are broken” concept that stirs emotions. And if the media can do that, they’ve got a viral story that will grab you by the heart and not let go.
So how did the Carlee Russell tale break through this checklist to end up on the front page of so many newspapers and lead stories on television stations? Let’s throw in a toddler on the highway. Add the possibility of child and sex trafficking, now a hot topic considering the success of the movie “Sound of Freedom” which spotlights the crime. Imagine the kinds of people who would put a small child in danger on a busy highway just to attract women and then abduct them to sell into sex slavery. And a sidebar story: now you might think twice if you see a child alone in trouble … is there a sex trafficker lurking nearby waiting to grab you?
Of course, this hoax fell apart, and now people are going to be leery thanks to the old “crying wolf” adage. But one very good thing came out of it. The Russell non-kidnapping highlighted the fact that there are thousands of missing adults and children whose stories fall through the cracks and who never make the national or even local media. After Russell’s tale went sideways, social media blew up with photos of missing adults and kids, most of whose stories never made the cut.
The police chief of Hoover stressed that law enforcement takes every missing person case seriously, regardless of the person’s background. It’s not the fault of the police that the media does not cover every single one.
But of course that would be impossible, right?
Every local television station and every local newspaper have one thing in common: a website.
It wouldn’t cost a thing for a reporter to check in with local police once a week and get information on the missing people in the area. Create a page on the website and post photos and stories of these people. Then when the news organization does a story relating to missing persons, it can direct viewers or readers to the web page. Networks that do similar stories can tell viewers to check the pages of the local affiliate.
The sheer number of missing persons is staggering. But behind every number is a name, a person with a life and a story that deserves to get out.
The police already do their job trying to find missing people. It’s time the media helped out.
And imagine the wonderful story a reporter could do when a missing person is found … thanks to simply treating every single case the same.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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