Columbia Journalism Review

How much press are you worth?

When someone goes missing in America, the amount of press their case receives varies by their race, their sex, and their location - a systematic bias often termed “Missing White Woman Syndrome”.

This website calculates your press value based on current reporting in America, to expose this bias and to advocate for change.

CALCULATE MY PRESS VALUE

What's
your age?

The older you are, the less chance you
have of being covered in the news.

What's
your gender?

Male

Female

Non-binary

Prefer not
to say

Data shows that men have a lower chance
of being reported on by the press.

Where do
you live?

People in urban areas have a higher chance of
being reported on than people in rural areas.

What's
your ethnicity?

Latino/Hispanic

White

Middle Eastern/
North African

Black/
African American

Hawaiian/
Pacific Islander

Multi-racial

Asian

Indigenous American/
Alaska Native

Prefer not to say

Data shows that White people have the highest chance of being covered in the press,
with Black and Hispanic people having the lowest.

Results Loading

The results you are about to see
are drawn from current reporting
on missing people in the US

RESULTS LOADING

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About
AreYouPressworthy.com

What is Columbia
Journalism Review?

Columbia Journalism Review is a magazine, published bi-annually by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Globally, this publication is considered the most respected voice in press analysis, shaping the ideas that make media leaders and journalists smarter about their work, and more informed about their industry.

Historically, Columbia Journalism Review has acted as a media watchdog and advocate - a role that is critical in today’s world and fitting for an organization dedicated to being the intellectual leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism.

1

Our current focus?
Media bias surrounding coverage of
missing persons.

The number of people who know of a person’s disappearance has a major impact on their chances of being found.

Unfortunately, the amount of coverage a missing person receives is often influenced by various demographic information such as race, age, sex, and even geographic location. In other words, who you are and what you look like can determine if your case dominates news headlines for months or never makes an appearance at all.

Columbia Journalism Review believes it's time for change. Who you are and what you look like should not determine your likelihood of being found.

Methodology
of this platform?

Our analysis and model is based on a representative sample of 3,630 news stories about missing persons out of 19,561 collected by Meltwater Jan-Nov 2021. Of this sample, 2,383 stories concerned one or more specific missing individuals, covering 735 unique missing persons who were identified and categorized by age, gender, race / ethnicity, and geography. Missing persons were then cross-referenced with the NAMUS database for the same period. Meltwater identified the publisher of the story, the potential reach of that news outlet, and social sharing for each story.

For questions, please contact everyoneispressworthy@gmail.com

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How much coverage
are you worth?

By Kyle Pope

In 2004, speaking at a panel discussion, the late Gwen Ifill characterized the media’s approach to covering people who have gone missing as “missing white woman syndrome.” “If there’s a missing white woman, you’re going to cover that, every day,” Ifill said, to little notice at the time.

In the two decades since, the term has attracted wider attention, as well as academic studies and media critiques. Shortly after Ifill’s comments, Jon Stewart claimed, satirically, to have come up with an algorithm dictating media coverage of missing people: Family Income x (Abductee Cuteness ÷ Skin Color)2 + Length of Abduction x Media Savvy of Grieving Parents3.

Ifill’s term has ebbed and flowed with the headlines; its most recent resurgence came in 2021, following the disappearance of Gabby Petito while on a road trip with her boyfriend.

What doesn’t change is the media’s insistence on reverting to the same coverage habits, 20 years after Ifill first called it out. The sad fact remains that in the United States, white people, particularly white women, garner much more media coverage when they go missing than any other group, significantly out of proportion to the number of cases. That means that time and again, media outlets are making judgments –often misguided judgments, not informed by data – about which missing persons cases to cover and which to ignore. And those coverage decisions have a significant influence on whether those people are found. In effect, newsrooms are making decisions on whose lives are worthy of attention– almost always resulting in coverage that is unrepresentative of the problem.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a database run by the US Department of Justice to track people who go missing in the country. Its online resource, under the headline “The Nation’s Silent Mass Disaster,” tracks more than 600,000 people who go missing in the United States every year. While many of them are quickly found, tens of thousands are not. About 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, about 38 percent of people who go missing in the country are Black, much higher than the US Black population of about 14 percent. Cases involving Native Americans show similar disparities.

Earlier this year, the Columbia Journalism Review set out to understand the scope of the problem. Working with the ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day/New York, our researchers sampled 3,600 articles about missing people that appeared last year, between January and November of 2021. We looked only at US news organizations, including TV, radio, newspapers, and online outlets. We then matched that sample with age, gender, and race classifiers tracked by NamUS, matching missing persons mentioned in the coverage to the data provided by NamUS.

What we found shows how little has changed in the last two decades. If you’re young, white, female, and a resident of a big city, the coverage you’d receive if you went missing is vastly out of proportion.

For example, a white young adult woman who is reported missing in New York could be covered in 67 news stories, according to the CJR data, but a Latino male of the same age would appear in only 17. A middle-aged Black man who goes missing would be expected to receive four or fewer mentions in the press. A Black man who went missing in St. Louis, for instance, would only garner 12 news stories, while a young white woman from the same town would attract 10 times the media coverage.

To highlight the scale of the problem, CJR has developed a tool to test your own newsworthiness. By entering basic demographic data (none of which is saved by CJR) at www.areyoupressworthy.com, you can calculate your own worth, according to the American press.

Our hope is to force change from readers and viewers. Two decades of op-eds and research have not shifted ingrained newsroom habits; reporters continue to revert to skewed coverage, ignoring a much bigger story.

Go to www.areyoupressworthy.com. Share your findings on social media. And put pressure on your local newsroom when you see gaps in the coverage of your own community, so we won’t be back having the same conversation 20 years from now.

Read more from CJR here.

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