“Do not wait for a story to become trendy. you be the breaking news.”-Derrica wilson speaks on publicity of missing people by color
“Missing White Woman Syndrome” has been used to refer to the media and public fascination with cases of missing white women, especially in contrast to the lack of interest in the cases of missing people of color. The most recent example of such fascination was the case of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman whose disappearance on a cross-country road trip in August became a national story.
Derrica said their hearts go out to the Petito family, but that they were constantly hearing from families they work with who asked: “Why is her case any different from mine?”
At the same time Petito’s case made headlines, David Robinson, the father of missing Black man Daniel Robinson, told Insider about what it was like searching for his son without media attention on his case.
Robinson said he “hit brick wall after brick wall” and eventually hired a private investigator because the police investigation around his son’s disappearance wasn’t progressing.
Natalie said Petito’s disappearance helped shine a light on the unequal media coverage when Black people go missing, adding it should serve as a “wake up call for media outlets around the country to really look at their practices and whether they have conscious or unconscious biases.”
“They need to do a better job with media coverage for all missing people,” she said.
Derrica said media outlets need to proactively cover the disappearances of missing people of color: “Do not wait for a story to become trendy. you be the breaking news.”
Since the Petito case, Derrica and Natalie have been invited to do more interviews on the issue of missing people of color and use the opportunities to draw attention to specific unsolved cases.
They have also recently been invited to newsrooms to brainstorm ways in which journalists can ensure they’re covering stories equally. And they are encouraging media outlets to diversify their newsrooms to ensure a broader spectrum of stories get told.
The docuseries, which was three years in the making, is just the first step, they said, but they hope it helps move media outlets past the conversation and towards taking action that will produce real change in the stories covered.
“If they’re not being covered, there’s no sense of urgency,” Natalie said. “We all have a responsibility. We need to care as a nation about our missing individuals, because these are not faceless, nameless people. These are valuable members of our community.”