This post has no relation to anything else on this website. I’m just conveying something my wife noticed years ago, that still appears to be one of the iron rules of news coverage. I think it says something about how the news functions in modern America.
In order to attract national press coverage, it’s not enough that a person go missing. People go missing all the time.
Not enough that the person be a woman. (Or female minor). Plenty of women and girls go missing.
It’s not even enough that the missing person is an attractive young white woman (or cute little kid). Which, you will eventually notice, characterizes every one that dominates national news.
Before you hop on my case, let me note that she is far from the only person to have picked up on this. Nationally-recognized media experts have said (almost) the same thing, as in this recent New York Times article. And similar commentary elsewhere. I believe the coined phrase is Missing White Woman Syndrome.
But this is as far as mainstream media critics will take it. Plenty of serious people have characterized this repeating phenomenon as MCYWW (missing cute young white women) stories. Or equivalent.
But, in fact, few recognize the final requirement, which is that the MCYWW must have an unusual name. It’s never Anne Smith, Mary Murphy, Liz Russo, Emma Garcia, and so on. It has to be something weird enough to be “sticky”, or the story doesn’t get any traction.
And so, the reality of it is not that these are MCYWW stories. They are MCYWWWWN ( … with weird names) stories. Without the unusual name, it might get local coverage, but it never snowballs enough to get national coverage.
This isn’t to make light of the death of the person who most recently was in the national news. It’s to highlight that there’s a strong element of “National Enquirer” in U.S. national news now. I have no need to know about this poor woman who was apparently murdered by her boyfriend. And neither do you. But this story — told over and over — is just sticky enough, once you add a memorable name, that it manages to make national news.
I am completely unable to prove this, looking retrospectively. We all know the name of the current MCYWWWWN, but that that name rapidly fades from memory. Without that, I’m unable to separate the last few such national sensations from those who received merely local news coverage.
But looking forward, be on the lookout. When the next MCYWW story hits, look for the WWN part. I’ll bet you it’s there. As a result, you’re seeing that story only because of some fundamental aspect of what Americans do and don’t recall when they read the news. Without the unusual name, the story just doesn’t stick, and it never gets national press coverage.