Column: Why did Gabby Petito’s case receive so much media attention?


gabspetito on Instagram

Pictures of Gabby Petito and her boyfriend/fiance before her disappearance

Micah Sanders, Editor-In-Chief

As journalists, it is our responsibility to remain objective, free of bias, and shed light on important stories; but in recent times, we have failed to do so. We have now focused more on the “trendy” stories rather than the ones that are impactful and urgent. The lack of diversity in mainstream newsrooms has caused a huge divide between which stories are greenlit and which are kept undisclosed. 

The story of Gabby Petito and her untimely death has become such a huge topic of conversation, as almost everyone in the United States is talking about it. Unfortunately, there are so many other stories of missing people, especially those of color, who never receive as much attention or recognition as Petito has. More people should avert their attention away from the popular news sources such as ABC, CNN, Fox, etc. to the missing people databases, and they would be shocked at how many cases are unreported.

 If America is supposed to be such a diverse melting pot, then that diversity should be reflected in the stories that are reported as well. It is imperative that every human being has a fighting chance of being found once they are reported missing. We should not have to wait until the story becomes viral on social media to gain attention, a ploy that most newsrooms do. 

According to a report made by the Montgomery Advertiser, “Although Black women make up less than 7% of the U.S. population, they represent about 10% of all missing persons cases throughout the country. Of the estimated 613,000 people reported missing in the U.S. last year, about 60% were people of color.”

While the news broke about Gabby Petito and her disappearance, several other families were (and still are) crying out to their communities, pleading that their loved ones be found. I can only empathize with how it feels to know your loved one could have been saved if only the news was broadcast to the masses, which is few and far between for minorities in America. Stories like Rajah McQueen, a 27-year-old who had gone missing in June, and Paige Coffey, also 27, who has not been seen since 2019, are hard to find on the internet and truly showcase the racial gap of news reporting.

 Far too often, we see white women being the center of attention in our society regarding their safety and well-being while Black women are treated the exact opposite. If we are to uphold and protect one race of women, let us keep that same energy for all. The dehumanization and hasty generalization of Black people as thugs and criminals has caused a huge problem regarding misinformation. In fact, most Black women are classified as runaways rather than missing when reported to the police, making the issue more of a personal choice rather than a national issue, causing a lack of empathy. If we continue to allow this ignorance to transpire, more and more young Black girls will continue to go missing without proper investigations or reports. That cannot happen.

As consumers of media, we have to become more aware of what is being reported and what is not. In addition, we need to prioritize diversifying the voices reporting the news. 40% of the United States population are minorities, while it seems as if only 2% of the news caters to them.  Unfortunately, only 17% of the newsrooms contain minorities allowing for the whitewashing and mishandling of several stories. It is more likely a story regarding a person of color missing to be reported if there is an anchor, journalist or correspondent that has a similar identity and can resonate with the story. 

However, if the mainstream media does not want to publicize what is happening to indigenous peoples, Blacks, Hispanics, and trans, then it is our duty as American people to fight for that justice. Websites like OurBlackGirls and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) highlight and inform numerous people about the hundreds upon thousands of missing people. Change can only come from knowledge, and these websites allow people to create solutions and spread awareness to this extensive list of people. 

I believe it is time for a drastic change in our society. We must redefine what is “newsworthy” as systemic racism and prejudice have toxified that meaning wholeheartedly regarding the news coverage of minorities. Let us see more stories like Gabby Petito being broadcast to the public and headlined everywhere. Let us get back to the basics of reporting news simply because of its impact rather than its popularity. It is now more important than ever as countless families are ready to find peace like Petito’s family did.