“Missing Women” Stories: Have Media Lost Interest, Or “Just in a Lull”?


Amid major criminal justice news about issues like police killings and prison crowding, the national news media seems to have lost interest in what the Washington Post calls “gone girls” and “missing girls” like Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias. The era in which the media regularly manufactured folk heroines and anti-heroines from the crime blotter seems to have passed. Anthony’s 2011 acquittal in Atlanta got 5.2 million viewers on CNN but no tale of female misfeasance or victimhood has approached the Anthony story since then.

The maturing of social media drove many woman-in-jeopardy stories off the air and onto Facebook and Twitter, said Prof. Carol Liebler of Syracuse University who has analyzed missing-woman news reporting. TruTV, the cable network that began as Court TV, pioneered live coverage of trials, but has moved away from live trials, ceding the genre to Internet streaming. In place of trials, it began running reality shows such as “Forensic Files” and “Hardcore Pawn”; it now airs comedy and light interview shows. Tabloid editor David Perel disagrees that missing-women stories are gone forever from the media. “There just hasn't been a story [in some time] that has all the elements that capture the public imagination,” said Perel, the editor of the celebrity-oriented In Touch and Life & Style magazines. “I don't think it's over,” he said. “The news cycle moves fast. We're just in a lull right now.”

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