Public Editor

August 2, 2013

Why the discrepancy in coverage of two missing young fathers?

Last week, families reported two young fathers missing. One got big coverage, while the other was relegated to inside news.

A very sensitive and valid question from emailer Peggy Strickland:

“(Last) week two young fathers were missing and the bodies of both were found. One of these men received front page coverage and daily updates; the other, i believe, was given only a few column inches of coverage on an inside page after his body was found and identified.

“I am wondering the reason for the difference in coverage for these two equivalent tragedies.”

The cases she’s referring to were those of Chad Rogers and James D. Barker. Rogers, 30, was reported missing from his Liberty home after going for a jog on July 22. The first mention of the search for him ran on the next day, after friends and family organized a large search, asking the media for publicity to increase the case’s visibility.

His body was found in a portable toilet on July 26.

The cause of death is still unknown as of this writing.

Barker, 31, was reported missing on the morning of July 24. He had not made it home from work after calling his girlfriend the night before.

His body was found the next day

, the victim of an apparent hit and run.

My emailer is absolutely right: These are “two equivalent tragedies” to the families involved. Yet Rogers’ case got vastly more media coverage, generating six stories in print, including two on Page A1, July 25 and 27. Barker was mentioned in print only once, on the first page of the Local section on July 27.

What explains the discrepancy? Part of it is that those searching for Rogers were extremely organized, numerous and media savvy. They knew that by contacting news outlets they would increase their chances of people being aware that Rogers was missing.

But it’s also undeniable that there was an element of mystery in the more prolonged search for Rogers. And that something I think all media sources — The Star included — should be circumspect about. The fact that something is intriguing doesn’t make it more newsworthy in and of itself. Life isn’t a mystery novel, and journalists should resist covering current events as if they were narrative fiction.

Again, there is no question that both men’s deaths are intensely sad for the loved ones they left behind. But this is also an illustration of how news sources can sometimes lose a sense of proportion and standards of what should rise to the level of big coverage.

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