Martin G. Reynolds, an executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, said he was struck by news outlets’ disproportionate attention on missing white women, a focus that he said is compounded by competitive coverage. (At a journalism conference in 2004, the PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill described this phenomenon as “the missing white woman syndrome.”)
The demographics of the industry are a big factor, Mr. Reynolds said.
“Our newsrooms don’t reflect the diversity of the country, and folks in editing roles are even less diverse,” said Mr. Reynolds, whose organization works with journalists of color. “Until journalism corrects this, we are going to continue to be more and more irrelevant to the audiences that reflect the future.”
Online interest in Ms. Petito’s case also pushed news editors to closely track her story.
“Journalism in general tends to be reactionary, and if we see something blowing up on one of these platforms, we’re going to jump all over it,” Mr. Reynolds said.
Alvin Williams, a host of “Affirmative Murder,” a podcast that focuses on true crimes with Black and brown victims, echoed Mr. Reynolds’s analysis.
“I’m incredibly glad she is getting the resources needed to help find her,” Mr. Williams, 29, said, in an interview on Sunday before law enforcement officials announced they had recovered a body likely to be Ms. Petito, “but there is an obvious disproportionate focus on her story,” he said.
“We can play the game of, ‘Oh it’s because she was a vlogger’ and all those things, but we can also see that she is a Gen Z, blonde, petite girl, and that is what gets the clicks,” Mr. Williams added.