September 2, 2009

The Missing and the Media

Missing Person
Sean Hornbeck Ben Ownby Jan 14-19, 07 7.9
Jaycee Dugard Aug 24-30, 09 5.2
Jessie Davis Jun 17-22, 07 5.2
Natalee Halloway Nov 18-23, 07 3.4
Football Players Lost at Sea Mar 2-8, 09 3

No. 2 – Rank of the Jaycee Dugard saga among most-covered missing person cases

August 28, Jaycee Dugard walked into a California police station 18 years after being abducted at age 11. According to media reports, Dugard and her two daughters fathered by her alleged kidnapper, Phillip Garrido, were held in a compound in Garrido’s backyard, shielded from their neighbors’ view. The stunning case attracted significant media attention—even in a week that included the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. The Dugard saga was the fifth-biggest story from August 24–30, 2009, filling 5.2% of the newshole. This level of attention made it the second-biggest missing person story since the PEJ’s News Coverage Index began in January 2007.

In some ways, the Dugard episode is similar to the No. 1 such story—the case of Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck. The 13-year-old Ownby went missing on January 8, 2007. Authorities found him four days later in the home of Michael Devlin—but Ownby was not alone. Shawn Hornbeck, who had been abducted in 2002 when he was 11, was also in Devlin’s home. That story accounted for 7.9% of the newshole the week of January 14-19, 2007.

The third-biggest missing person case (5.2% of the newshole from June 17-22, 2007) involved 26-year-old Jessie Davis, who disappeared and was later found murdered by her boyfriend. The next-biggest story is the ongoing case of Natalee Halloway, who went missing May 30, 2005, in Aruba. On November 21, Joran van der Sloot, Satish Kalpoe, and Deepak Kalpoe were re-arrested based on new information. (They were later released.) That story filled 3.4% of the newshole the week of November 18-23, 2007. The No. 5 missing person story was the search for pro football players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith, who were lost with two friends while on a fishing trip. Only one of the men survived. The story filled 3.0% of the newshole the week of March 2-8, 2009.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ