Monday, February 06, 2006

Who will report on Siphat Chau

It has been over a month since Siphat Chau disappeared from his home in Portland near Veranda Street at 1:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Following his disappearance, posters when up around the Old Port, local news channels 6, 8 and 13 each broadcasted a brief report including Chau’s description, a picture and a public call for help from the Portland Police. And, three dispatch notices have appeared in the the Portland Press Herald’s “Dispatches” section. But this is where the media coverage has stopped.
Like many of Chau’s friends, Jarrod Dyke doesn’t know why this has been the only coverage about Siphat’s disappearance by the local news outlets. “He’s only been on the news twice since then and it’s been a month now,” said Dyke. “It upsets me.” Dyke and Chau went to the University of Maine together. They had met through the Portland Rugby Club. “He was a nice kid. He was an honest kid,” said Dyke. “I think it would be more of a concern to people but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work this way.”
Sena Phin, working at a local coffee shop, described the media coverage around Chau’s disappearance in stronger language. “Completely inadequate,” said Phin. She questioned if Chau’s gender or race played a role in determining media coverage. “It just seems really unfair that a girl goes missing and the next day the entire media world is all over it.”
The girl Phin referred to was Lynn Moran, a 24 year-old who fell off the Maine State Pier in October of 2005. Within two weeks of her disappearance Moran received front page coverage in the Portland Press Herald and regular updates on local television stations.
“We would never treat one missing person differently than another for those reasons,” said Eric Conrad, managing editor for the Portland Press Herald. According to Conrad, while the Portland Press Herald does not have guidelines in place dictating which stories get reported on, community impact, among other news elements, is an important factor when considering what stories to run each day and how much to cover them. “You try to get a sense of which stories are being talked about the most, which stories have the most news elements, and you use your judgment to decide how far those stories should go,” said Conrad. “We take these cases seriously and certainly, when there are posters in the Old Port, we know there are people interested in these cases.”
Although race and gender may not be issues at Portland Press Herald, a quick browse through the website for the Poynter Institute, a well respected school for journalism, shows how the media industry as a whole recognizes a problem in this area of missing persons coverage but is at a lack on how to deal with it. While there is a dearth of studies, several articles on the website point out that media coverage is out of proportion with the actual disappearances. According to an USA Today article by Mark Memmott [Spotlight skips cases of missing minorities, 6/15/2005], the majority of news stories focus on white females who go missing, but, according to FBI statistics, a missing person is slightly more likely to be male. And, according to Memmott, “blacks make up a disproportionately large segment of the victims,” in the FBI missing persons database.
And then there is the question about the effect of media coverage on an open investigation. “I really don’t care how the media covers it,” said Detective Sergeant Thorpe of the Portland Police Department. “We’re doing our job.” Thorpe took over the case when the assigned detective received an unrelated injury and couldn’t work for a couple of weeks. According to Thorpe, can both be both helpful and harmful to a case. And, unlike the Moran case, there is very little to go on. “Lynn Moran and this guy are two totally different situations,” said Thorpe. “There was way more information with Lynn Moran with Siphat.”
But either way, people in the Portland community like Andrew Frederick, an undeclared USM student, are moving away from the major media sources to alternative sources because of the lack of stories like Chau’s. “The reason I don’t pay as much attention to media in any form is because it’s less about reporting the news and making a buck,” said Frederick. “It’s not sensationalism to report on someone sad and local.” According to Frederick, although he does still read the newspapers, he does not watch the news on television for this reason. But at the same time, Frederick doesn’t think the blame is entirely on the reporters and editors. “It could be my fault for not seeking out more information,” said Frederick. “I don’t hold myself above reproach for not seeking out information.”

1 comment:

T Ariel said...

I was able to get Siphat added to NamUs today and also am having a UID compared to him to see if maybe there is a match. Thank you for bringing attention to Siphat.