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(Re)covering the missing women : news media reporting on Vancouver’s "disappeared" Moores, Patrick

Abstract

This study argues that the news media coverage of the disappearance of numerous Vancouver-area women devalued the importance and diminished the urgency of finding the women. The analysis focuses on 28 articles which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and the Province from July 3rd 1998 (when Vancouver Police department added a second detective to investigate the disappearances) to May l8th 1999 (when coverage focused on the future of the investigation after a reward was approved). Employing a critical analysis of the compositional, textual, and visual components of the articles, the results of this study indicate that the women’s disappearances were ranked low on the scale of newsworthiness by the editors of the newspapers resulting in sporadic coverage of the issue. The content of this coverage was dominated by reporting which, by focusing on the so-called immoral and criminal aspects of the women’s lives, depicted the missing women as a problem and held them responsible for their own disappearances. The disappearances were further devalued by the VPD who constructed a "myth of transience" whereby the women were imagined to have merely moved to another city. In perpetuating this myth, the VPD was able to excuse the scant resources they had devoted to the investigation. The influence of the myth of transience was also seen in reporting on the political response to the disappearances, especially via the creation of a "two-tiered" reward, one for any information leading to a criminal conviction and another for informing police of one of the missing women’s whereabouts. Nevertheless, the voices of advocates were also included in the news reports offering more sympathetic and realistic portrayals of the women’s lives. Despite the omissions and distortions in the media coverage during this period, the thesis concludes by arguing that studying this period closely helps us to redirect our attention to the women themselves, their families, friends, and advocates, rather than focus on the police, the suspect eventually arrested, and the subsequent court trial.

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