Tuesday, September 22, 2020
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Who deserves the public's attention?

When the trial for convicted serial killer Robert Pickton began in early 2007, the media couldn’t get enough of it….

By Allison Cross , in Blogs Finding Balance in Gendered Media , on January 25, 2008

When the trial for convicted serial killer Robert Pickton began in early 2007, the media couldn’t get enough of it. Dedicated reporters camped out at the courthouse in New Westminster and prepared to stay for the long haul. In addition to stories about the trial, reporters pumped out profiles of the missing women, many of whom were sex workers addicted to drugs. These stories, in a way, brought these women back to life. The public learned about where they were born, where they grew up and how much their loved ones missed them.

But this kind of journalism didn’t accompany the series of events that led up to the Pickton investigation. Women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside started to go missing in the 1980s. The media didn’t seem to care, and neither did the police. Perhaps they didn’t think it was news that another prostitute had left the streets. It only seems to reinforce the notion that some women deserve more media attention than others. Even worse, it makes the statement that certain lives don’t mean as much as others. The media’s willingness to ignore the disappearance of these women only kept the public in the dark.

When four-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing from a hotel room in Portugal, media outlets from around the world went into a frenzy. Glued to their television screens, ordinary citizens couldn’t get over the horror of the beautiful, doe-eyed girl’s mysterious disappearance. She was young and helpless, they said. She needed to be saved.

The missing sex workers were children once too and were deeply loved by their families and friends. But their status as prostitutes meant they didn’t deserve the same attention and were not worthy of coverage from the media and compassion from the public.