It is the question I now get asked most, as a corresponding covering some of the UK’s most significant – and most dreadful – crimes. Why are all women who meet violent deaths not given the coverage as Sarah Everard?
The horrors Zara Aleena was subjected to have raised the point again for all of us who work in news, be it online, in TV or in print.
Many women have brutally lost their lives in the 16 months since Ms Everard was murdered, and many of those tragedies rightly received wide coverage across the media. But none provoked the same national conversation as the incident in Clapham.
Was it to do with the perpetrator? Sarah Everard’s life was ended at the hands of a serving police officer – an exceptionally rare circumstance. It naturally threw up existential questions about law and order, and the suitability and vetting of staff, which are still yet to be conclusively answered.
But even in the six days before Wayne Couzens was arrested, Ms Everard’s disappearance had already become a news event with all the hashtags, sorrow and heart-rending “it could have been me” conversations for so many women.
The barbarism inflicted upon Ms Aleena has not provoked a similar outpouring of vigils and commemorations to those bestowed upon Sarah Everard. It took Ms Aleena’s family to organize the deeply moving event last Saturday.
Her killing appeared on television bulletins and news channels. But the overall media coverage – and the social media outrage – has not been comparable.
A glance at Google Trends shows a vast spike in web traffic occurred as Sarah Everard came to prominence. In the subsequent cases of Sabina Nessa and Zara Aleena, various analytics tools show the law of diminishing returns set in.
Some commentators will conclude being a woman of color is the reason. The June 2020 murders of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in north-west London is often cited, though it should be said very few non-Covid stories received prominence at the time. However, the case of Zara Aleena may back up the argument that even having the hint of an ethnic background strangely impedes the amount of coverage a victim receives.
Americans have a phrase for it – “Missing White Woman Syndrome”. The late, legendary newscaster Gwen Ifill coined it. Now, it is often used to describe the disparity in media coverage that young, missing, conventionally attractive white females receive over missing Black and brown people.
Aside from race, age may be another factor. This would help us understand why the murder of Kent Police PCSO Julia James – aged 53 – also received far less coverage than that of Sarah Everard.
I wonder if another factor also plays a part – location. A killing in leafy Clapham (Ms Everard) appears more immediately incongruous, and might be deemed more “newsworthy” to many news editors than urban Ilford (Ms Aleena).
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I approach my reporting as someone who has never experienced the anger, frustration and fear of walking home alone. But I do have an insight into how the media works. TV coverage has long been shifted by newspaper headlines. Many front page splashes are now determined by online clicks.
Social media users arguably drive the editorial decision-making more than the executives sitting in what used to be called Fleet Street. Crucially, in this case, fewer clicks and shares have perhaps meant less newsprint has been committed to the story.
The most searing comments have come from Zara Aleena’s family. “We all need to be talking about this tragedy,” they wrote. Their choice of words suggests they too are slightly baffled as to why their daughter’s death hasn’t dominated the news agenda.
Julian Druker is a correspondent for 5 News