University of Oulu

“She deserves that right, like any other white woman would” : critical discourse analysis on news coverage of missing women on CNN

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Author: Junttola, Sanni1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, English Philology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.3 MB)
Pages: 67
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : S. Junttola, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-09-07
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Siromaa, Maarit
Reviewer: Siromaa, Maarit
Keisanen, Tiina


Missing White Woman Syndrome is an intersectional theory and a name coined for the prevalent racial and gender bias in the mass media news coverage of missing persons cases. It defines the media’s concentration on missing persons cases of White women who are young, conventionally attractive and often from wealthier backgrounds while disregarding the disappearances of non-White women as well as men. Previous research of the topic has shown the disparity in the amount of news coverage and also studied if the phenomenon is manifested in the language and content of the news coverage. However, more empirical research on the latter is needed in order to understand how the multifaceted phenomenon is represented in the news coverage. Therefore, this thesis examines if and how the news coverage of White and non-White women on differ in terms of themes, language and imagery. More specifically, the analysis answers the research question of how the missing person is depicted and if the depiction is influenced by the race, social status, age, and appearance of the missing person as well as how the need for public attention of the case is manifested in the news articles.

Critical Discourse Analysis is used as an approach to this study, as it aids in the examination of how the societal issue of Missing White Woman Syndrome is manifested in the analyzed news articles. In addition, Multimodal Discourse analysis is used as an additional approach to evaluate also the visual elements of the news articles. Based on the analytical framework an analysis will be conducted on eight news articles collected from the website of the Caple News Network, CNN which focus on the disappearances of Gabby Petito, Jashyah Moore, Miya Marcano, and Mary Johnson. After the analysis, the thesis will discuss the results before moving to the final conclusion.

The results of the study suggest that the disappearances of White women are not sensationalized only in the amount of news coverage, but also in the themes, language and imagery. An example of such news coverage was the case of Petito in which this was represented through theatrical presentation and emphasis on the dramatic aspects of the case. Such representation was not seen to the same extent of the news coverage of the cases of Moore, Marcano and Johnson. The results also support the previous research which has claimed that in order for a disappearance of a non-White woman to be seen as ‘newsworthy’, the positive characteristics of the person need to be emphasized. Furthermore, in the news coverage of the cases Moore and Johnson, additional discussion on the societal issue of Missing White Woman Syndrome was included to increase the newsworthiness of the stories.

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Copyright information: © Sanni Junttola, 2022. Except otherwise noted, the reuse of this document is authorised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) licence ( This means that reuse is allowed provided appropriate credit is given and any changes are indicated. For any use or reproduction of elements that are not owned by the author(s), permission may need to be directly from the respective right holders.