EDIT: Thank you for all the questions. That's all I have time to answer today. You can read all of my work here https://www.usatoday.com/staff/2647742001/gina-barton/

During my first week as reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2002, the biggest story by far was the disappearance of Alexis Patterson, 7 years old and Black, who vanished on her way to school. A month later, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Utah, sparking a conversation in our newsroom about why Elizabeth’s case got so much more national media attention than Alexis’ and whether race played a role. Through the years, I’ve stayed in touch with Alexis’ mother, who believes her daughter is alive and will someday be found. I want to help make that happen if I can, and I want to do my part to help other missing children whose stories have yet to be told. The story I wrote to kick off the project can be found here.

I have more than 15 years of experience as an investigative reporter . In 2012, my reporting on the death of Derek Williams in Milwaukee police custody prompted the medical examiner to change the cause of death from natural to homicide. For that investigation, I was honored with a George Polk award. I am also the producer and host of the national Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Unsolved, which will feature Alexis Patterson’s case in season 4.

You can follow me on Twitter: @writerbarton

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/mjbytvrt8yz81.jpg

Comments: 35 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

DaniAlpha5 karma

Has your work helped reunite kids with their parents? If so, let us know which cases! Also, have you noticed any correlation in how children of color VS white children are kidnapped?

usatoday6 karma

So far, I haven't reunited any missing kids with their families, but I hope to as this project continues! To that end, we're going to be collecting DNA and working with some genetic genealogists. We're also going to be featuring stories of missing kids who haven't received a lot of coverage in hopes that someone has seen them. So far, we haven't drilled down on kidnappings specifically, but we do know that Black children are more often the victims of trafficking than whites.

JohnFrum425 karma

Are there any leads on the Alexis case?

usatoday9 karma

The police tell me they get new leads regularly. The most promising one came in 2016, when a tipster in Ohio called with information that a woman there looked like the age-progressed photo of Alexis. The police said they tested her DNA and it wasn't her, but Alexis' mom still thinks the Ohio woman could be her daughter.

ghydn3 karma

What are the most common outcomes of missing children cases (never found case closed/found dead/runaway/abducted by stranger and found/abducted by a connection and found/etc) and what is that mix by race? In other words, do races experience measurably different recovery outcomes?

Similarly, what is your take on the case of Jazmine Barnes, the black Houston girl originally thought to have been murdered by a white suspect - and whose public interest dropped when it was revealed she was caught in the middle of a drive-by and shot by black suspects? On this story I have heard some critics say the reason why the media does not play up missing black children stories is the outcomes tend to not paint black men in a positive light as they are usually the result of gang activity.

usatoday3 karma

Most missing children -- close to 99%, are quickly found. Of those who are not, most have been abducted by a non-custodial parent. With children who have been missing a year or more, a disproportionate number are Black. As far as public interest in a case goes, I have read some research that says it's not just a media issue. On social media, people are less likely to like or share a post about a missing Black child than a missing white child. I can tell you that in newsrooms where I've worked, we didn't choose what to cover based on the suspected cause or outcome. Instead, we would talk about how interesting or unusual a case is, among other things. These are clearly subjective decisions and they're made by mostly white journalists, since people of color are underrepresented in newsrooms.

ManufacturerIll14783 karma

Do you think national TV news treats missing white kids differently than missing children of color because of ratings, because of perceived ratings, because of people leading these decisions? You also reported that police treat them differently -- were you shocked when they treated a straight A student who was 7 years old as a "runaway"?

usatoday6 karma

I have to say I was pretty surprised when I found out the police chief was still calling Alexis a runaway several days after she disappeared. Like, where would she go? And even if she did decide to leave on her own, it wasn't safe for her out there. To their credit, though, even with that label, the Milwaukee police did put a lot of effort in to searching for Alexis. As for why national TV news treats these cases differently, some of the research I've read blames unconscious bias on the part of news executives and reporters. Some says the decision-makers know their audiences are more interested in missing white women so it becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Npenz2 karma

Do you think we'll have technology down the line (facial recognition etc.) that will help police on cold missing persons cases? Any evidence of new tools already being used?

usatoday4 karma

I have not heard of police using facial recognition in missing persons cases, but that sounds like it has some promise. I will definitely ask around on that. So far, the "newest" technology police are using is social media. There was an uproar in Washington, DC not long ago when their police department started posting long-term missing people on Facebook. It wasn't clear to some members of the public that these were old cases, so people started thinking there was a new epidemic of missing there.

usatoday2 karma

EDIT: That’s all I have time to answer today. Thank you for all the questions. Keep following our coverage at usatoday.com.

ContributionNo64132 karma

What were the internal discussions like in the Journal Sentinel newsroom surrounding the George Floyd Protests?

usatoday1 karma

That was definitely a story in which all hands were on deck. It was like nothing we'd seen in the 20 years I worked there. We were focused on how best to get accurate information out quickly and with proper context. We had also all been covering covid, so we had to decide who would pivot to cover the protests.

GGJallDAY2 karma

What do your findings suggest as to the cause?

usatoday8 karma

We're still trying to figure out some of the underlying causes, but we do have one preliminary finding. It seems that police are more likely to label children of color as runaways rather than endangered missing or critical missing. The "runaway" classification means the child doesn't get an Amber Alert. It also means reporters are less likely to write about the case.

usatoday3 karma

Oops, sorry. Looks like I answered that one twice.

suddenly_ponies1 karma

Where do you stand on official sanctions and holding reporters and news stations accountable for spreading false information? What is a good way we can get a handle on it?

usatoday3 karma

Most, if not all, journalists would agree that a free press is fundamental to a democratic society. One solution to misinformation is a public that recognizes which news organizations hire trained and ethical reporters, and go to them for coverage. I also think it's important that when we make mistakes, we correct them promptly.

CraigNickels1 karma

You've reported on bad police behavior quite a bit over the years. How has that shaped your interactions with them? Are they universally suspicious of you? Is there a contingent that are glad you're doing it?

I should add: Setting aside the far fringes of Blue Lives Matter and ACAB, I think most people just want to see good behavior rewarded and bad behavior punished.

usatoday1 karma

For most of my career, police have been suspicious of me, arguably for good reason. Although I have many confidential sources who are the "good cops." They want to see bad behavior punished but don't want to be seen speaking to me. In my latest project, about the Blue Wall of Silence that punishes police whistleblowers while letting cops who break the rules off the hook, I was surprised -- but very grateful -- that many whistleblowers were willing to talk to my reporting partners and me on the record. https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2021/12/09/blue-wall-police-misconduct-whistleblower-retaliation/8836387002/

ManufacturerIll14781 karma

Your story asked for people to send you other cases. Have you been learning of a lot of other missing children of color cases around the country that didn't get nearly the attention they should have? Any like Alexis?

usatoday3 karma

We've come across a very interesting case out of New York that was uncovered by a college student who will be interning for us this summer. Domonique Holley-Grisham, a Black 16-year-old male, disappeared around the same time as Brittanee Drexel, a17-year-old white female, in 2009. Brittannee's body was found just a week or so ago, and someone was charged with killing her. Domonique is still missing.

lavender_and_lorde1 karma

Can you talk a little more about how you got the medical examiner who changed Derek Williams' cause of death to do so?

What was that experience like for you and the Williams' family when they changed it?

Story link please!!

usatoday3 karma

Here's the link: https://archive.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/medical-examiner-revises-suspects-death-ruling-to-homicide-kb6q9fe-170871001.html/

In short, the medical examiner in MKE said he consulted a certain book when deciding to call the death natural. I called the doctor who wrote that book and asked him to look at Williams' case. The doctor/writer said it was not a natural death but rather a homicide. After that, the Milwaukee medical examiner changed his ruling and the district attorney opened an inquest to see if the cops involved should be criminally charged. The inquest jury said they should, but the special prosecutor still didn't charge them, which I know was discouraging to a lot of people. The revised finding did help in the family's civil suit, though. His children got a $2 million settlement.

jowczarski1 karma

Hey Gina! Thanks for doing this and I'm proud to call you a colleague!
I'm curious how you approach the podcast as opposed to written reporting.
Do you report for the podcast, and then it develops into something you can write or vice versa? Also, do you try to conduct interviews with the intent of using the audio for broader use, or end up having to go back to re-record?

usatoday2 karma

Thank you! For the first season of Unsolved, I used audio I had recorded as part of reporting for a print story -- I didn't decide to make a podcast until about midway through the process. Since then, I record EVERYTHING. I try to get a high-quality recording without using lots of high-tech audio equipment, since that can intimidate people. Most of that is usable for the show. If it's not and I can get the source to come into the studio, I'll do that. If they won't or can't, I just explain to listeners why the audio quality is bad and they generally understand.

ManufacturerIll14781 karma

I just did a google search and you have covered some wild stuff! Is it true you solved this murder case where the killer cut off his victim's head and hands and dropped him in river between two states so the cops wouldn't know who should investigate? That sounds like something Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle would make up! https://archive.jsonline.com/news/crime/fatal-identity-missing-drummer-clever-killer-250403331.html/

usatoday2 karma

I have definitely covered some strange and interesting cases! For that particular story, the first time I spoke with the suspected killer's ex-wife, she told me all about how her then-husband, Dennis Gaede, killed the man and she helped dispose of the body. After my series ran, Gaede was charged and convicted by a jury. I don't know if I exactly solved the murder -- law enforcement had some of the same information -- but cops have told me my coverage for sure helped get Gaede charged.