Forgive me the levity of the post title, because I actually have rather a serious subject for you today (for a change). Anyone living in the UK or who follows UK events will know that Yorkshire schoolgirl Shannon Matthews was found alive by police yesterday lunchtime. Good good. She had been reported missing 3½ weeks ago, after failing to come home from a school swimming lesson. And now she's been found, she's alive and apparently in good health. So far, so happy ending.
But the thing here is not the happy denouement to the whole affair, it's the comparison I wish to draw between media coverage of Shannon Matthews' disappearance, and that of toddler Madeleine McCann, who went missing in Portugal in May last year. You can't not know about young Miss McCann, you can't not have seen the acres of newsprint, hours of airtime, and kilometres of blog posts surrounding her mysterious disappearance. The McCann story was the lead story for days and days after she was reported missing. And Shannon Matthews? Well, I think they lead with her story on two occasions: the day or day after she was reported missing, and the day she was found. Maybe that's not quite true, but the last 3 weeks have certainly not been non-stop Shannon.
Let's do a quick and highly unscientific Google test, shall we. Shannon Matthews typed into Google.co.uk brings back 536,000 results. This less than 24 hours after she was found alive and apparently well a few miles from her home. Right, what of the McCann girl. Madeleine McCann brings back only a few thousand more: 542,000. But Maddie McCann returns a further 300,000: 746,000.
I have my own, somewhat cynical theory to explain the disparity. Madeleine McCann is a photogenic blonde, blue-eyed little girl, daughter of a not unattractive couple - mother a GP, dad a heart surgeon. They live in a Leicestershire village, in a big house and they go on nice family holidays to Portugal (where they then think leaving the kids alone in the holiday apartment is a good childcare plan, but that's not the point here). Shannon Matthews is a smiling brunette schoolgirl with a cute spattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. But her parents are, for want of a less pejorative term, schemies. Her mother has 7 kids from five different fathers, and (don't hate me for being blunt), is less easy on the eye than slim, well-dressed Kate McCann.
And, let's face it. A housing estate in north Yorkshire in February is a zillion times less glamorous than a sun-kissed Portuguese beach resort in May. Ach, I dunno. The disappearance of any child is a tragedy for that child and its family. There can't always be good news as in the case of Shannon Matthews. But I suppose I just wanted to point out how picky and choosy the media is when it comes to covering some events, and how fickle and shallow editorial choices seem to be, based on the knowledge that a pretty toddler from a well-to-do middle-England family will always sell more cheap papers than a cheeky-looking brunette with a single-parent mum on some northern council estate.