Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Searchers

The synergy between billboards and websites can be important to provide publicity for causes and products both in urban centers and in rural areas. While driving along the historic Route 66, it was hard to miss the signs for that draw attention to the disappearance of April Beth Pitzer from Newberry Springs, California. Pitzer disappeared from an area that only got individualized telephone service in the 1980s, a place where when a call was placed through an operator in Los Angeles, all the phones in the nearby town of Ludlow would ring at once; customers picked up the phone if they heard the ring that was assigned to their particular place of business.

One of my digital rhetoric students last year composed her final online video essay about missing persons websites and argued that there are often commercial interests or other kinds of opportunistic entities taking advantage of such web-based appeals. In the case of the "Where is April?" site, the sections devoted to "history" and "blog" tell a sad and relatively straightforward story of a search for this mother of two growing cold over time with little of the transmedia hype that my student described in her project. The link to "tips" on the April site appears to be broken in some browsers, and the online form no longer works, although the telephone number for the confidential clearinghouse Let's Bring Them Home still functions. "Donate" leads to an appeal for travel money for April's mother, and "thanks" to appreciation for local law enforcement and merchants who have provided posters, billboards, and supplies.

The next search is scheduled for October of 2008. So far, little has turned up, except for April's clothes in a mine shaft. The site provides the following information for volunteers:

To volunteer for the search you must be at least eighteen years of age or accompanied by a parent. To enter the mineshafts you must be eighteen or older.

If you would like to volunteer to help with the search and/or excavation please understand that the terrain is rugged, the location is secluded, and that the mineshafts are dangerous. You assume all responsibility for your actions and/or injuries. Also note that cars and minivans might not be able to access the location and it is suggested that trucks be used to shuttle people to the site.

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