Healthy News Coverage on the Spread of Infectious Diseases

This week Julie and Emilia have chosen a collection of news and resources that range from critiques of coverage of the Ebola virus, coverage of the 2001 Ebola outbreak in Africa, Americans’ reaction to the Ebola virus, methods in tracking and predicting trends in disease, HIV in Ann Arbor, to difficulty in defining pandemic.

While looking through our class readings, I was most intrigued by the critiques on the coverage of the Ebola virus. In a couple of the articles, reporters from different news sources were looking for people to blame for creating the hysteria around the Ebola virus. While Fox pointed its fingers at medical professionals and political leaders, Media Matters pointed its fingers at Fox for contributing to the chaos. In my opinion, it seems to me that almost every media source that has reported on the Ebola virus, including Fox and Media Matters, have contributed to creating panic and hysteria around this disease. By blaming each other and accusing the sources people trust in and look to for information and security in being informed, it’s easy to start to doubt our sources and become even more panicked. Personally, I wish these media sources would just apologize and take responsibility for what they’ve done rather than blame others. Instead of focusing their time and energy on blaming others, those resources could be used to invest in putting together well-informed and honest stories.

Another article that stood out to me in our class readings was Tom Clynes’s story on the Ebola virus in 2001. The words he used to describe healthcare workers’ situation during the outbreak were not only descriptive, the pictures that accompanied the words were just as compelling as the text of the story. I also liked how Clynes told the story similar to a narrative with many pictures and quotes that showed rather than told how people were feeling. Compared to other stories I’ve read that covered the recent Ebola outbreak, I felt much more open and empathetic than frightened as I was reading Clynes’s story.

So now that I’ve shared with you my thoughts on some of our class readings from this week, I’d love to hear from you. I came up with some discussion questions that I thought could be helpful for reflecting on the news articles and resources provided by the teachers in guiding your thought process:

1) Why do you think people who follow closely on the coverage of the Ebola virus end up being more likely to be misinformed about it? Do you agree with Media Matters’s explanation of this phenomenon?

2) The radio segment from ‘Here and Now’ talk about how there is a double standard that “celebrity network correspondents” are held to that is different from the general public. Do you believe that this double standard should exist for such public figures/medical professionals?

3) What do you make of Fox’s claims that medical professionals and leaders are lying? How much of an influence do you believe politics takes on the coverage of the Ebola virus?

4) What do you make of Media Matter’s critique on the coverage of the Ebola virus?

5) Looking at the graph from Talking Points Memo, why do you think the trends are the way they are? Why do you think there’s such a stark difference between Asia’s coverage of Ebola versus the United States?

6) What do you make of Tom Clyne’s story on Ebola? What do you think about the juxtaposition of his story and pictures throughout the page? What makes this coverage on the Ebola virus different from other stories covered on the same topic?

7) What is your response to Clynes’s story, and do you believe his piece at all hypes up the hysteria and chaos surrounding the Ebola virus as the critiques on the coverage of Ebola virus have discussed?

8) What do you make of the general public’s reaction to the Ebola virus in the States? Do you think their reactions are justified? Do you believe we are ready for a pandemic? If not, what do  you think needs to happen in order for us to be ready?

9) What are your thoughts on the Virus Hunter’s efforts to predict the next pandemic? Do you think it’ll be effective?
What about Google’s flu trends in predicting in tracking this disease?

10) What’s your opinion on the rise of HIV in Ann Arbor? Do you agree with the article’s reasons explaining this trend?

Hope these questions are helpful as you all are looking through the class readings. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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5 Responses to “Healthy News Coverage on the Spread of Infectious Diseases”

  1. Last weekend, I had dinner with my grandfather, who is a FOX News fan, and has been watching the news of the Ebola outbreak like he is getting paid to do it. He is fully convinced, because of FOX news, that the virus is airborne, and easily spread, but also that Obama is the culprit behind it all, to poison Republicans, and to win reelection. No matter how long we debated this subject he stood to his ideas (even though I presented many facts that put down all of his points). This is somewhat hilarious, but also terrifyingly sad. The media has basically brainwashed my grandfather into fear of this basically harmless “outbreak.”

    I was really interested in the point that was brought up in the video where FOX News says not to panic, because he points out that a lot of the coverage is political. Because midterm elections are coming up, both Republicans and Democrats are using this “outbreak” to help them in the polls. Republicans have proven to use this tool much better than Democrats, by actually making people believe that Obama wants the American people to die from this disease. There has been coverage saying that the czar he appointed was not fit for the job because he was not an expert on Ebola, but a advisor to past presidents. They are saying that because Obama did not choose an expert, he is trying to kill the American people. There are ridiculous stories like this being reported on multiple networks, nearly around the clock. I am ashamed that these people would scare the American people into thinking that Ebola is actually a threat, just to help them in the polls.

  2. I’d like to comment on the “Here and Now” piece. This story doesn’t absolve media of ebola virus hype, but neither does it take the form of the other dominating coverage: “Keep calm and report, media.” The commentary is focused on bringing some of the responsibility back to the people. Folkenflik points out that a citizen journalist brought attention to Snyderman simply by commenting online. I liked Folkenflik’s term “fact-checking.” It sounds like an act of a curious and deductive media-consumer. The reader observed that Snyderman was not in voluntary quarantine for as long as the recommended time and publicly inquired to find out why: Was I misinformed by the media/government? Did I observe wrongly? Does Snyderman know something we don’t? Is Snyderman unaware of the consequences? Raising these questions gives feedback to media and shapes future coverage. And behind all that, the consumer has a big question: should I be worried? Most citizens don’t have the resources to get information or opinions from reliable sources. Journalists do. Yet the media can’t make us drink. Examining, interpreting, and reacting to the information presented to us–actively consuming–will create a more effective media ecosystem.

  3. I agree with the Media Matters article that television news media has been perpetuating too much fear about the Ebola outbreak. The article briefly mentioned questionable sources the news media have used, but I wish it had discussed this issue in greater detail.

    I remember watching the news during the early stages of the outbreak in July. It was reported that Americans working in Liberia had contracted Ebola, and several had died. There were debates over how to handle the situation – should the U.S. send more American doctors to help those infected? Or should the Americans in Liberia be brought back to the States for treatment? In any case, it was becoming a serious public health issue. And Fox News had Donald Trump on for comment.

    Having the right sources are what makes a story credible. By giving us celebrities instead of health professionals, the news media is doing a disservice to the public, and not fulfilling its duty to inform. I would have liked to see a professional opinion on this in the Media Matters article.

  4. I was very interested in this weeks articles as I have been increasingly frustrated with the booming mass hysteria surrounding Ebola. Most of the articles that we read were critical of the way that media has been handling this outcry but others were still perpetuating the hype. I was fairly shocked by the Fox News anchors very blunt and honest newscast stating that reporters were being ‘irresponsible’ in their fear stimulating coverage of Ebola. I was so relieved to FINALLY hear someone put that truth out there. However, I was particularly confused that Fox News was reporting this, and waited until now to do so. Also I was a bit confused because they have been some of the worst offenders when it comes to spewing garbage and hype surrounding Ebola. I am very curious about how Shepard Smith fits into Fox News and how his producers and coworkers took that news blast.

    I think the thing that frightens me the most in this debacle is the amount of grossly inaccurate information that is being perpetuated. The article The Media’s Ebola Coverage: The More You Watch, the Less You Know? stated that the people who claim to being following this story the most are the ones whom are the most misinformed. Like Justine mentioned with her grandfather, people will hear what they want and once they hear something its nearly impossible to change their minds about it. There is an interesting article called: How Facts Backfire that shows that once people hear something they tend to believe it. Once they have heard something and believe it, it is nearly impossible for them to change their minds about it. Furthermore, the harder you try to convince them otherwise the firmer they establish that belief in their minds. Thus when the media spreads these overhyped stories and third party sites start making fake news stories saying that Ebola really is transmissible by air or that this is a conspiracy by Obama, people will hear and believe these statements. It is extremely dangerous to falsify stories because we are now dealing with a lot of people who are confused about a disease and increasing hysteria.

  5. I would just like to piggyback off of what Katie said. I think people will always hear what they want out of the facts and become “experts” after a 5 minute segment on television. The general population will not do the outside research that is required to accompany that information in a news story. It’s just difficult to accurately explain in layman’s terms all of the science behind Ebola, why it’s deadly, and to what extent people should be worried in just 5 minutes.

    On top of that, I think the media is always looking for ratings, and a big, scary headline is part of that. However, if you actually read the article/watch the segment that the headline is referring to, you would likely find that the article produces much less scare and more facts than the headline let on.

    I just personally think the hysteria might be a little over-the-top, but also that people’s concerns are warranted. Ebola is a deadly disease and, as we’ve seen, it only takes one person with the virus at one hospital to spread it to others. It becomes an exponential issue with each potential contact having their own set of contacts. Because of the dismal prognosis of Ebola, it makes sense for people to be terrified of it coming to heir community. Plus, isn’t everyone a little afraid of the unknown? And even though it’s been around for so long, we still don’t know how to effectively cure nor treat Ebola. That in itself is a scary thought.

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