Julia and Emilia’s Choice: The Media’s Ebola Coverage: The more you watch, the less you know?

This week’s Article about Ebola coverage was very eye-opening. How is it that the more you watch, the less you know? Recent polls show that 69% of viewers are concerned about the Ebola virus and that 68% surveyed believe Ebola spreads “easily” (which is incorrect). This article is very interesting and brings up this moral responsibility that journalists have to tell the truth. However, it seems as though most reporters are only reporting for the ratings and the shock factor.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlin quoted, “reports can be part of the problem or part of the solution?” which side do you agree with? The problem or the solution?

I recently read an Article by China Sherz for an International Studies class I am in and she cites media as the reason why Ebola is now attached to a “racialized African body.” Do you agree or disagree with this?

How did you respond hearing that reporters are hyping up the coverage on Ebola to gain higher ratings? Does this go against the moral code of journalism and covering the facts?

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10 Responses to “Julia and Emilia’s Choice: The Media’s Ebola Coverage: The more you watch, the less you know?”

  1. I think it is always important to remember that journalists have a great deal of power in what is actually heard about by the public. This means that it is true that journalists can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution just by the stories they report on and how they go about reporting on them. I agree that because of the coverage on Ebola Americans have this even stronger idea of what they think Africa is like and a strong fear for getting sick. A great deal of these articles mentioned the conditions of Africa as the cause for the virus and this only causes people to conjure up ideas in their heads about how terrible Africa must be and how undeveloped it must be in order to have such a low standard of living. Because of this reason, I do agree that Ebola has caused there to be a “racialized African body” and that as a result of this virus people have become racist and turned off to the whole idea of going to Africa or even speaking to African people due to their different way of life and whatever bad things they have come to think about the people of Africa. In addition, I think it is terrible that journalists seem to be in the profession sometimes only for the publicity and they try to hype of coverage of events that they believe people will be more interested in than others. This does go against the idea that journalists should not be biased and always tell the facts. We know it is not true that the journalists are being entirely truthful in this situation especially due to the fact that the Americans who follow the news seem to have all of the facts wrong about Ebola. It is important for a journalist to put the facts out there and it is up to the audience to decide what their opinion is and how to proceed, not the journalist.

  2. I believe the biggest take away from these articles was worded well by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, “Reporters can be a part of the problem or part of the solution.” Unfortunately, the current state of our news media coverage is based on money and ratings. And many reporters solution to this, is to cover the stories in a way that captivate the audience’s attention, aka the scare tactic of the ebola crisis that contributes to the problem.
    In my own opinion, I think reporters have a moral obligation to cover the news in a ‘fair’ manner that is part of the solution. To me, this means reporting the facts and opinions of both sides, but also bringing in the bigger picture of what it all means. For example, citizens should be aware of the dangers of the ebola virus, but also the actual likelihood of contracting the disease, signs to look for, comparisons to other outbreaks for scale of the problem, and preventative measures they should take.
    I think it’s the responsibility of journalists to contribute to the solution but also to hold other journalists accountable for the same high level of reporting.
    Thanks for your interesting questions!

  3. I agree that this article is an excellent example of the moral responsibilities journalists hold. Unfortunately, as we saw in the Detroit Free Press editor’s meeting, most news outlets primarily care about readership. People are attracted to shocking stories, so reporters are going to do whatever they can do make their stories appealing to their audience, even if it means putting an inaccurate spin on the story. In this light, I would say that reports can oftentimes cause more problems than solutions. On the other hand, if reporters truly care about the truth and report honestly, rather than to get more readers, I think reports can be the solution in some circumstances. I would agree that Ebola is now attached to a “racialized African body,” since most of the information I have read about Ebola is about Africa. This is probably an inaccurate way to report on this disease, but China Sherz’s point is the reality. Since Ebola is an important topic that people should be knowledgeable about, I think hyping up the story to gain higher ratings is definitely morally questionable. People should be able to rely on news outlets to inform them, rather than to entertain or persuade.

  4. I definitely think that reports can be part of either the problem or the solution. There have been instances of reporters shining light on an unknown issue and increasing public awareness about an important topic. However, journalists can also cause unnecessary fear of an issue, like Ebola. While this is often done to increase readership, this can have negative effects as well. When I am looking for an article to read, I enjoy hearing about a topic that I have not head as much about. If I see an article about something that I have already read a lot about, I tend to skip it.
    I believe that hyping up this issues does go against the moral code you mentioned. However, It is difficult to find a balance between what drives revenues and what topics need to be covered, so I understand why reporters do this. Even without including incorrect information, reporters can still spark fear among their readers, either with an alarming headline or simply over reporting a topic.

  5. I think that at some point down the line, news outlets have to start going for what catches readers. The business appears to be very short-term reward based, with little insight for the implications of the future. This appears to be why networks like CNN come up with ridiculous headlines like “Ebola: The ISIS of biological agents”. In the short term, scaring the general public is decently effective at least for creating a storyline. Of course, it misses the mark for actual education. It will be interesting to see what companies will come up with after the fad of scaring the public goes away. Because the news is run through $$, it will always come down to the $$. The most appropriate question is how can we manage to sneak in good content and education with the ratings push.

  6. As a biology student, I have been amazed throughout the whole Ebola “scandal” at the media’s portrayal of the disease and the public’s reaction. Through all of it, the information and facts have not come from scientists, but reporters. I have learned in multiple in biology classes about Ebola, forms of transmission of the disease, infectivity of ebola vs more common diseases, etc. and basically how it is not a real threat to America due to the difficulty of transmission and a very low secondary infection rate. I would like to think that people reporting on such an issue would do more research on their topic beyond what is taught in a high school biology class, but sadly this does not appear to be the case. What really surprises (and frustrates) me is how much incorrect information is being spread by the media for the purpose of generating headlines and views. If the actual Ebola story were being told (for the most part, Ebola is only a problem in Africa due to close proximity to chimpanzees and burial rituals) instead of fear mongering, it would no longer be a clickbait story. In addition, why are people reporting on a disease they clearly know nothing about? The Fox news reporter speculated that ISIS could potentially weaponize Ebola, which is one of the most ridiculous headlines I’ve ever heard. Even if ISIS, by some miracle, figured a way to weaponize Ebola, I can guarantee you it would not involve “sending a few of its suicide killers into an Ebola-affected zones and then get them on some mass transit”. There are so many other dangerous diseases that are easier to transmit, why would ISIS use one of the least infective diseases? I feel like reporters should take pride in their work of supplying the public with an unbiased review of the situation at hand. Instead, I feel like this Ebola situation has been riddled with reporters who are simply trying to make big stories and big headlines at the expense of their story and integrity.

  7. This was a very interesting article, and I totally agree with what it was saying. Plenty of news stories definitely seem to be trying more to induce fear with the purpose of gaining ratings rather than actually reporting accurately. It isn’t only Ebola; the same thing occurs with things like terrorism and drugs and vaccines all sorts of topics that the media blows out of proportion. It certainly makes news station more popular by including those kinds of stories!

    The quote that reports can be the solution or the problem is a little bit inaccurate, I think. I think it suggests that there is only one side at a time, but that is untrue. For example, the whole thing with vaccines causing autism may have begun as media fear-mongering, although they were most likely going off of the journal article that has since been retracted. As far as I know, the media isn’t still claiming that vaccines are causing autism, but there is still a growing problem with kids not being vaccinated because of that fear.

    At the same time, the media may still be at fault. I liked the way the article talked about Fox News’ fear-mongering, because they represent a large part of the problem. I don’t know how many other news sources fabricate their stories, but I know Fox News is not a reliable news station. The idea that they may write stories about Ebola being incredibly contagious seems very typical of them, but other news sources I am surprised to hear would do something like that for ratings. I definitely think it should not be a reporter’s main method of gaining ratings. It’s like treating real-life facts as fictional TV, and that is not right.

  8. Given my knowledge of the media’s coverage of the Ebola epidemic, this article is an apt critique. In the Biology and Society course I took last fall, we studied the discrepancy between the “science” that the media reports and the real science generated by trained professionals. In the case of Ebola, the inaccuracies perpetrated by the media were especially shocking. Those who consumed only popular news sources – rather than scientific information – believed that Ebola was airborne (it is not), originated from monkeys (it originated from bats), and had a much higher death rate that in reality.

    Most notably, though, the proportion of the “epidemic” was blown hugely out of proportion by the media. Many people believe Ebola to be the most contagious and deadly disease in Africa, simply because of the disproportionate media coverage it received. In fact, AIDS and Malaria continue to kill far more people each day than does Ebola, but these diseases received much less media coverage in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

    This inaccurate portrayal connects to an underlying trend in media coverage. When the opportunity for a sensational story emerges, many media outlooks overlook the inaccuracies they perpetrate, or the harm a singular focus on an issue deemed the most important might have on other, equally or more important, yet less sensational issues. Another example that showcases this point is the media coverage of the Nepal earthquake. All of the photographs I saw portrayed extreme destruction and death. Yet, a friend who was actually in Nepal during the earthquake said that the media chose to focus solely on the worst case scenarios in the crisis. In reality, she said, most houses were minimally damaged, the city continued to function, and most people went about their daily lives. While it is important to call attention to the loss of infrastructure and human life that did occur, the media should also strive for a more balanced report, in this scenario and others.

  9. I have to admit I’m one of the misinformed Americans that got caught up in the scare… (In my defense, I also had a fear of Ebola when I was a kid after reading a pathology textbook). Not only is hyping up a situation in order to get views immoral, what right does a reporter have to call for a national lock down, or promote conspiracy theorists? I can see how it would be easy for a situation like this to get out of control. Clearly, views are very important today, and if people keep eating up information on a topic, you’re going to want to meet the demand. But, as far as reports being a solution vs. a problem, there are other ways to hold attention other than fear. If there were more articles like this, that called out false information, or articles that presented real facts which opposed rumors, I think that could also pull a lot of attention.

  10. I think the building up strong emotions is key for journalists. Fear, love, anxiety, passion, shock, these are the qualities that were sited as headline-worthy when we were talking with the Detroit free press. They are the titles that get clicked on, and what produces money and stability for the writers. I imagine that the benefits of sensationalizing a story are rarely outweighed by moral obligations, and more often kept in check by being held accountable. That is not to say that I think these stories are always intentionally skewed for the sake of income, I imagine that rumors and fear surrounding issues such as this are known and at times surely believed by writers, and, as we all know eliminating bias from an article is a lofty goal.

    Another issue that I would only like to touch on briefly, is that as misinformation is propitiated in news articles, the credibility of the whole channel of media declines. I found myself thinking, “I’ll stick to my peer- reviewed and well regarded journals” at the end of this article, and I realized that if that is a common enough response we are not likely to address the misinformation, rather we will sort out the types of people who consume this kind of news.

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