At this point, you would have to live under a rock to not know the term “Ebola.” The current outbreak of Ebola virus disease (“EVD” if you’re a medical professional; just plain “Ebola” if you’re not) was first reported in March 2014, but the hysteria in US media truly developed after the first American case on September 30. Since then, no one in the US has been able to use the internet without coming across some news flash regarding the outbreak.
How necessary is all of this coverage? If my country-of-residence was somewhere in West Africa, I would want to know which towns are affected by this disease. Luckily, this is not the case. In a country of over 300 million people spanning 6 million square miles, the US has had four potential cases.
The sensational nature of this outbreak has not been lost on Boston.com. The media outlet has had near daily reports on the spread of the disease. Like most US news outlets, Boston.com reports on the latest status of those who may be infected with Ebola. Multimedia features such as “Hey Boston, How do you get Ebola?” (co-created by classmate Megan Allison) keep the coverage fresh and interesting. However, these reports simultaneously make Ebola seem to be a massive terror while telling people they need to calm down.
Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary cary pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, has written multiple posts on the outbreak of the disease. In a post about preventing a US outbreak, she advocates “going the extra mile”; in the case of the Liberian man who died in Texas, she said, “What the situation needed was for the person who asked the question to be in the faces of the people caring for Mr. Duncan saying, Did you see that he was in Liberia?” Two weeks later, Dr. McCarthy posted that fear is the worst effect of this outbreak. She didn’t acknowledge a change of opinion in either blog post, so perhaps she overlooked how these posts contradict one another.
Dr. McCarthy is not the only Boston.com staff member guilty of paradoxical reporting. Daily updates with the headline “Ebola Today” keep a count of the number of deaths–4,877 according to the Oct. 27 report–and time-stamped updates on US-related action. These reports are followed by a “Daily reminder not to panic” and a link to an interview with a Massachusetts General Hospital doctor discussing the low likelihood of an Ebola outbreak in the US.
The US is pretty much the only country that reports so heavily on the Ebola outbreak. While Boston.com is trying to dissipate fear, the constant coverage forces the sensationalization down our throats. It’s a bit much.