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Ebola and The Journalist – A Matter of Life and Death

by on October 7, 2014

This week we are discussing the role of the journalist in matters concerning national security. The general question that seems to face journalists reporting these kinds of stories is whether or not the good they are doing revealing certain information outweighs the damage they could do to their country if they reveal it. A similar question can be asked concerning the role of the journalist in covering dangerous and infectious diseases.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a hot topic these days, especially as the disease begins to trickle out into the US and Europe. The Ebola crisis raises questions about journalistic coverage. Obviously Ebola is a major news event and needs to be covered so that the public can be informed about it. But what is the responsibility of the journalist both to their own safety and the safety of the public? Here the issue is less about specific national interests and more the general interest of people. This week, for example,American freelance photographer Ashoka Mukpo,who contracted the Ebola virus in Africa, was airlifted to the United States and placed in an isolated care unit at a Nebraska hospital. While the utmost precautions were taken during his transport, the fact remains that another infected person was brought into the country, where he has the potential to infect more people.
As journalists, we often have to consider whether the stories we tell will harm people. But with regards to Ebola and other infectious diseases, we must also consider whether the very act of covering will harm other people. What is a good story, a good photograph, or a good bit of film really worth in these scenarios? Are they worth risking one’s own life? Many war correspondents will tell you that the answer is yes. But what about the lives of other people, including people potentially close to us? That answer may be muddier, but the question is one we must ask ourselves before wading into such scenarios.

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One Comment
  1. This is a great topic to discuss especially with the recent Ebola outbreaks. Ebola is all I’ve been hearing about since the news broadcasted the stories about the recent US citizens who have been infected with it. Every time someone coughs or sneezes I hear jokes about them having Ebola which is highly unlikely from just those symptoms. They have a common cold not a rare virus. People are turning the common cold into scares of having Ebola. I think the news should be covering this topic because the public needs to be informed about an outbreak like this so we can take necessary precautions, however, they should be informing us the likeliness of being infected with it ourselves. Instead of saying “Ebola is in Texas” they should then give us details about how it spreads and if they are containing it. It is worth the story but there are limits to every good story. When it starts scaring the nation and students around college campuses where getting a flu is pretty common, that’s when the reporters should consider revising the story to shed some “good” news on the topic. There comes a point where the news is going to protect and inform but there also comes a point where the news is going to scare and over inform.

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