by Margaret Wright
Rethinking what we think we know about Ebola
Flying far under the radar of most news coverage: Members of West African immigrant communities (many of them refugees who fled horrific, long-term civil war) report living not just with constant fear for friends and family back in their home countries, but also with fear of stigmatization here in the U.S. The heated tone and fear-centric framing (not to mention errors) in reporting about the Ebola crisis can have very real, lived consequences.
Might we also add stigmatization to the many difficulties journalists face reporting on the virus? Michel Du Cille from the Washington Post was asked to cancel a scheduled visit to Syracuse University because he recently worked in Liberia. Du Cille just cleared the three-week incubation period for the virus following a two-week reporting trip. Says Du Cille:
“My initial reaction was, ‘Maybe I can talk to them and walk them through how you catch Ebola.’ But none of that mattered in the end,” he said. “The most disappointing thing is that the students at Syracuse have missed that moment to learn about the Ebola crisis, using someone who has been on the ground and seen it up close. But they chose to pander to hysteria.”
A group of journalists well-versed in the issue discussing the quality of news coverage agreed it leaves much to be desired. Says writer/editor Kelly Hills,
“Essentially, I think you have to walk back what people think they know, in order to share not only what they should but need to know. The problem with this, of course, is that it’s not a snappy and dramatic and click-bait-y as ‘THREE SIMPLE TRUTHS ABOUT EBOLA THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE’ style headlines.”
Biomedical reporter Jason Tetro adds,
“There is no ‘good’ way to cover this outbreak without incorporation of the local media. They are the ones who understand the culture, the people and how the tide has turned (and whether this is unusual - it may not be). As for crisis communication, it needs to be centralized on the ground in affected areas and focus on the people there.”
Deplorable behavior cloaked as ethical crusading
If you’ve followed the Compass for even a little while, you know we think (and write) a lot about journalism ethics. While I’ve never been into video or digital gaming, I was fascinated to read that a rallying cry for journalism ethics was somehow successfully folded into the maelstrom of “Gamergate.” Canadian tech editor Patrick O’Rourke says questions about conflict of interest haunt gaming journalism just as they do every other form:
“… some websites still seem content to act as PR mouthpieces rather than provide any deep analysis or critiques of gaming content. This is also partly because of the nature of covering the video game industry. Publishers and PR representatives are the gate keepers when it comes to securing interviews, early access to games and exclusive stories.
And Mike Williams, a staff writer at USGamer.net writes in an Oct. 13 editorial, “There are certainly issues involving visibility in long-form content, rumor-mongering, aggregation, press events, and corporate partnership agreements.” He adds, however, “the problem I see in many of the demands is a misunderstanding in how journalism works in our industry.”
The problems with the mob that coalesced around Gamergate’s hashtag don’t end there. Deadspin‘s Karl Wagner posits that “what’s made it effective … is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides.”
And as oft-threatened freelance writer Leigh Alexander points out at the end of her litany of legitimate ethical concerns facing the gaming industry, most of the issues at the center of “Gamergate” aren’t what many in the cybermob make them out to be:
“Not currently ethical concerns: Women’s sex lives, independent game developers’ Patreons, the personal perspectives of game critics, people having contentious or controversial opinions, who knows who in a close-knit industry (as if one could name an industry where people don’t know each other or work together).”
- Author Jeff Sharlet’s long shortform nonfiction on Instagram represents a lovely exploitation of the medium.
- R.I.P.: “For all its bluster, the Guardian did a lot of important civic journalism, and a lot of investigative journalism.”
- Mozilla weighs in on the value of open government data: “Leaders need to be clear about their reasons, including what led to their conclusion.”
- The founder of the Center for Public Integrity makes a compelling case for a formalized journalism/academia cross-pollination he calls “accountability studies.”
- A Nieman report offers a glimpse at what it’s like to practice journalism in Cuba.