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Our aim was to examine in what terms leading newspapers’ online sites described the current Ebola crisis.
We employed a quantitative content analysis of terms attributed to Ebola. We found and analyzed 582 articles published between March 23 and September 30, 2014, on the online websites of 3 newspapers: The New York Times, Daily Mail, and Ynet. Our theoretical framework drew from the fields of health communication and emerging infectious disease communication, including such concepts as framing media literacy, risk signatures, and mental models.
We found that outbreak and epidemic were used interchangeably in the articles. From September 16, 2014, onward, epidemic predominated, corresponding to when President Barack Obama explicitly referred to Ebola as an epidemic. Prior to Obama’s speech, 86.8% of the articles (323) used the term outbreak and only 8.6% (32) used the term epidemic. Subsequently, both terms were used almost the same amount: 53.8% of the articles (113) used the term outbreak and 53.3% (112) used the term epidemic.
Effective communication is crucial during public health emergencies such as Ebola, because language framing affects the decision-making process of social judgments and actions. The choice of one term (outbreak) over another (epidemic) can create different conceptualizations of the disease, thereby influencing the risk signature. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2016;10:669–673)
Recent years have seen advances in theories and models of risk and crisis communication, with a focus on emerging epidemic infection. Nevertheless, information flow remains unilateral in many countries and does not take into account the public’s polyvocality and the fact that its opinions and knowledge often “compete” with those of health authorities. This article addresses the challenges organizations face in communicating with the public sphere.
Our theoretical approach is conceptualized through a framework that focuses on the public sphere and that builds upon existing guidelines and studies in the context of health and pandemics. We examine how health organizations cope with the public’s transformation from recipients to an active and vocal entity, ie, how and to what extent health organizations address the public’s anxiety and concerns arising in the social media during outbreaks.
Although international organizations have aspired to relate to the public as a partner, this article identifies notable gaps.
Organizations must involve the public throughout the crisis and conduct dialogues free of prejudices, paternalism, and preconceptions. Thereby, they can impart precise and updated information reflecting uncertainty and considering cultural differences to build trust and facilitate cooperation with the public sphere. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2015;9:447–458)
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