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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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What media outlets can learn from the Ebola Deeply news site

What media outlets can learn from the Ebola Deeply news site


During a public health crisis like the Ebola outbreak, the media often focuses on casualties and infections.

Stories about the seriousness of the outbreak are important and need to be told. But they can also incite fear and panic when they’re not balanced out with stories that convey themes such as hope and survival.

Ebola Deeply, a news site dedicated solely to coverage of the outbreak, has done an admirable job striking this balance.

Lara Setrakian launched the site last week in hopes of giving people a platform for accessing reliable and accurate information about Ebola. The site aggregates some of the best media coverage of the crisis and also features original content from the 34 freelancers who are writing for the site.

“We’re not going to find a cure,” Setrakian — who also created Syria Deeply — told Fast Company. “We do what journalists can do to help solve a crisis. We are not activists. We know that when we have better information, better things happen.”

Increasingly, nontraditional news sites like Ebola Deeply and Syria Deeply are filling gaps by publishing stories that legacy news outlets may not have the capacity or resources to cover in depth.

Journalists can learn something from these sites, which break down complex information in a way that’s easy to understand. Ebola Deeply does this partly by offering readers a variety of ways to consume information.

In addition to written stories, the site features Google Hangouts, a Twitter feed, videos, a timeline of events related to the epidemic, and a case map indicating the number of deaths and infections around the world.

Though it just launched, Ebola Deeply is already establishing itself as a go-to destination for not just news stories about Ebola, but stories that offer some semblance of hope.

A few days ago, for example, the site published a story about a civic activism group that put out a call for volunteers to serve as support staff and healthcare workers in West Africa. In less than a week, more than 1,000 people offered to help and said they were willing to be deployed immediately.

Ebola Deeply interviewed some of the people who volunteered, including Patricia Dunne, a 62-year-old retired nurse from Sierra Leone.

“I feel the world has been very slow to react to this outbreak and would like to do something to help,” she said. “I am tired of sitting back and watching human tragedies on the news, I want to act.”

Ebola Deeply has also been publishing stories about people who have survived the virus. CNN anchor Isha Sesay, who is working with Ebola Deeply, told Fast Company:

“If we tell the survivor stories, it goes toward reframing the discourse and narrative around this. Actually, people don’t have to die.”

That reframing is important because it leads to more balanced coverage.

Moving forward, media practitioners could benefit from asking themselves tough questions about their coverage of the outbreak. The answers might not be immediately clear, but the questions can lead to healthy dialogues about how to improve coverage and make it more balanced:

  • How can we help clarify people’s understanding of the disease instead of confusing them?
  • Are there explainers we can create to educate people on the disease and outbreak?
  • How can we stop the spread of misinformation?
  • How can we balance out our coverage?
  • Can we tell more stories about survivors or efforts that have led to positive results?
  • Are there opportunities for us to report solutions-oriented stories?
  • How can we minimize harm to the people infected with the disease?
  • What stories are we missing?
  • What do our reporters, photographers, graphic designers, etc. need to be able to cover this story more effectively? How is the coverage affecting them, for better or worse?

Some journalists have found that covering the crisis gives them a sense of purpose. CNN’s Sesay, whose family lives in Sierra Leonne, wrote a powerful essay about why she got involved with Ebola Deeply.

“The truth is I do feel somewhat guilty that my physical life is able to go on without major disruption while my relatives wonder what the next day will bring. We always think of guilt as a bad thing, but sometimes it can motivate you to do the right thing,” she said.

“In my case, that has been to join a group of incredibly passionate and talented individuals to build Ebola Deeply. Our mission is simple: to humanize this public health emergency and to drive the dialogue in search of new ideas and solutions to the crisis.”