Milken Institute School of Public Health Poster Presentations (Marvin Center & Video)

Title

Doing Our “Best”: The Presence of Crisis Communication Best Practices in Liberian Radio and Newspapers during the Ebola Crisis

Poster Number

103

Document Type

Poster

Status

Graduate Student - Masters

Abstract Category

Prevention and Community Health

Keywords

best practices; risk communication; health crisis; Ebola; Liberia

Publication Date

4-2017

Abstract

Abstract: The most recent global outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) persisted for two years, resulting in 29, 000 diagnosed cases and 11,000 reported deaths across Liberia and several other West African countries. Unlike previous outbreaks, this one spread to crowded and medically ill-equipped urban areas, which exacerbated the transferability of EVD. Additionally, widespread misunderstanding of EVD and social concerns about the incompatibility of prevention methods with traditional social and burial rites intensified fear and anxiety among residents in affected areas, further fueling public health concerns.

In contexts like this, it is imperative that risk and crisis communicators rely on best practices for communicating with the public. Practices such as pre-crisis planning, displaying credibility, communicating compassion and efficacy, and accepting uncertainty are vital. Yet, the public is mostly influenced, during a crisis, by mass media (e.g. radio programming). Mass mediated communication can create credible perceptions – and perception is reality.

This study employed a content analysis a random sample of Liberian radio programs (audio tapes, N = 182) and newspaper articles (print, N = 745) from the top outlets in the country to determine the extent to which these outlets communicated the use of best practices. A theoretically guided codebook based on best practices was developed and intercoder reliability scores of K > .85 were attained by the six-member coding team.

Results showed significant discrepancies between radio and print in communicating the imminent contagion risk to their respective audiences. Newspaper articles overwhelmingly denoted (85.8%) the “dynamic and ongoing” nature of the risk compared to only 22.1% of radio programs. Communication of response efficacy and self-efficacy across both channels was low, 15% and 10.6% for newspapers, 14.6% and 18.9% for radio, respectively. Communication of compassion and empathy, an important component of building stakeholder and public perception of credibility during a crisis, was similarly low, mentioned in 11.1% of radio programs and 17.2% of newspaper articles. Generally, newspapers were more likely to utilize crisis communications best practices than radio programs were. The ability and readiness of media outlets to communicate according to best practices can impact the public’s “buy-in” during a crisis and influence outcomes. The potential of future EVD outbreaks demands increased focus on methods for facilitating newspapers’ and radio programs’ inclusion of and effective use of best practices in their messaging.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Open Access

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Poster to be presented at GW Annual Research Days 2017.

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Doing Our “Best”: The Presence of Crisis Communication Best Practices in Liberian Radio and Newspapers during the Ebola Crisis

Abstract: The most recent global outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) persisted for two years, resulting in 29, 000 diagnosed cases and 11,000 reported deaths across Liberia and several other West African countries. Unlike previous outbreaks, this one spread to crowded and medically ill-equipped urban areas, which exacerbated the transferability of EVD. Additionally, widespread misunderstanding of EVD and social concerns about the incompatibility of prevention methods with traditional social and burial rites intensified fear and anxiety among residents in affected areas, further fueling public health concerns.

In contexts like this, it is imperative that risk and crisis communicators rely on best practices for communicating with the public. Practices such as pre-crisis planning, displaying credibility, communicating compassion and efficacy, and accepting uncertainty are vital. Yet, the public is mostly influenced, during a crisis, by mass media (e.g. radio programming). Mass mediated communication can create credible perceptions – and perception is reality.

This study employed a content analysis a random sample of Liberian radio programs (audio tapes, N = 182) and newspaper articles (print, N = 745) from the top outlets in the country to determine the extent to which these outlets communicated the use of best practices. A theoretically guided codebook based on best practices was developed and intercoder reliability scores of K > .85 were attained by the six-member coding team.

Results showed significant discrepancies between radio and print in communicating the imminent contagion risk to their respective audiences. Newspaper articles overwhelmingly denoted (85.8%) the “dynamic and ongoing” nature of the risk compared to only 22.1% of radio programs. Communication of response efficacy and self-efficacy across both channels was low, 15% and 10.6% for newspapers, 14.6% and 18.9% for radio, respectively. Communication of compassion and empathy, an important component of building stakeholder and public perception of credibility during a crisis, was similarly low, mentioned in 11.1% of radio programs and 17.2% of newspaper articles. Generally, newspapers were more likely to utilize crisis communications best practices than radio programs were. The ability and readiness of media outlets to communicate according to best practices can impact the public’s “buy-in” during a crisis and influence outcomes. The potential of future EVD outbreaks demands increased focus on methods for facilitating newspapers’ and radio programs’ inclusion of and effective use of best practices in their messaging.