Competing and complementary narratives in the ebola crisis

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Risk and Health Communication in an Evolving Media Environment

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© 2018 Taylor & Francis. The surprise, threat, and uncertainty of crises create a momentary void of understanding. For at least a moment, those observing the onset of a crisis are not fully able to comprehend the nature of the crisis-the cause, the extent of the impact, and what can be done immediately. This “communication vacuum and meaning deficit of a crisis create a discursive space that is filled by narratives, often multiple and conflicting” (Seeger & Sellnow, 2016, p. 8). Narratives, the stories we tell that both help us comprehend the crisis personally and explain its origin and impact to others, structure the reality surrounding the crisis. Naturally, those whose reputations are at stake create stories where they and the organizations they lead are portrayed in the most positive light that is reasonable, based on the context of the crisis. Other stakeholders and observers tell stories from their perspectives. Often, the stories of external observers portray the organizations at the center of the crisis with a competing and less favorable tone. Over time, these competing stories coalesce or converge in the eyes of the publics that observe them, leading to less competition and divergence. As more evidence is known, some competing stories are discredited and others are verified. If, however, the crisis under consideration is fraught with ongoing controversy, the narrative process becomes increasingly complex before it resolves into a dominant or broadly accepted narrative.

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