Local Ebola news coverage an example of “what if it happened here?”

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa and its subsequent spread into the United States has caused the news media in the city where I live (Portland, Oregon) to produce stories about what would happen if the virus came to this part of the country. I’d be surprised if the same isn’t happening in your city.

This reaction by the news media is a textbook example of the “what if it happened here?” phenomenon.

When a large news story breaks in any part of the world, invariably local news outlets in other areas will seek to localize the story. Local reporters will start working on stories about what the reaction would be locally if a similar event or catastrophe took place in their city.

For instance, if a huge earthquake struck a city in Russia this morning and 25,000 people were killed or missing, by this afternoon the news media in your city would be producing stories about the level of earthquake preparations where you live and what would happen if a big one struck where you live.

Becoming familiar with this type of news story can work to your advantage. For instance, if you’re working in communications for the Red Cross or for a hospital, that earthquake in Russia could be an opportunity for you to place a story in your local media about the services your agency provides in an emergency and the preparations it has already made for a disaster.

The Russian earthquake story could also be a chance for you to coordinate an interview with someone from your organization who can give expert advice about what a local resident could do to prepare for an earthquake and what to do after one hits.

And, of course, if you happen to have a Russian employee on staff who either had lived in or near that city or who has relatives there, the local media in your area will be quite grateful if you make that person available for an interview.

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