On July 12, 1968, TIME Magazine published a head-turning cover story on starving children in the Biafran civil war. The pleading eyes of two children stared the world in the face, challenging every reader to pause and consider their predicament. And consider it they did: individuals, foreign governments and charity organizations flooded West Africa with millions of dollars in relief funds.
The 2014 parallel to the Biafran War is Ebola. The virus’s meteoric rise to the forefront of every news program is challenging the way Americans intake news. The self-centered tone that clouds American media has turned the crisis into a threat to the American public. But is it really an immediate terror? At the end of the day most choose to watch a news segment then change the channel, leaving Ebola to those in hazmat suits.
Curiosity in African crises rises and falls with the course of events such as the Rwandan genocide or Sudanese civil war. Interest swells as death tolls rise and accordingly subsides as the conflict calms.
In the case of Biafra, children’s hunger was the subject of years of aid and public interest. In the nearly 50 years since Biafra, the public has continued this predictable pattern of fascination with the ugly. But this pattern is changing quickly. Where we once followed crises for years, we now spend only weeks.
Four months ago, the international terrorist group Boko Haram abducted almost 300 girls from primary schools in Northern Nigeria. Yet since the initial release of the Internet campaign #bringourgirlsback, the world has turned away from the issue in favor of more exciting news. More than 200 girls remain missing and Boko Haram is still at large. Similarly, the #stopkony2012 movement that went viral seemingly overnight received an underwhelming response from governments and aid organizations.
The norm now is not to discuss, think and donate. Instead educated Americans complain, post and move on. So when word of Ebola began making the Internet rounds last March, it should have been easy to register and file this one away under the label of “foreign issues.” But Ebola refuses to go away. As nearly every news source has noted, this virus grows exponentially. The Ebola outbreak has been an enigma for the American public. Equally desperate to care and desperate to move on, the growing concern shines light on our relationship with world news.
The starvation in Biafra was major news because it affected so many lives, but it was also huge because of the slower proliferation of news stories at the time. Now media outlets overwhelm readers with headlines, making us forget the point of the news—to educate. The current outbreak of Ebola provides American readers another chance to dive into longer articles and research this subject for their personal knowledge. After all, it shows no signs of slowing.