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The quality of the media coverage during the coronavirus pandemic


Eisenegger, Mark; Oehmer, Franziska; Udris, Linards; Vogler, Daniel (2020). The quality of the media coverage during the coronavirus pandemic. In: Forschungszentrum Öffentlichkeit und Gesellschaft (fög). Jahrbuch Qualität der Medien 2021. Basel: Schwabe, 29-50.

Abstract

The media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has often been heavily criticised. Considering the enormous amount of coverage of the pandemic (up to 70% of total coverage in the period studied), it was indeed easy to find specific examples of poor reporting. However, if one abstracts from such individual cases, the performance of the Swiss media during the pandemic can be viewed positively. This is shown by the results of a manual and an automated content analysis of Swiss news media between January and June 2020. The diversity of topics and experts from different sectors of society is comparatively high. The relevance of the coverage is relatively high as well, as the media often focus on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic as a whole and depict the threat based on the development of cases (incident rates). Nevertheless, our analysis also points to obvious shortcomings. The news media does not offer enough contextualisation. Furthermore, the diversity of the scientists cited in the media is particularly limited. Although there is a wide variety of voices from medicine, barely any attention is paid to other scientific disciplines – despite the fact that the crisis affects almost all areas of society. In addition, among scientists visible in coverage on COVID-19, men are strongly over-represented and women are strongly under-represented. The media critically discuss the government and authorities as well as their prescribed measures, and they maintain a critical distance. However, especially in the sensitive phase before the lockdown, the media prove to be relatively uncritical and provide insufficient context for possible developments. There is also – with exceptions – a problematic handling of numbers and statistics, which are generally (too) poorly contextualised. Explanations of what the numbers say and justifications for why they are used are by no means always provided. The contextualisation differs between media types and media outlets. Some subscription media and public broadcasting stand out positively, with a particularly high diversity of topics and sources, more relevance and better contextualisation. Sunday papers and weekly media as well as public broadcasting maintain the greatest critical distance from authorities and the government. The tabloid press and commuter media are less diverse in their reporting and tend to convey mere figures without contextualisation, but they, too, refrain from an alarmist, dramatising and overly threat-focused reporting.

Abstract

The media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has often been heavily criticised. Considering the enormous amount of coverage of the pandemic (up to 70% of total coverage in the period studied), it was indeed easy to find specific examples of poor reporting. However, if one abstracts from such individual cases, the performance of the Swiss media during the pandemic can be viewed positively. This is shown by the results of a manual and an automated content analysis of Swiss news media between January and June 2020. The diversity of topics and experts from different sectors of society is comparatively high. The relevance of the coverage is relatively high as well, as the media often focus on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic as a whole and depict the threat based on the development of cases (incident rates). Nevertheless, our analysis also points to obvious shortcomings. The news media does not offer enough contextualisation. Furthermore, the diversity of the scientists cited in the media is particularly limited. Although there is a wide variety of voices from medicine, barely any attention is paid to other scientific disciplines – despite the fact that the crisis affects almost all areas of society. In addition, among scientists visible in coverage on COVID-19, men are strongly over-represented and women are strongly under-represented. The media critically discuss the government and authorities as well as their prescribed measures, and they maintain a critical distance. However, especially in the sensitive phase before the lockdown, the media prove to be relatively uncritical and provide insufficient context for possible developments. There is also – with exceptions – a problematic handling of numbers and statistics, which are generally (too) poorly contextualised. Explanations of what the numbers say and justifications for why they are used are by no means always provided. The contextualisation differs between media types and media outlets. Some subscription media and public broadcasting stand out positively, with a particularly high diversity of topics and sources, more relevance and better contextualisation. Sunday papers and weekly media as well as public broadcasting maintain the greatest critical distance from authorities and the government. The tabloid press and commuter media are less diverse in their reporting and tend to convey mere figures without contextualisation, but they, too, refrain from an alarmist, dramatising and overly threat-focused reporting.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, not_refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Communication and Media Research
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute for Research on the Public Sphere and Society
Dewey Decimal Classification:070 News media, journalism & publishing
Language:English
Date:2020
Deposited On:29 Dec 2021 09:02
Last Modified:11 Mar 2024 13:50
Publisher:Schwabe
Series Name:Qualität der Medien
Number:12
Number of Pages:21
ISSN:1664-4131
ISBN:978-3-7965-4291-6
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:https://www.foeg.uzh.ch/dam/jcr:12301cc8-a925-4e32-9658-2d6c17a12a72/JB_2020_Coronastudie_I_EN_final.pdf
Other Identification Number:ISBN eBook (PDF): 978-3-7965-4311-1
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)