Up to 80% of news coverage in 2020 related to COVID-19, finds joint report

Over 2.5 million news items from 2020 were related to COVID-19  according to the new report ‘Covering COVID-19: How Australian media reported the coronavirus pandemic in 2020’.

The News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra partnered with media monitoring company Streem to analyse online, television, radio and print media between January and November 2020 to determine how news media reporting contributed to the construction of the COVID-19 crisis in the context of the societal forces and factors that shape news.

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s scope, severity and ubiquity gave news audiences an unquenchable thirst for news, while intense and relentless media reporting formed the backdrop to the public’s everyday experience of the pandemic,” said lead author, David Nolan.

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Research for the report sought to understand those influences, and how they contribute to the different roles played by journalists as they seek to variously inform, engage, provoke and entertain news audiences.

Informed by this work, the researchers considered how these factors all contribute to processes of constructing COVID-19 as a public ‘problem’ or challenge in particular ways – and reciprocally, how COVID-19 presented a ground through which a range of other problems were identified.

The early reporting of COVID-19 was predominantly as a health issue, requiring national unity and individual responsibility. However, the report found that from August through October 2020 a return to traditional news cycles dominated by political issues as the most prominent matters of concern alongside reporting of measures being taken to ensure an economic recovery and the creation of a vaccine overtook.

This was particularly the case for states that had escaped a significant second outbreak of the virus. What began as a display of national unity that undoubtedly played a role in convincing the Australian public to accept the need for social distancing guidelines, ended with a press looking inward, across state lines, seeking answers for who was to blame for the second wave and its economic impacts.

Conal Hanna, corporate affairs lead at Streem said the coronavirus has been an unprecedented news story in the digital age for the volume, longevity and saturation of coverage.

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The research identified 2,549,143 distinct news items about COVID-19 across online, television, radio and print media between January and November 2020. Items were coded into four themes, 14 categories and 37 distinct topics.

The sample comprised of online news (51%), television (24%), radio (13%) and print (12%).

Together, the centre and Streem team qualitatively identified four overall themes of informational, experience, conflict, and impacts, 14 category groups and 37 topics.

These topics and categories were established inductively, following a series of meetings between News and Media Research Centre researchers and Hanna, whose work in analysing news coverage informed a grounded understanding of types of news coverage that had been covered.

These inductively established codes were then used to derive a series of search terms, with further terms added and existing search terms refined following the examination of sampled items. Through this process, more than nine million media items were identified, reduced to 2,549,143 unique items following the removal of multiple (syndicated) items.

News items were then sorted by key sources, countries, public and private ownership, state based and national newspapers, as well as whether the news organisation was metropolitan or regional based. A decision was made by the authors not to sort coverage by news outlets.


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