Pandemic: Up to two-thirds of news articles focused on Covid

Reading a newspaper in a Basel library in November 2020 © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Almost half of the news articles published in Swiss media during the first 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic focused on the virus. In the first weeks the figure even hit 65% for French-speaking Switzerland.

This content was published on February 22, 2023 minutes

Researchers from the universities of Lucerne and Bern examined every article published in newspapers in German- and French-speaking Switzerland between the beginning of 2020 and mid-2021.

In total, there were 1,171,114 articles, according to a statement from the University of Lucerne on Wednesday. Of these, 45.5% discussed at least one aspect of Covid, according to a paper recently publishedExternal link in the International Journal of Public Health.

In the first weeks of the lockdown, the proportion of Covid-related coverage even reached 60% for German-speaking Switzerland and 65% for French-speaking Switzerland. “Media attention to the pandemic evolves largely in parallel to the general epidemiological situation,” explained the study’s first author, Alexander Ort, from the University of Lucerne.

However, this high coverage came with a particular challenge for news media, the authors wrote. “On the one hand, through the constant and expansive dissemination of Covid-related information, news media met their systemic role as agents of mass communication; they satisfied the public’s high need for information and enabled exchange between social systems,” they said.

“On the other hand, this increased coverage had to be counterbalanced with other socially relevant information. Otherwise, non-pandemic-related news is at risk of being pushed aside.”

Few grounds for criticism

The analysis showed that Covid coverage took place in all departments. “Journalists rose to the challenge of dealing with the multi-system character of such a national and global event,” it said.

Another finding was a “robust” match between topics and actors. “Economic experts were consulted for economic topics, epidemiologists for epidemic topics,” Ort explained.

“Unlike previous researchExternal link in the US, there are few empirical grounds for criticism accusing media of providing platforms to the wrong voices,” the study concluded.

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