ICA'22 Poster: Politicization and Polarization of Pandemic News Coverage

I’m excited to join a large team of Northeastern collaborators to present ongoing work at the International Communication Association 2022 Conference. I supported the data acquisiton and analysis pieces of this work by Larissa Doroshenko, Ryan Gallagher, Shreya Singh, and Brook Foucault Welles.

academic poster showing main conclusions of paper

The work compares media coverage of the pandemic at the state level with national coverage. Key findings:

  • Politicization: overwhelming citation of political leaders compared to health officials and experts, trend strengthens with time
  • No Political Polarization at the local level: few states cover pandemic similarly, but there’s no clear red-blue division,
  • Strong Political Polarization present in national news: left-leaning media discuss pandemic with different themes compared to right-leaning media outlets

Associated Paper Abstract

As the United States federal government largely abdicated responsibility for managing the COVID-19 pandemic early in its emergence, mainstream and online conversations about the public health crisis were quickly politicized and polarized across partisan lines. While it is an international crisis, the ramifications of COVID-19 are often local, and local news media have played a critical role in disseminating information as the pandemic evolves. Here, we use a large corpus of local media news stories, structural topic modeling, and clustering analysis to determine to what extent local media followed the queues of national and online media in politicizing and polarizing COVID-19 stories. We find that while there is clear politicization of the pandemic—with politicians being mentioned across topics far more than public health experts—there is a lack of political polarization in local news media outlets. We discuss the implications this has for using local media as a unifying medium in public health communication.

Download the paper

Rahul Bhargava
Rahul Bhargava

Assistant Professor, Journalism and Art + Design, Northeastern University

📨 - r.bhargava@northeastern.edu on email
🐦 - @rahulbot on Twitter
🌎 - https://rahulbotics.com on the web

Filed Under » media-analysis, publications

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