Study Finds More Political Sources Publish COVID-19 News Than Scientific Sources

By WBBM Newsradio 780 AM & 105.9 FM

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- There's apparently a lot of "bad news" out there regarding the coronavirus.

In an initial study conducted at the University of Notre Dame, researchers found that least-biased news sources and scientific-based news sources published less than a quarter of all stories currently available about COVID-19.        The Notre Dame study found that sources evaluated as right-leaning, left-leaning or less factual (those that cite questionable sources or share conspiratorial-pseudoscientific information) account for more than 75 percent of all COVID-19 related news stories. Additionally, news articles about COVID-19 have steadily decreased since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic in March, regardless of coronavirus-related cases, deaths and policy changes.

Nitesh Chawla, lead on this study, and his team developed the pandemic pulse tool, which provides state-by-state information on a variety of coronavirus-related topics including demographics, cases, social distancing, search trends and news articles organized by news source bias and occurrence. According to Chawla, these insights provide a perspective on how narratives are developing, how society is reacting, and how well measures are working.

“Given the societal implications of COVID-19, it is as important to capture the social response to the pandemic as much as the scientific pulse and understanding of the coronavirus,” said Chawla, the Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and the founding director of the Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society at Notre Dame. “By monitoring social and behavioral trends, our research team aims to capture a holistic picture of the pandemic’s effects on people throughout the U.S.”

According to Notre Dame, media outlets began reporting on the coronavirus in the beginning of January, shortly after China publicly identified the novel virus. At the end of January, after the WHO declared a public health emergency, news coverage temporarily spiked before declining through most of February. A similar but much larger spike occurred after the WHO's declaration of a global pandemic March 11, followed by a similar decline.

Overall, the study shows that although the coronavirus cases have fluctuated and even decreased, the number of news articles published on the pandemic have decreased at a faster rate than the number of COVID-19 cases. By evaluating spikes in media coverage, the researchers found that media outlets were more interested in novel events at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Notre Dame, Chawla and his team utilized the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone — a platform that monitors print, broadcast and online news worldwide — to identify COVID-19 news articles. They then used the platforms Media Bias/Fact Checking and AllSlides to quantify media bias in those news articles. The study applied eight different ratings to classify bias for nearly two million news articles with categories including left, left-center, right, right-center, least biased, scientific, questionable sources and conspiracy-pseudoscience.When comparing COVID-19 news articles and the representation of the different bias ratings of news published pre-pandemic, the study showed that scientific and least-biased-rated news has been represented less since the pandemic began. However, the representation of left-, right-center-, right- and conspiracy-pseudoscience-rated news articles have increased since the pandemic.