Audience engagement with COVID-19 news: the impact of lockdown and live coverage, and the role of polarization
Existing research on media and the COVID-19 pandemic is largely based on quantitative data, focused on digital media, limited to single-country studies, and often West-centred. As such, it has limited capacity to provide a holistic account of the causes and consequences of audience engagement with COVID-19 news, or to consider the impact of systemic political and media factors. To compensate for that, we examine a large set of qualitative interviews and media diaries collected in four eastern European countries during the first wave of the pandemic. We show that changes in news consumption – including the resurgence of television and decline of print consumption – were not driven solely by audience demand for up-to-date information, but also by practical constrains of home-bound life in lockdown, and the introduction of live briefings. Our findings underscore disruption and uncertainty as key elements of audience experiences and highlight the markedly privatized and depoliticized nature of public debate in the early phase of the pandemic. We argue that the pandemic was an unpredictable, open-ended, and exhausting media event with high potential for divisiveness and polarization, especially in contexts marked by low levels of media freedom, declining democratic standards, and elite-led politicization of the crisis.
The Illiberal Turn? News Consumption, Polarization and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe
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- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Communication and Media