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Communicating crisis: TCNJ research team publishes article on coronavirus coverage in Spanish academic journal

As coronavirus cases were spreading rapidly across the country last spring, a team of six TCNJ juniors in John Pollock’s course on global health communication and social change began analyzing nationwide news coverage of the federal government’s response to what was quickly becoming a coronavirus crisis.

“Our team jumped at the chance to study domestic media coverage of the pandemic,” says Miranda Crowley ’21, a communication studies major.

Collage of six student photos. Students are the authors of a paper on COVID-19 that was recently published in a Spanish academic journal.

Crowley and teammates Suchir Govindarajan, Abigail Lewis, Alexis Marta, Radhika Purandare, and James Sparano began collecting data in mid-March, shortly after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic — and shortly after TCNJ shifted to remote learning.

The team’s findings show, not surprisingly, that coverage of the government’s response to the novel coronavirus was extremely partisan.

In conservative states, COVID-19 coverage largely applauded President Trump’s strong stance on reopening the economy. In more liberal states, coverage emphasized the administration’s failure to support frontline workers, claiming that the federal government prioritizes economic growth over public health.

The results of the study contradict prevailing communications theory that suggests that media is the driver of public perception. The TCNJ team’s study shows instead that media coverage reflects community characteristics like political affiliation, religion, age, and access to healthcare.

“In the end, we learned not only how to perform content analysis but also how to conduct a research study that requires immense collaboration without the benefit of in-person meetings,” Crowley says.

Crowley, who wants to one day influence policy says the study helped her gain “a more complete understanding of not only COVID-19 but also the underlying issues within our nation’s healthcare, social welfare, and economic systems.”

The group’s research was published in Trípodos, an academic journal of international scope from the Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, Spain.

— Emily W. Dodd ’03