How did African newsrooms report about the pandemic? We have data from 8 newsrooms
September 19, 2023
We analysed over 1800 COVID-19 news stories from 8 African newsrooms between 2020 and 2022. Media monitoring shows us what opportunities exist for journalists to write better stories as future health crises emerge. Download the report here to read about what we learnt!

Download the full report here [PDF 723 KB].

Where did the data come from?

Media monitoring for this report was conducted between 1 October 2020 and 31 September 2022 using ‘Dexter’, an online monitoring tool developed in partnership with Media Monitoring Africa (MMA). Dexter is a tool that scrapes content from online news websites and provides insight into topics such as bias, representation and topic coverage. Additional analysis and quality control of each news story was also conducted by MMA’s specialist monitoring teams.

Media monitoring is one of the most effective means of keeping a watch on trends in media coverage and quality.​ It also enables us to get a sense of where there might be gaps​. The results from this monitoring are used to spotlight both the successes of these newsrooms, but also the blindspots that journalists might miss in their everyday reporting.

Download the data here.

How did African newsrooms report about the pandemic?

In terms of coverage, the number of stories published by the 8 newsrooms was initially high during periods where COVID-19 cases were at their peak. After the end of 2020, as was the case in the rest of the world, news media coverage on COVID-19 declined even though case numbers were increasing. By the end of 2011, coverage dropped to below 10% of all stories published by the selected newsrooms in this study. We expect this reflects a sense of COVID-19 fatigue where both audiences and newsrooms grew tired of reading and reporting on the crisis.

Proportion of all articles that are about COVID-19 per week

Where did we do well and where can we do better?

It must be celebrated that almost all stories cover the basics of a news story (98%), over one third of all items offer adequate explanations of the causes (44%) or provide insights into the consequences of COVID-19 in the story (36%). In this case, we also see that 20% of stories go beyond the basics and provide more in-depth context to what is being reported. Finally and equally positive is the fact that 22% of all stories also offered solutions. On an issue as potentially overwhelming and dire as the COVID-19 crisis was, it is incredibly promising to see that these stories focused on solutions and opportunities to the pandemic.

Percentage of articles that meet the criteria of good quality journalism

We can also celebrate that almost 40% of COVID-19 stories included data. Because reporting on COVID-19 involves reporting on the number of infections, the mortality rate and population statistics, it is not surprising that the use of these common descriptive data are the most frequent use of data seen in the monitored stories.

Percentage of articles that included data in different ways

However, the results also show a low score for using multiple sources in news items and indicates that 94% of the time only one dataset is presented. Finally, only 13% of stories offered further analysis of the data while only 9% of stories disclosed the source of the data used. It is critical for these data sources to be clearly identified in order to further develop credibility and trustworthiness of the stories moving forward.

We can also do better to quote more female voices and report about stories specific to gender differences.

Whose voices do we hear?

Women’s voices were scarcely represented (19%) when compared to men’s voices (70%). Given the differential impact, realities and experiences of the pandemic faced by women, who make up the majority in our continent, it is disappointing that the share of women’s voices is below the global norm of 23%. This gender disparity is a consistent trend and has been shown repeatedly in research around the world.

Percentage share of women’s voices quoted in COVID-19 articles published by ADH affiliated news media

This gender imbalance is not because there are fewer women experts. In South Africa, 40% of all scientific publications were authored by women in 2020 and 48% of all staff responsible for instruction and research were women. Equally several organisations exist to make it easier for journalists to find and access Women’s voices: Quote this Women+, Women’s Media Center, WomenAlsoKnowStuff, and 500 Women Scientists. All newsrooms should be more deliberate in seeking female voices in their sources quoted. Not only is it crucial to seek a better balance but it will also contribute to greater inclusion and credibility.

Further more, only 0.3% of articles specifically spoke to the differential impact of the pandemic between men and women. One of the roles of the media is to give voice to the voiceless such as women who are grossly underrepresented in media and to comfort the afflicted, we would expect to see more stories sharing the experiences of those disproportionately and negatively affected as a key mechanism

Topics covered by all ADH affiliated media (n 1810)

In summary:

  1. The demand for quality journalism that offers audiences solutions and positive opportunities for change are paramount in times of crises.
  2. The use of data, not only lends credibility to sources and stories but also raises awareness and literacy among audiences. There is an opportunity to improve the way data is used by including more in-depth analysis of data or the inclusion of diverse datasets.
  3. We strongly encourage all newsrooms to quote more female voices in their sources and report about stories specific to gender differences. While this study shows that slight improvements in the share of women’s voices was achieved, there is also clear room for improvement.

Like other civic tech organisations, the Africa Data Hub (ADH) and news media organisations have a common goal to help citizens to be more informed, active and engaged. And we recognise that we play an important role in supplying newsrooms with robust data to do so. We rely on your feedback to do better. Subscribe to our newsletter or get in touch if you want to be part of our community and shape the way we strive to lower the barriers that African journalists face when accessing and using data to tell stories.

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