British newspapers continue to have considerable influence on public policy and opinion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government used a variety of media, including legacy print and online newspapers, to share vital information about lockdown requirements, case numbers, and the vaccine development roadmap.
Newspapers covered many of the impacts of COVID-19, from the psychological strain of lockdown isolation to the damage on the economy from closed borders and disrupted supply chains.
This discussion paper is based on a study that examined newspaper coverage of the impact of COVID-19 on the creative industries. It looks at the way in which some of the challenges that are particularly unique to the creative industries, such as the outsized impact of the pandemic on freelancers, are talked about in legacy media outlets. It examines whether some creative industries sub-sectors were given greater exposure than others, and how the government’s financial support for the creative industries was critiqued and communicated by the press.
The study used qualitative methodologies, primarily by analysing a database of newspaper articles, stories, opinion-pieces and editorials covering the period 1 January - 31 December 2020.
The researchers found that newspapers generally were overly reliant on government press releases during this period, at the expense of other voices that could challenge and critique the official line. When newspapers did cover people and issues relevant to the creative industries, they tended to focus on only a few sub-sectors, particularly cultural sectors like the performing arts. When creative and cultural institutions were mentioned in the press, they were more likely to be based in England, particularly in London.
These issues with newspaper coverage of the creative industries are not new. Some of the challenges stem from a failure of understanding of a complex policy landscape. Newspapers tend to cover the cultural sub-sectors, such as theatre and performing arts, and leave out creative sub-sectors like architecture or video game design, when talking about the creative industries. There is also a diversity problem in the creative industries that is reflected in the way in which it is covered by the press. The largest institutions and establishment voices, often based in London and South East England, receive more exposure in newspapers than smaller organisations and people from places such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The researchers conclude that the coverage of the creative industries by newspapers during the pandemic was generally narrow and promoted the viewpoints of a few elite places and institutions. The over-reliance on official sources also meant that those voices outside of the government that were given coverage were generally institutional cultural leaders who tended to echo government’s messaging.