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Local TV News Coverage of Racial Disparities in COVID-19 During the First Wave of the Pandemic

Our team recently published the results of a study exploring local TV news coverage of racial disparities in COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic in Race and Social Problems ( This study examined how local TV news stories attributed causes and solutions for COVID-19-related racial health and social disparities, and whether coverage of such disparities changed after George Floyd’s murder.

We systematically validated keywords to extract relevant news content and conducted a content analysis of 169 discrete local TV news stories aired between March and June 2020 from 80 broadcast networks within 22 purposefully selected media markets. 

We found that social determinants of COVID-19 related racial disparities have been part of the discussion in local TV news, but racism was rarely mentioned. Coverage of racial disparities focused far more attention on physical health outcomes than broader social impacts. Stories cited more structural factors than individual factors, as causes of these disparities. After the murder of George Floyd, stories were more likely to mention Black and Latinx people than other populations impacted by COVID-19. Only 9% of local news stories referenced racism, and stories referenced politicians more frequently than public health experts.   

Future research should examine media coverage patterns for COVID-19 or other health-related racial disparities from other news sources. We also need to better understand audiences’ interpretations of these causal and solution explanations, and how local news programs and health advocates/practitioners can design effective messages to raise awareness about social determinants and structural explanations of health disparities.

This study is part of our team’s larger body of work to explore media and news coverage on COVID-19 and equity.   

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant no. 77645).

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