This project brings together different researchs on current media landscape in a turbulent time characterized especially by the appearance of COVID-19. Along with other authors such as Pere Masip, Ester Almenar, Jaume Suau, Carles Ruiz and Sue Aran, this entry focuses on the publication of a chapter entitled ‘News consumption and media coverage during the confinement by Covid-19: information overload, ideological bias and sensationalism’ within the book with the same title described in this publication.
The Government of Spain decreed the State of Alarm on March 14, establishing for the first time in democracy the population confinement (Royal Decree 463/2020, of March 14, 2020) (Spain, 2020). This situation occurs at a time when citizens spend more time at home and consume more media. Recent audience data demonstrate this (APM, 2020). The main objective of this article previously published at El profesional de la información (2020) is to deepen our knowledge of how the Spanish population is informed during confinement and the assessment it makes of the coverage made by media.
It is in times of alarm that media acquire a higher level of power and importance. In such circumstances, citizens demand and need more information, and quality information (Seeger et al., 2003). Pandemics such as the current one cause fear and uncertainty in the population, which demands updated, immediate and accurate information (Seeger et al., 1998). In many of these circumstances, citizens turn to traditional media, but they also find social networks an important complement thanks to the contributions of witnesses at the scene (Vis, 2009; Muralidharan et al., 2011). However, too much information can have counterproductive effects (Garfin; Silver; Holman, 2020). Studies on media coverage of other diseases (Washer, 2006; Lewison, 2008) coincide in denouncing tabloid media coverage.
The present study establishes four research objectives:
OI1. Determine if the coronavirus health crisis and confinement have modified the frequency of information consumption by Spaniards.
OI2. Know through which means citizens are informed about the Covid-19 pandemic, taking into account the role of alternative actors such as social networks.
OI3. Find out if Spanish citizens perceive ideological biases in the coverage made by media.
OI4. To know the opinion of citizens about the coverage made by media, and in particular if they consider it sensationalist and generating social alarm.
In order to achieve the indicated objectives, a descriptive and exploratory research was proposed, through an anonymous self-administered survey on the internet through a sampling method similar to the so-called snowball. The field work was carried out between April 3 and 10, 2020, in the middle of the period of total confinement decreed and extended by the government of Spain. Finally, a valid total sample of 1,122 individuals was obtained with quotas by gender, age and geographical distribution proportional to the real distribution of the Spanish population over 18 years of age.
To carry out the research, a questionnaire was prepared consisting of 23 questions grouped into 5 main blocks: sociodemographic data, news consumption during confinement, use of social networks during confinement, trust in media, and misinformation and fake news. Questions were mostly with multiple choice of simple answer (19), while one of them was of multiple answer (1). Questions based on a Likert scale (1-5) were used in the questions in which participants were asked to assess their media coverage and its relationship with the information (2).
80.3% of those surveyed claim to have received false news
In line with previous investigations, which found that when faced with highly disruptive events, citizens tend to inform themselves more, the data obtained confirm that after the declaration of the state of alarm 78% of citizens were informed more than before the pandemic. Specifically, 43.5% did it somewhat more, while 34.5% did it much more.
The increased interest in information translates into a greater frequency of information consumption. From the responses obtained, it can be deduced that, if before confinement 28% of citizens reported 3 or more times a day, with confinement this percentage has risen to 52%.
The exceptionality of the current situation has created the need to be permanently informed, however for 42.7% of citizens this generates anguish or stress, which indicates that there is a need to be informed and a certain fatigue due to the overabundance of news on the subject.
In relation to the coverage carried out by media, citizens’ perception is generally negative. Most consider that media offer too much information (X̅ = 3.35 σ = 1.16). A 50.5% agree (4 + 5) with this assessment, compared to 25.8% (1 + 2) who disagree. The excess of information is one of the elements that contribute to the “infodemic”, denounced by the WHO, one of the dangers in crisis situations. In addition, 80.3% of those surveyed claim to have received false news.
Regarding citizens’ confidence in different media, when asked which are the media that generate the most trust in them, Spanish citizens point, in this order, to TVE (33.8%), El País/Elpais.com (25.5%) and laSexta (22%). In sixth place, the leading role of Eldiario.es stands out, the only digital native that occupies a prominent position (13.8%).
Conclusions & Discussion
The research carried out provides clues about changes in information consumption habits, about the trust that citizens place in media and the opinion they have about news coverage they carry out.
Faced with the large flow of information that reaches citizens through multiple channels, media are fighting for visibility of their content, which is often achieved through impressive content
Citizens have clearly modified their information consumption habits during confinement, in line with what is described in the academic literature in similar contexts (Seeger et al., 2003, 1998).
This increase in information consumption is carried out in parallel with an increase in media attention about the pandemic and its news coverage, a phenomenon that appears constantly in similar situations (Ducharme, 2020; Pieri, 2018) and is confirmed in first studies that have analyzed the current pandemic (Lázaro-Rodríguez; Herrera-Viedma, 2020; Costa-Sánchez; López-García, 2020).
The need to permanently have information to know pandemic’s evolution, can lead to a situation of information overload. It is then when order and information hierarchy provided by traditional communication media, compared to social networks, would help explain the prominence of digital media and television news.
The spectacularization of information cannot be separated from the economy of attention. Faced with the large flow of information that reaches citizens through multiple channels, media are fighting for visibility of their content, which is often achieved through impressive content.