May 5th, 2020

Weekends are a break from work and that damn virus

The COVID-19 media curve is flattening and there is significant drop off in media mentions at weekends


It has been impossible to avoid news about the coronavirus pandemic. All angles have been explored by the media: diagnosis and treatment, restrictions to our lifestyles, and the economical impact. Rarely has the media reported on one topic for such a length of time (bar terrorist acts, wars or elections). It wouldn’t be surprising to find that media fatigue setting in and journalists and audiences want to move on to something new. You may have experienced COVID-19 news fatigue yourself, avoiding watching TV or scrolling through Twitter to have a break.

Here, we explore the trends of COVID-19 stories in the media since the start of 2020. Using our media monitoring software Meltwater, we looked at the keywords ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ in print & online and broadcast media. We tracked Media Exposure: the number of daily articles being written and stories being published containing either of these keywords. We started our search on 1st January 2020.

Here is the result.

You will notice the regular dips in the line graph, occurring every five plot points. You guessed it: these dips are at the weekend. For both online & print and broadcast, the drop off is -30 to -50% from the Friday to the Saturday. We can’t say for sure why this is, but we have a couple of suggestions:

  • Usually on the weekend, more light-hearted and positive news stories tend to be aired and published. A “good week-end news story” might feature a charity fundraising event or rescuing a pet from a wombat hole. Pandemics don’t really make for a good weekend news story.
  • Another possible reason is that the volume of media stories being published or aired is lower on the weekend, as media staff are on their days off.

To confirm whether the drop in COVID-19 mentions simply due to the lack of staff working on the weekend, we cross-check with a keyword commonly used in English language: the preposition / conjunction word ‘for’. If the drop in media mentions for this common word drop off to the same extent as ‘COVID-19’, this means that the drop off has nothing to do with the media wanting positive weekend stories, but it simply due to skeleton staff on the weekend.

Ignoring the dip for broadcast media in late January (correlating with the Australia Day weekend), we see that the pattern is the similar as for the Media Exposure graph for ‘COVID-19’ / ‘coronavirus’: every five days, there is a two-day dip, marking the weekend.

  • Print & online: The magnitude of the Friday-to-Saturday dip was more or less the same as for ‘COVID-19’ / ‘coronavirus’: -35 to -50%. This comparable drop for weekend Media Exposure confirms that fewer journalists and reporters are working on the weekend, and therefore fewer written stories are being published, no matter what the topic is.
  • Broadcast: The difference between Media Exposure from Friday to Saturday was between
    -8% and -20%; much lower than that for ‘COVID-19’ / ‘coronavirus’. Could this indicate that the drop in COVID-19 mentions over the weekend is because TV and radio avoid this type of news story, favouring more positive, feel-good stories?

A final experiment to put into perspective just how significant the media conversations about COVID-19 have been: we look into the 2019 Australian Federal Election. The search looks for any articles containing the keywords ‘Bill Shorten’ or ‘Scott Morrison’ for the first four months of 2019 in the run up to the Federal Election. Is COVID-19 more on Australia’s mind than the election for their own leaders?

The answer is YES. The 2019 election leaders were no match for COVID-19 in the media. The y-axis of the Media Exposure graph only reaches 20k compared to 50k for ‘COVID-19’ / ‘coronavirus’!

To close off this blog post, we noted that it looks like the Media Exposure curve has flattened for COVID-19 media stories. This means different healthcare have a better chance of being published, so it is time to share meaningful data or updates with media from now. There is definitely a desire from newsrooms and editors to fill the weekend newspapers and bulletins with stories with positive sentiment and human interest. Sure, there are fewer reporters working on the weekend and the drop in media volumes correlates with their working rosters.

A take-home message here is to save your positive news stories for the weekend news bulletins.  When Australians are on their weekends in the early months of 2020, the media gives them a break from this unprecedented historical event we are living through.


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