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Research report on coverage of the #Covid-19 pandemic by Ugandan media

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As the #Covid-19 pandemic carries on into 2021, despite vaccine development, Uganda continues to see their fight against the pandemic reflected in news media coverage.

In 2020, Whitehead Communications applied a machine learning technique to analyse the trends in Ugandan online news coverage of the pandemic. They updated their study using LDA Topic Modelling to identify dominant topics of Ugandan #Covid-19 coverage from March 2020 up to the end of June 2021. The analysis showed an evolution in the pertinent themes of #Covid-19 coverage in Uganda as well as a changing volume of overall coverage over time.

Whitehead Communications gathered 32,212 English-language news articles that include the keywords “#Covid-19” and/or “Corona” from a selection of Uganda’s leading news websites. These websites include Uganda’s major print publications – Daily Monitor, Red Pepper and The Observer – as well as major online-only Ugandan media houses; Eagle Online, The Independent, Chimp Reports, Nile Post, PML Daily, Softpower, The Tower Post and Trumpet News. (Unfortunately, New Vision data was unavailable at the time of analysis.)

Media House coverage

This research was done to broaden the chronological scope and topic diversity of previous exploratory research. As a result, the methodology of this research is largely consistent with said previous research. Whitehead Comms used the machine learning method called Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), which is a type of Natural Language Processing (NLP) that groups content into categories based on identification of keywords.

As with the previous study, the research is a demonstration of qualitative methodology. It provides insights into the prevalence of the story over time and indicates key trends in how the subject of Coronavirus was covered in Uganda, though it does not provide comprehensive data on all aspects of media coverage.

The research is intended to deliver further insights to parties with an interest in Uganda’s media industry, or its #Covid-19 response, or the machine learning methodology as it applies to media and communications research. This update to the previous research is part of a wider research project by Whitehead Communications exploring the application of multiple new research methods to see the bigger picture, draw correlations and build stronger research-based foundations on which to develop communications strategy.

When compared to the results of Whitehead’s first study, the number of articles more than doubled since July 2020 (from 13,000+ to 32,000+). However, the articles per month were less than in the first few months of the pandemic, indicating a drop in interest in late 2020 and early 2021.

The following visualization shows how the overall number of articles produced by Ugandan online media decreased between May 2020 and May 2021, then increased dramatically in June of 2021.

When the first Ugandan #Covid-19 case was confirmed on March 21, 2020, alongside the declaration of Uganda’s first nation-wide lockdown, there was a spike in the number of articles including mentions of Covid/Corona.

April 2020 marked the peak in number of articles published through online Ugandan media in one month of 2020, which was followed by a steady decline in the following months. However, since the lowest point in January 2021, there was a significant increase in the number of Coronavirus related articles alongside a resurgence in Ugandan #Covid-19 cases and new lockdown in June 2021, setting a new all-time high for #Covid-19 coverage in one month.

It is worth noting that Uganda had an election in January 2021, which was accompanied by a total shutdown of the internet for about a week, during which time online media was not able to publish as usual. This focus on a political season, along with a normalisation of the pandemic and slow progression of cases in the country, may help explain why coverage decreased between May 2020 and May 2021.

There were several topic changes between 2020 and 2021, which roughly reflected the global shift in perception about the pandemic – from an unprecedented emergency in the spring of 2020 to a continuous concern as new treatments and vaccines began to be introduced and the public and private sectors adjusted to getting on with things despite the continuing threats of the pandemic. New emerging topics in 2021 included “Travel & Tourism”, “Local Donations” and “Innovation Response To Domestic Outbreak”.

Download the full report: Covid-19 Ugandan Media Topic Model – Whitehead Comm 2021

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