The COVID-19 pandemic has put crisis communication to the test. What role do the news media play in this global drama? How have official COVID-19 communications influenced citizens’ attitudes, emotions, and, for example, vaccine willingness? Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics (JSBE) is involved in an international study investigating the role of the media and other stakeholders in COVID-19 communications in six countries.

 The number one news item in the global media over the past 18 months has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus reached Finland in March 2020 and has remained ever since in news headlines on an almost daily basis.

JSBE has a leading role in an international study investigating what we can learn from this period in terms of communications management. The research team is led by Professor of Corporate Communication Chiara Valentini.

Professor Chiara Valentini

“The main objective of the study is to find out what kind of a role the media and other stakeholders have had in COVID-19 communications and to compare six countries,” she explains. “In what ways have different communications influenced people’s attitudes and behaviour in these countries, and why?”

The study started this year and collects both quantitative and qualitative data from six countries: Finland, Sweden, Australia, Italy, South Korea, and the United States. The JSBE team is responsible for the first three.

Preparing for the next crisis

According to Professor Valentini, communications play a central role in shaping public opinion and affect people’s behaviour. In other words, they directly impact how authorities’ instructions are heeded and whether people take vaccinations or not. This study focuses especially on the role of news media.

“We seek to shed light on the media coverage during the pandemic: Have the media offered space and visibility to different opinions and marginal groups? We also seek to find out citizens’ feelings and thoughts about the quality of the news and communications they have received.”

The hope is that the findings of this study will help communications professionals in different countries better understand the meaning of their own work as well as its effects in future national and global crises.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last health crisis for us to experience. The best end result of our study would be if we could learn from this and improve our communication capabilities. We would also hope that our colleagues in the media could, based on our research findings, reflect on their own work: when the next national or global crisis hits, what could or should be done differently?”

The project will continue until the summer 2023. It is funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.

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