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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2022 Abstracts

Epistemic Journalism in the Era of COVID-19

Presenter: kaitlyn Workman
Authors: Kaitlyn Workman, Brent Steele
Faculty Advisor: Brent Steele
Institution: University of Utah

Government and health authorities have created diverse messaging surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, from countries like Sweden adopting a passive approach focused on the development of herd immunity to harsh lockdowns focused on eradicating the virus within national borders like New Zealand. Countries like the United Kingdom have pivoted approaches from herd immunity to preventive lockdowns focused on containment, as well. The United States has favored a patchwork approach to pandemic, with state and local officials making widely-different approaches. This research proposal seeks to answer the question “What explains variations in community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic?” with a focus on the role of epistemic communities (communities of experts) in influencing political officials’ policies and their messaging. By analyzing the communication tactics of media coverage and political elites on the pandemic, I will examine the cause-effect relationship of scientific evidence on shaping local and national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Media samples are coding according to levels of neutrality or partisanship, and whether or not they include the advice of health experts or solely the words of political elites. By working on this research, I will identify how messaging surrounding COVID-19 has become partisan in certain areas such as the US. The role and perception of epistemic communities varies internationally, with illuminating implications for public health policy and the limits of expert opinion when not legitimized by those in power. In a moment where such diverse responses and messaging shifts are the literal difference of lives, an interdisciplinary approach to political communications can aid public health policymakers amid future crises, and identify current critical failures in public health infrastructure. Such work is also critical in holding public officials and governments accountable for the effects of their words, and developing more effective communications for the future.