While journalism scholarship has long been exploring how journalistic role performance (“JRP” thereafter) varies in different scenarios, seldom have studies captured how JRP during public health crises reflects the all-around influence of such crises on journalism practice. To fill the gap, our study examined the patterns of JRP in UK news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. We draw on a content analysis of 4,184 news stories from 15 UK national news outlets across television, radio, print, and online platforms in 2020. Our results indicate that UK journalism emphasised the performance of the service role by providing news of use to the public, the civic role by (partially) inviting the public into political life, and the interventionist role by explicitly bringing to the fore journalists’ voices. UK journalism also suppressed the infotainment role. The power relations between UK journalists and the government showed a more complicated picture. UK journalists performed a watchdog role by maintaining a seemingly sceptical and distant approach to government sources, yet also showed traces of cooperation with government agendas in ensuring compliance with public health messaging. These findings are discussed in relation to ongoing debates in health and crisis news, and journalistic role performance.
- Public health crisis
- content analysis
- journalistic role performance
- power relations