“Never let a serious crisis go to waste”: News Media, Economic Analysis and Policies to Combat Economic Marginalization in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

Russell, Ellen D. | $61,862

Ontario Wilfrid Laurier University 2021 SSHRC

This project investigates the nexus of news media, public policy, and expert economic research by examining Canadian policies impacting low-income and marginalized groups in response to the pandemic. Low-income, especially gendered and racialized, groups disproportionately experience the adverse health, employment and other consequences of the “inequality virus”(Liaget, 2021). Pandemic emergency measures (eg. CERB) could be parlayed into long-term policies to support low-income people (guaranteed basic income, employment insurance reform, childcare etc.) that are especially relevant for marginalized populations.

Whether this opportunity will “go to waste” is influenced by journalists’ and policymakers’ articulation of justifications for/against equity-enhancing policies. In a sensationalized “post-truth” era, emotionally provocative narratives and their celebratory/condemnatory prescriptive entailments often overwhelm public policy debate. These narratives can vilify/esteem the economically marginalized, particularly where economic, gendered and racialized marginalization intersect. To enhance evidence-based policy debate, journalists and policymakers rely on expert research. But as UNESCO’s appeal for information literacy cautions us, research can be created or interpreted to fuel “fake news” (Abu-Fadil, 2018).

This project investigates the relationship among news media, public policy, and expert economic research to analyze how the construction of economic research (by economists), and its interpretation in journalism and policy argumentation, interact with emotionally evocative narratives that (de)legitimate policies supporting low-income and marginalized groups. We investigate how emotive narratives are suggested and/or contradicted both by the quantitative and linguistic argumentation employed within economic research, and its contextualization by journalists and policymakers. We adopt a critical discourse studies approach to advance the following objectives:

O1: INVESTIGATE the prominent arguments invoked in news media to legitimize/delegitimize post-pandemic policies to support low-income and marginalized groups.

O2: ANALYZE economic research referenced in media coverage (collected in O1) to determine how its argumentation contributes to narratives regarding the (il)legitimacy of these policies.

O3: COMPARE federal government speeches, public communications, and policy documents concerning support for low-income and marginalized groups to investigate how policy (il)legitimacy is justified via arguments and narratives in news media (O1) and economic research (O2).

O4: ADVANCE the analysis of gendered and racialized narratives in news media, public policy, and economic research discussing policies supporting low-income groups.

To date, virtually no scholarship addresses the argumentative implications of the selective presentation and interpretation of technical economic research in news media and policy documents. Nor is there substantial scholarship assessing how narrative trajectories may be privileged by the technical attributes and argumentative structure of economic research. Our unusual multidisciplinary research team’s skills in both discourse analysis and technical economic argumentation enables us to investigate economic studies as texts that privilege certain normative and evaluative interpretations, and to analyze how these interpretations inform both news media coverage and subsequent government portrayals of its policies combatting economic, gendered and racialized marginalization.

Beyond extensive scholarly contributions, our robust KMB plan will circulate accessible findings via print and podcast to journalists and journalism students, and publicly in op-eds and policy briefs.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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