Soft Power Journalism: A Visual Framing Analysis of COVID-19 on Xinhua and VOA’s Instagram Pages

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Digital Journalism




The coronavirus pandemic has been a battleground for China and the U.S. to score political points on international media. With outlets from both countries exemplifying distinct media systems, the coverage is very likely to differ between Chinese and U.S. media. Previous studies point to key differences across the two, with Chinese media being more pro-government, more focussed on the African community, and less reliant on reporting that emphasizes personal stories and negative economic impacts. Using visual framing as a theoretical lens, this study explores the intersection of soft power and journalism in Xinhua and Voice of America's (VOA) visual coverage of the coronavirus pandemic on Instagram. A quantitative and qualitative visual analyses of 1911 photographs reveals that Xinhua serves as a prototypical soft power media organization that projects pro-government narratives and downplays negative economic and social consequences of the crisis, while VOA operates as an aggregator of content from predominantly Western sources that viewers can consume elsewhere, hence making its coverage redundant and likely less effective and coherent. The study discusses the implications of both photojournalistic approaches on the global media market.


State media, soft power, visual framing, photojournalism, Xinhua, VOA, coronavirus, Instagram


Journalism and Mass Communications