In the first 72 days of 2020 (up through March 12, the day of our first such review), roughly 11,000 articles were published about COVID-19 in the entire U.S. media ecosystem. By the end of March (19 days later), that number nearly quadrupled to over 41,000, with a daily output that routinely tops 1,500 articles. Given the media’s incessant effort to capture all aspects of the virus, we decided it was time to revisit the question of who is really providing the most credible coverage on COVID-19. 

Now with 3 full months of data, we have more to draw conclusions from, and the broad contours of our analysis offer some interesting insights. 

Three Major Takeaways

First, no major news outlet made the top 10; in fact, not a single one broke the top 25 (CNBC ranked 30th). That’s not to say you can’t get great information from major news sources, but it means there may be more variability and noise from which the great stories need to be identified and extracted.

Second, 7 of the top 10 outlets have a neutral political bias, meaning they tend not to consistently lean one way or another politically. In a world that is ever-more divided, reliable, neutral news is something we can all benefit from reading.

Third, the news outlets that we’ve highlighted here may be smaller and less well known than national news powerhouses, but that doesn’t discount the quality journalism they are producing, their ability to keep us informed amid this crisis, or their capacity to expand our news horizons even after COVID-19 has passed. While they may not publish as often as major outlets, their quality is high and suggests we can step back from the media deluge and still get the information we need.

How Article Credibility Works

Our analysis looked at 41,000 articles on COVID-19 from January 1 to March 31. We only included websites that published at least 20 articles on the subject matter over the time period.

When measuring the credibility of each article, The Factual’s algorithm analyzes the author’s expertise, the site’s publication history, the quality of the cited sources, and the tone of the writing, emerging at the end with a score on a 100-point scale. Articles above 75% are regarded as highly likely to be credible. See our How It Works page for more information on our article database and how we track article credibility as well as why some pages can’t always be graded.

Top outlets - COVID-19 (all 10) (3) (1)

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The Top 10

  1. Smithsonian Magazine
    Average grade: 85.5% | Number of articles: 20 | Political bias: Center
    Chances are, if you’ve been to Washington, DC, you’ve been to a Smithsonian building or museum, but the publicly-funded Smithsonian Institution also runs Smithsonian Magazine, a journal focusing on “science, history, art, popular culture and innovation.” Its coverage during the COVID-19 crisis has focused on critical science questions related to the virus, as well as how the disease will impact science, education, and national heritage sites at home and abroad.

    Best recent article:
    Amid COVID-19 Closures, Egypt Sanitizes the Giza Pyramids – By Brigit Katz
    March 27, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 95%

  2. Undark
    Average grade: 83.6% | Number of articles: 22 | Political bias: Center

    Undark’s mission is as thought provoking as its name suggests, best left expressed in their own words. As an independent digital magazine, Undark explores science “as a frequently wondrous, sometimes contentious, and occasionally troubling byproduct of human culture.” A media outlet that recognizes “that science can often be politically, economically and ethically fraught, even as it captures the imagination and showcases the astonishing scope of human endeavor” is probably who you want investigating the troubling questions raised by this unprecedented pandemic.

    Best recent article:
    In the American South, Covid-19 Could Find Fertile Ground – By Laura Beil
    March 23, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 90%

  3. Ars Technica
    Average grade: 82.3% | Number of articles: 37 | Political bias: Center

    Ars Technica — derived from Latin, meaning “art of technology” — is a tech-focused outlet designed to cater to “alpha geeks.” It is also emblematic of tech-focused outlets that have become key providers of essential journalism at a time when scientifically savvy and perceptive stories are arguably more important than ever. 

    Best recent article:
    Florida bucks social distancing trend as COVID-19 cases skyrocket – By Beth Mole
    March 31, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 89%

  4. MIT Technology Review
    Average grade: 81.7% | Number of articles: 41 | Political bias: Center

    It should be no surprise that the magazine bearing the name of one of the world’s most esteemed universities has a reputation to match. MIT Technology Review leverages its close relationship with the eponymous institution to produce incisive journalism to make “technology a greater force for good.” Their coverage of COVID-19 has tackled many key science- and tech-related questions, from how long the virus can survive on certain surfaces to how 3D printing might save lives.

    Best recent article:
    Forget Zoom—children are using Facebook Messenger Kids to deal with coronavirus isolation – By Tanya Basu
    March 30, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 88%

  5. Lawfare 
    Average grade: 78.7% | Number of articles: 35 | Political bias: Moderate Left

    COVID-19 has challenged U.S. society at every level, including national security. That’s why it’s critical to have sites such as Lawfare engaging with the “nebulous zone in which actions taken or contemplated to protect the nation interact with the nation’s laws and legal institutions.” Using the legal and national security concerns as a guide, Lawfare has been investigating the pandemic’s interaction with government institutions and society at large, asking needed questions about issues such as surveillance, cyberattacks, and government preparedness and response.

    Best recent article:
    Congress Needs a Coronavirus Failsafe—Before It’s Too Late – By Scott R. Anderson and Margaret L. Taylor
    March 23, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 87%

  6. Poynter Institute 
    Average grade: 78.6% | Number of articles: 24 | Political bias: Center

    Poynter is a school of journalism, a research organization, and owner of the Tampa Bay Times. They care about facts, enough so that they created the International Fact-Checking Network, a code and certification system for fact-checkers relied upon by giants such as Google and Facebook. That strength has shined through during the COVID-19 crisis, with Poynter using their platform to debunk popular hoaxes and myths while also providing updates on how the disease is affecting the world of news.

    Best recent article:
    Coronavirus deniers are real, even if their message isn’t – By Cristina Tardágila  and Susan Benkelman March 26, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 86%

  7. The Conversation 
    Average grade: 78.0% | Number of articles: 124 | Political bias: Center

    What if academics wrote the news but were guided by the keen eyes of journalists? The Conversation does just that, seeking a balance of “academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Each article is written by academics, associated with their academic institutions, and intentionally transparent about potential conflicts of interest. To make this accessible, the stories are directed by journalist editors who select topics — such as vaccine science — and seek to unlock sophisticated academic expertise for a broader audience.

    Best recent article:
    Anti-Asian racism during coronavirus: How the language of disease produces hate and violence – By Paula Larsson
    March 31, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 89%

  8. Gizmodo 
    Average grade: 78.0% | Number of articles: 28 | Political bias: Left

    Gizmodo is in the same vein as Ars Technica — a mix of science, technology, futurism, and science-fiction. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, that’s meant informative and credible coverage of the disease’s many faces, from government response to the latest virus-related science.

    Best recent article:
    Teen Who Died of Covid-19 Was Denied Treatment Because He Didn’t Have Health Insurance – By Matt Novak
    March 27, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 84%

  9. Grist 
    Average grade: 77.3% | Number of articles: 34 | Political bias: Moderate Left

    Grist’s mission centers around “climate, sustainability, and social justice,” particularly as these issues concern building a better future through “clean energy, sustainable food, livable cities, environmental justice, and a better economy.” Their science-focused journalism has a knack for unpacking the likely impacts of this crisis on a future, much larger potential crisis: climate change.

    Best recent article:
    Democracy on hold: States are canceling public meetings amid coronavirus crisis – By Emily Pontecorvo
    March 30, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 91%

  10. Defense One 
    Average grade: 77.2% | Number of articles: 54 | Political bias: Center

    Defense One is a defense and national security outlet that seeks to inform the public as well as anyone from “senior leaders in Washington to commanders abroad and next-generation thinkers.” Their coverage in 2020 has zeroed in on how the U.S. government has largely botched an epidemic response and how the virus is impacting and interacting with the Department of Defense, the branches of the armed forces, and international organizations such as NATO.

    Best recent article:
    Can Better Airplane Boarding Procedures Slow the Spread of Coronavirus? – By Patrick Tucker
    March 31, 2020 | Article credibility grade: 85%

It’s easy to fall into a routine with our news consumption, trusting big names and popular outlets, but these sources may not always carry the most credible news, especially when it comes to scientifically complex and politically charged questions. The list above presents a compelling case for trusting certain niche outlets with your finite news consumption. In normal times, it might just lead to better-informed discussions; during this pandemic, it might help share critical facts, fight misinformation, and even save lives. 

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.