HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for the LA Times’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
LOS ANGELES TIMES PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
As was the case across the media, photos from the debates dominated the LA Times’ coverage, even beyond the breaking-news events. Most often the candidates appeared in shots with each other, or in split-screen photos showing mirrored expressions.
LOS ANGELES TIMES PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
When the candidates weren’t appearing in photographs with each other, Romney — even more than Obama — appeared alone. Unlike during the primaries Romney rarely appeared in photos engaging with supporters.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by the LA Times during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned 179 photos from the Los Angeles Times over the three week span — 86 photos pinned of Obama, and 93 photos pinned of Romney.
- The photos of Romney in the LA Times appeared responsive to his poll numbers: In September, when Romney faced accusations from the leaked “47 percent” video and felt little bounce following the Republican National Convention, most photos of Romney in the LA Times were neutral or mildly negative in tone — Romney appeared somewhat defensive on the podium. Come the presidential debates in October, however, and coders noted the LA Times selected more dynamic images, depicting Romney with more positive facial expressions and confident hand gestures and body language.
- Most of the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of the presidential campaign appeared on its home page and its “Politics Now” section; additional articles with photographs appeared at times in the “Opinion” and “Economics” sections. No videos on the Los Angeles Times site were able to be pinned to Pinterest; researchers also encountered problems pinning certain photos due to the pay wall restrictions.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from LA Times coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — In the week prior to the first debate, the Los Angeles Times published* significantly more “positive” photos of Obama than of Romney — many that researchers coded as “very positive.”
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers recorded a dramatic uptick in the Times‘ publishing of “positive” images of Romney; researchers coded roughly equal numbers of “positive,” “neutral” and “negative” images of both candidates.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers again noted rough parity in the tone of images. The major difference with the week of the first debate was a significant rise for both candidates in images coded as “neutral.”
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
Throughout the GOP primaries of the spring of 2012, the Los Angeles Times featured a “Politics Now” blog within their U.S. Politics section that hosted most of the outlet’s photographic coverage of the GOP primaries. Yet, while the LA Times posted several daily photos of Romney and Santorum, waning coverage of Gingrich and Paul left a significant gap in the number of published photographs of the two trailing candidates. This division among the candidates continued, with the LA Times publishing a greater number (and proportion) of photographs of Romney and Santorum mingling with their supporters than of Gingrich and Paul. More than many other news sites, the LA Times selected “unusual” photos of the individual candidates — something other than head shots or “grip-and-grin” photos. That tendency to look for the different angle, however, may have led, however, to meaningful shifts in the way the LA Times pictured the various candidates. Coders noted, for example, that the LA Times published more unreservedly positive photos of Romney than of his GOP opponents. In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 239 photos: 108 photos of Mitt Romney, 86 photographs of Rick Santorum, 38 of Newt Gingrich and 7 photos of Ron Paul.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY / 108 PINS *
POSITIVE: Photos of Mitt Romney in the LA Times showed him in an overwhelmingly positive light — more than half of the pinned photos pictured him laughing, smiling or dynamically speaking with an audience visible in the background.
- In addition to these positive types of images, a significant number of other published photos of Romney showed him mingling and making physical and emotional connections with his supporters — including an upbeat photo gallery showing him admiring and kissing babies.
- The LA Times often featured photos in which Romney’s supporters are visible, engaged and seemingly enthusiastic about his candidacy — images that reinforce the notion that he is popular with voters and being taken as a serious contender for the presidency.
SANTORUM / 86 PINS *
POSITIVE: The LA Times photos of Rick Santorum, while positive over all, were less so than its images of Mitt Romney. While Santorum was often pictured smiling, the LA Times pictured him more than Romney on a podium by himself, without a visible audience of supporters.
- Photos of Santorum often showed him reaching out into an audience or using expressive hand gestures while speaking, yet coders noted a sizeable percentage of photos that captured him speaking with a frown, grimace, or intense (negative) expression on his face.
- While the LA Times did published photos of Santorum mingling with supporters in which viewers could see real enthusiasm on the candidate’s face, the majority of those photos show little of the potential supporter’s faces, so there appears to be less reciprocity of feeling. This pattern suggests that readers of the LA Times were getting mixed messages — that while a given photo of Santorum might in isolation be understood as positive, the framing over all of the Santorum candidacy was not as positive as some of the visual images might have suggested.
GINGRICH / 38 PINS *
NEUTRAL: Researchers found and pinned 38 Los Angeles Times photographs of Newt Gingrich over the course of the study — unsurprisingly, the number of photos of Gingrich diminished overtime.
- Coders noted that of the pinned photos, the LA Times published proportionately more photos of Gingrich alone on a podium, than either Romney or Santorum — a factor that led coders to evaluate Gingrich’s images overall less positively than the two leading candidates.
- Again, while any individual image could appear relatively positive (for example the candidate was photographed smiling), coders noted that images of Gingrich tended to include fewer positive elements (candidate’s expression, engagement with audience, enthusiasm of audience, patriotic elements, etc.), and more ambivalent elements (harsh black backgrounds, staffers shown rather than supporters, camera angles that emphasized his large stomach, etc.).
PAUL / 7 PINS *
NEGATIVE: Over the course of the study, researchers found only seven photos of Ron Paul to pin. The lack of coverage suggested that the LA Times did not consider Paul to be a serious contender in the 2012 Presidential election.
- Coders evaluated negatively most of the handful of photographs that did appear. In four out of the seven images Paul is pictured alone, addressing the audience, and in each case with a strained and tired or frustrated expression on his face.
For the 2012 election, the LATimes.com provided thorough coverage with in-depth daily coverage on its home page and especially on its Politics Now blog, which posted and aggregated articles, features and photos surrounding the presidential primaries and general election.
PINTEREST: The Los Angeles Times‘s website synced relatively poorly with Pinterest. The LA Times often ran thumbnail-sized photos on its landing pages. When those thumbnails were pinned to Pinterest, the image didn’t always link back to the originating page. To try to circumvent that situation, researchers attempted to go to pin a larger photo from the article itself, but often when a thumbnail was clicked from the landing page, the story that opened either had no photo or actually featured a video. The LA Times‘ pay wall blocked articles and kept casual users from gathering information about the photo, such as who the photographer was.
CONTEXT: The Los Angeles Times launched as a daily newspaper in Los Angeles, California in 1881. The Tribune Company, the parent company of the Chicago Tribune, bought the award-winning paper in 2000. LATimes.com has been the online version of the daily paper since 1990.