HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for NBC News’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries. NBC News was formerly known as MSNBC.
NBC NEWS PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
NBC used still photos mostly to supplement its video coverage of the campaign. So while NBC did post daily photographs, they were subsidiary to its video coverage (just as was the case with ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox).
NBC NEWS PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
NBC did use close-up shots of the candidates, but it ran fewer pro forma debate shots than most other outlets. As a result, NBC ran photos of the candidates (often in split-screen) where they were more than just “talking heads” on stage.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by NBC during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 199 photos from NBC over the three weeks of the general election — 105 photos of Pres. Obama and 95 photos of Gov. Romney.
- NBC repeatedly published split-screen photos of Obama and Romney (including in a dedicated slideshow) that paired the candidates not just in the debates or during their stump speeches, as most news outlets did, but in everyday scenarios.
The takeaway, researchers considered, was less that one man came out “better,” or more photogenic than the other, than that both men were on par in “all things” with each other — whether holding babies or hugging their wives.
- Neither NBC’s videos nor slideshows integrated with Pinterest. That factor significantly altered the number of images available for evaluation, a concern as NBC, like other websites that are home to legacy TV news outlets, use videos often. Researchers had no trouble pinning all other types of photos on the site. Researchers did note, however, that many NBC stories and blogs on the campaign, including those specifically mentioning Obama and Romney, did not include photos of the candidates.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from NBC coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — NBC News published* an almost identical number of images of Obama and Romney two weeks prior to the first debate, and researchers coded an almost identical number of “negative” photos for two candidates, but NBC did publish* more “positive” photos of Obama.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers noted a surprising stability in the percentage of images of Obama coded as “positive,” “neutral” and “negative.” The coding of Romney’s photos also stayed roughly on par, with a slight uptick in “neutral” photos.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers coded a greater percentage of “negative” photos of Obama, although across the three weeks, no matter the trend line of the polls, researchers coded more “positive” photos of Obama.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
Throughout February and March 2012, MSNBC.com paid significant attention to the GOP primaries, yet researchers found relatively few photographs of the four candidates over the month-long period of the study. Even at this height of the political primary season, many MSNBC stories had no visuals at all, and others (understandably) had only video links.
Researchers coding the photographs, noted that MSNBC/NBC was an outlier of the media outlets for its framing of all four candidates. MSNBC.com depicted even front-runner Romney as well as Santorum at best ambivalently, although the greater attention to Romney suggested that MSNBC was mindful of the poll data.
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 94 photos: 47 photos of Mitt Romney, 32 photographs of Rick Santorum, 13 of Newt Gingrich and 2 photos of Ron Paul.
Note, as mentioned below, no video, photo gallery images, or multimedia pieces were recognized by the Pinterest pinning tool. Therefore, as is true for all the news outlets surveyed, the total number of images pinned to Pinterest should be understood to be representative of those published, not an absolute set of all photographs that could be seen on the site.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY/ 47 PINS*
NEUTRAL: Coders puzzled over how to evaluate MSNBC.com‘s framing of Mitt Romney. As the two photographs copied here suggest, MSNBC swung wildly in its depiction of the candidates, including front-runner Romney. The two photos here, taken by the same photographer on the same day at the same event appeared in two different stories on the MSNBC.com website. Coders evaluated the two images distinctly, and in analyzing the coverage as a whole noted that viewers who only saw one of the photos would have had a strong positive or a strong negative impression of the candidate.
- Researchers recorded that in many of MSNBC.com‘s photographs, Romney appears to be smiling and engaged with supporters, but a careful analysis of the coding shows that many of the images that the researchers at first glance coded with positive attributes (smiling, engaged with audience), on second glance made Romney seem a shade less than genuine, a bit tentative, slightly frustrated. Relatively few of the images appeared to show Romney in unalloyed moments of happiness, sincere moments in speaking, or comfortable conversations with the public.
SANTORUM/ 32 PINS*
NEUTRAL: Rather like MSNBC/NBC‘s coverage of Romney, the published photographs of Rick Santorum showed Santorum on one hand to be charismatic, warm and approachable as in the photo (left) of him and his wife, and on the other hand suggested that he was isolated and angry, as in the photo (below left), where he appears to be conducting a concert under water.
- This mix of positive and negative images, as with those of Romney, prompted researchers to wonder how intentional the divergent choices were — if MSNBC.com, in an effort at objectivity, sought to find it by balancing a very positive image with a very negative one.
- One distinction (beyond the difference in number of images) between the photos of Romney and Santorum, is that the photos of Santorum appeared to be less nuanced than those of Romney: in other words, photos that included elements coded positively (Santorum smiling or laughing, for example) were ultimately coded positively.
GINGRICH/ 13 PINS*
NEGATIVE: Newt Gingrich received considerably less coverage than Santorum, and researchers coded a majority of those images as negative.
- In nine of the 13 pinned photographs the candidate is isolated from supporters — either he is alone in the image, or, as in the photos to the left, he is set apart from the audience. The fact that his back is to the camera in several of the images further appears to isolate him from the public, coders noted.
- The two photographs coded the most positively, were one of him on stage smiling alongside a smiling Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, and the second was of him waltzing with his wife, his back to the camera. His wife, however, appears to be smiling at him, in a rather intimate moment. As with the positive images of Santorum, those two photos appear to capture genuine moments and so coders viewed them more positively than many of the “smiling” images of Romney.
PAUL/ 2 PINS*
NEGATIVE: MSNBC/NBC gave Ron Paul essentially no coverage — a circumstance that presumably reflected the media outlet’s opinion of Paul’s legitimacy as a presidential candidate.
- Researchers coded negatively the two photographs of Paul that researchers did find and pin. It is perhaps enough to say that one photo was a close up of Paul looking sad, and the second paired Paul with Darth Vader.
- Coders noted that neither by number of images, nor by the subject of them did Paul’s candidacy receive either serious consideration or favorable treatment.
2012 General Election Coverage
NBCnews.com provided coverage of the 2012 General Election most prominently on its NBC Politics page, for news and analysis of breaking stories from the Political Unit. As mentioned above, during the February-March period of this study, NBC’s news website was MSNBC.com.
Pinterest: NBCnews.com interacted easily, albeit in limited ways with Pinterest; most every political photo published with an article or a blog post could be pinned. However, it was not possible to pin any photos from photo slideshows nor was it possible to pin videos. As a result, researchers could not represent all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to NBCnews.com via Pinterest. Therefore the images studied here are a subset of all the visual images of the candidate originally viewable on the site. This, however, was true for most news outlets, especially those with significant numbers of videos.
It is also worth mentioning that the challenges of the search function on the website (the clumsiness of search for the blog sites) also made it difficult to find, pin and the click back to individual stories related to the candidates.
Context: The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American television network and former radio network headquartered in New York City. NBC was orginally formed in 1926 as a radio broadcasting network by General Electric, RCA and Westinghouse Electric. The network is currently part of the media company NBC Universal. Comcast owns 51 percent of NBC Universal and GE controls 49 percent. In 1996, NBC and the Microsoft Corporation created MSNBC, an all-news cable television channel with a companion online news service, MSNBC.com. On July 15, 2012, the MSNBC.com website became NBCNews.com.