HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for the New York Times’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
NEW YORK TIMES PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
The New York Times balanced its photos of Obama and Romney relatively evenly throughout October — without relying on the kind of split-screen debate photos as so many other media did.
NEW YORK TIMES PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
With top staff photographers, the Times relied less on the breaking news photos of AP, Reuters and Getty. Instead the Times ran photos that told stories by themselves: aesthetically and politically compelling stories about the candidates.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by the New York Times during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 183 photos from the New York Times over the three weeks of the general election — 82 photos of Pres. Obama and 101 photos of Gov. Romney. Across the three weeks, The New York Times published* 20 percent more photographs of Romney, with its attention most focused on Romney during the week of the first debate.
- Many of the New York Times stories and blogs on the campaign, including those specifically mentioning the candidates, did not include photos of either candidate. Instead the Times relied on its weekly slideshows for visual coverage of the election. Doing so allowed it to select and publish photos that didn’t per se illustrate any given article as much as illustrate the campaign writ large.
- The New York Times multimedia slideshows did not integrate with Pinterest. No photos from their shows could be pinned or evaluated. That significantly altered the number and likely “kind” of photos available for evaluation, as the Times used slideshows often to highlight images from campaign events, including the two presidential debates. The Times also prevented researchers from pinning thumbnail photos, although videos (screengrabs) could be pinned.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from the New York Times coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — Two weeks prior to the first debate, the New York Times published* significantly more “positive” photos of Obama than of Romney. Researchers coded no “negative” photos of Obama.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers recorded a dramatic drop off in the Times‘ publishing of “positive” images of Obama; researchers coded almost three-quarters of the photographs of both candidates as “neutral” in tone.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, the New York Times continued to published mostly “neutral” photos of the two candidates. Researchers coded roughly equal numbers of “negative” photos of Obama and Romney, although somewhat more “positive” photos of Obama.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
Throughout the presidential primaries of the spring of 2012, The New York Times devoted considerable attention to the GOP candidates on its dedicated section Campaign 2012. The photo coverage in that section as well as elsewhere in the paper (home page, Politics, blogs, and especially slideshows) tended to favor aesthetically compelling pictures that emphasized the scenes around the candidates, not necessarily the candidates themselves. While the Times did run “typical” political photos, it repeatedly selected images taken from different perspectives (some by Damon Winter, the Times photographer who won the Pulitzer for his coverage of candidate Obama in 2008).
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 146 photos: almost equal numbers of photos of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — 59 photos of Romney, 56 photographs of Santorum, 26 photos of Newt Gingrich and 5 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 /45 PINS *
POSITIVE: How do prospective voters evaluate images of candidates with their faces intentionally obscured — in silhouette (above) or out of focus (right)? Often it seemed that in its photography, the Times was commenting on the state of politics in America, rather than attempting to illustrate a specific event for those who weren’t present.
- In the regular shots of candidate Romney that the NY Times published, coders noted that he appeared statesmanlike, engaged, family oriented, funny, caring, self-deprecating — in short a range of emotions that one can imagine the candidate’s own staffers wanting to advertise. Very few of those images appeared to intentionally catch Romney in a gotcha moment. Several, including ones taken by Pulitzer-winner Winter could be easily be appropriated for Romney’s own posters.
SANTORUM / 47 PINS *
POSITIVE: With more of the “first team” of photographers (such a Damon Winter and Yana Paskova) covering front-runner Romney, the NY Times‘ photographs of Santorum tended to be more aesthetically “ordinary” than those of Romney. But shots that were less about a candidate’s event and more about the “framing” of a candidate were still in evidence, as the two on the left suggest (the top and the bottom at rallies in Illinois). It doesn’t get more didactic than a blacked out room with a highlighted candidate in front of a semi-religious-looking window, nor does it get “more American” than an American flag and a boy scout.
- Coders noted that the NY Times pictured Santorum in diverse settings, often with wading into or surrounded by a crowd of supporters, yet he also appeared alone more than any other candidate.
- Coders also noted that many photos were dark, apparently because the photographers (essentially all the photos from the Times were taken by their own photographers) chose to use natural light. That choice made for some dramatic effects — such as shadowed or blurred candidates — but it also left added a darker tone to the image of the candidates.
GINGRICH /23 PINS *
POSITIVE: Like the rest of the candidates, the NY Times selected photos of Gingrich where he appeared generally pictured from a medium range. Gingrich was seen mingling in a higher percentage of photos than any other candidate, leading to an overall positive evaluation of the aggregated images.
- Researchers coding the photos noted that Gingrich had the the lowest percentage of “in-mid speech” pictures of the candidates. In other words, he was pictured less often in the repetitive/expected role of candidates giving speeches to large crowds.
- As with Romney and Santorum, the NY Times also selected photos of Gingrich that were uncommon angles on his events, such as the two on the left (both by Damon Winter, taken in Illinois). As with the photos of Romney and Santorum, these photos too appeared to be more “meta” commentaries than portraits of a specific moment in time: the top photo above of a silent auction table appeared rather to be a memorial to someone dead, and the bottom photograph reminded researchers less of a candidate’s speech than of the state of a candidate’s divided soul.
PAUL / 5 PINS *
NEGATIVE: Coders found and pinned only five photos of Ron Paul over the month of the study, one of which was of him onstage with the other candidates. The remaining four images were published on only two days: February 28, and March 6, Super Tuesday. In only one of those photos is Paul’s face visible, and that is in profile.
- The two photos on the left here, from a packed February rally at Michigan State (the caption to the photo below notes: “Ron Paul was swarmed by fans and press after his speech at Michigan State University.”) still manage to give the impression that Paul is an isolated figure, even in a crowd.
The New York Times
2012 General Election Coverage
The NY Times created a specific web Campaign 2012 section for its coverage of the presidential election as well as stories focusing on the administration and Congress. Other campaign stories appeared on the NY Times‘ home page, and photo galleries of the candidates were both in site’s Campaign 2012 and photo sections. In addition the NY Times hosted multiple blogs on politics, and created individual pages for each candidate’s news coverage, photos, Twitter mentions, campaign finance details, and basic platform.
PINTEREST: On the NY Times‘ site, only photos that were on individual pages (articles or photo galleries) were available to “pin;” those in the metadata or related articles did not come up.
CONTEXT: The New York Times is an American daily newspaper first published on September 18, 1851 under the title New York Daily Times. The Times is owned by The New York Times Company, which owns other papers and web sites, and the company’s chairman is Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., whose family has controlled the paper since 1896. Although in editorial matters the paper has a liberal reputation, The Times is regarded as the national newspaper of record.