HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for NPR’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries. NPR was formerly known as National Public Radio.
NPR PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
Debate photos dominated NPR’s photographic coverage of the campaign — even beyond the events themselves. NPR repeatedly re-used breaking news photos for a second life in analysis and commentary stories.
NPR PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
In September before the debates, NPR published stark close-up photos of Romney alone. Following the debates, the vast majority of photos of Romney showed him with Obama at the debates.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by NPR during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 94 photos from NPR over the three weeks of the general election — 41 photos of Pres. Obama and 53 photos of Gov. Romney. The first week of the study, two weeks before the first debate, saw the greatest discrepancy in numbers of photos found and pinned.
- Considering NPR’s reputation as one of the United States’ top news outlets, the lack of photos that researchers found to pin in both the general election and the primary season was was a bit puzzling to researchers, even given that NPR is a legacy radio station. But the observation does suggest that there is room for improvement of online coverage of the news, even while NPR continues to attract listeners to its radio programing.
- Researchers found that the proportion of photos of Obama coded as “positive,” “neutral” and “negative” over the study’s three weeks stayed roughly constant. Researchers noted that the tone of photos of Romney appeared much more responsive to events: his “positive” numbers went up after the first debate which he was widely perceived to have won, and then dropped after Obama’s “comeback” performance in the second debate.
- The majority of coverage of the presidential election appeared in NPR’s news section, as well as the “Election 2012” subtab of the Politics section. NPR did not include many campaign slideshows or videos in its stories during the three weeks of this study. All the site’s still photos pinned without difficulty to Pinterest.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from NPR coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — NPR published almost three times as many images of Romney as Obama two weeks prior to the first debate. Researchers coded proportionately roughly the same number of photos of Obama and Romney as “positive,” but more of Obama coded as “negative.”
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers pinned roughly the same number of images of each candidate, and again they coded them essentially equally positively, but a few images of Obama were coded as “negative.” Researchers coded no NPR photos of Romney as “negative.”
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers noted a significant uptick in the number of NPR photographs of Romney coded as “negative.”
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
In February and March 2012, NPR.org published far more photos of Mitt Romney than of his chief competitors and more positive photos of Romney as well. But of perhaps of additional note was how few photos of the election overall appeared on the website.
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 54 photos: 26 photos of Romney, 17 photographs of Santorum, 9 of Newt Gingrich and 2 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 / 26 PINS *
POSITIVE: Over the course of February and March 2012, NPR’s coverage of Romney reflected the increasingly conventional wisdom that he would be the Republican nominee for the presidency. NPR rarely published photos of Romney that showed him in a negative light, showing him most often either beaming with confidence (as above left with his wife), speaking forcefully (below left), or just simply square-jawed and determined (above).
- Like all of his GOP competitors except Gingrich, Romney was rarely seen entirely alone; he appeared engaged and engaging with those around, whether simply his wife, or with an audience of supporters
SANTORUM / 17 PINS *
POSITIVE: Rick Santorum, much like Romney, was a serious contender in the race for the Republican nomination during the data-collection period. Therefore it is not surprising that the majority of Santorum photographs published by NPR cast him in a positive light. However, researchers did code photos of Santorum less positively than those of Romney.
- As the two photos (left) suggest, fewer images of Santorum pictured him as unequivocally confident — and presidential — as the images of frontrunner Romney. And while he is frequently smiling in photos, his expression is more restrained than that of his competitor.
- In more than half of the pinned photos from NPR, Santorum is shown mingling with supporters or addressing an audience.
GINGRICH / 9 PINS *
NEUTRAL: Researchers only located and pinned nine photographs of Newt Gingrich from NPR’s website during the four weeks of data collection. Of those nine photos, Gingrich appeared alone in four, and in several others (such as the photo, left) he appeared isolated. Roughly half of the photos, if taken by themselves, appear to be positive in tone (Gingrich is smiling, and several cases he’s backstopped by an American flag), leaving the other half of the photos coded as negative or neutral.
- At best, therefore, coders evalutated NPR as taking a neutral tone in its photographs of Newt Gingrich. Not all the photos pictured him as the looming, disapproving, oppressively magisterial presence (as in the photo above), but among the nine photos researchers found no images of him wading into crowds of supporters, or even pictures of him speaking to an engaged audience.
- The lack of enthusiastic crowds in NPR’s selection of images of Gingrich was in stark contrast to the content and tone of the images from the other three leading candidates. NPR depicted Romney, Santorum and even Paul in photo after photo mingling with their audiences, a clear connection being made between the candidates and their supporters. The photos of Gingrich left a different impression: that he was a distant figure — not necessarily unlikeable, as a number of the photos showed him faintly smiling, but not approachable.
PAUL / 2 PINS *
NEUTRAL: With only two pinned photos of candidate Ron Paul, coders didn’t have much to evaluate. They did note, however, that in neither image did Paul appear presidential. In one he appeared to be just a guy in tennis shoes (left), and in the other he appeared to be a buffoon at a podium.
- NPR only published two photos of Ron Paul; that is perhaps the most salient point. Coders understood the lack of attention to Paul as a direct commentary on his electability.
NPR is a privately and publicly funded media non-profit that produces and distributes news and cultural radio programing to over 900 public radio member stations across the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NPR offers both on-air programing, including its signature two news shows, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” as well as a web presence on the NPR website. While some major breaking stories related to the primaries appeared on program pages on the site, this study focused on NPR’s coverage of the candidates on the site’s homepage, its News’ “Politics” page and its special series “Election 2012” subtab.
PINTEREST: NPR‘s website interacted smoothly with Pinterest; most photos on the site could be pinned — with the exception, however, of its online galleries. As a result, researchers could not represent all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to NPR.org via Pinterest. This, however, was true for most news outlets, especially those with significant broadcast media.
CONTEXT: National Public Radio, commonly known as NPR, went live in April 1971 with coverage of the Senate hearings on the war in Vietnam. Since then NPR has expanded to cover news and carry cultural programming
DISCLOSURE: Kevin Klose, former dean of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, at the University of Maryland, College Park, the home institution of ICMPA, is President Emeritus of NPR. Klose was president of NPR from Dec. 1998 to Sept. 2008, and NPR‘s CEO from 1998 to 1999.