HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for the Washington Post’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
WASHINGTON POST PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
The Washington Post took seriously its role as the news organization of record for the federal government, running substantially more photographic coverage* of the 2012 presidential election than any other news outlet in the PrezPix study.
WASHINGTON POST PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
Remarkably, despite the swings in poll numbers in September and October, the percentage of “positive” photos of Obama published* by the Post remained roughly the same across all three weeks. Not so those of Romney.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by the Washington Post during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 1,014 photos from the Washington Post over the three weeks of the general election — 465 photos of Pres. Obama and 549 photos of Gov. Romney. Across the three weeks, the Washington Post published* almost 20 percent more photographs of Romney, with its attention most focused on Romney during the week of the first debate.
- Obama and Romney had more photos alone or with a diverse group of supporters in the first two weeks of pinning. In the third week, more than half of the photos for each candidate featured the two men together from the debate.
- Most of the Washington Post‘s photos came from their slideshows, which were often updated. All photos from the Post’s slideshows could be pinned. (NB: It is difficult to directly compare the photographic coverage of the Post with the New York Times, as typically the Times did not permit photos to be pinned from its slideshows.) The Post did run standalone photos with articles, although it also pulled images from the slideshows to illustrate articles. Three or four photos made up smaller photosets with some articles, and the Post often included thumbnails for videos on its pages.
- Researchers could not pin videos from the Washington Post, although images of embedded Youtube videos could be pinned to Pinterest. When the Post put up screengrabs of its own videos, those could be pinned. Photos were most often at the top of articles, usually in the “Politics” section. The “Opinions” section ran a substantial amount of political commentary, however those articles tended not to include photos.
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 Washington Post coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — Two weeks prior to the first debate, the Washington Post published* almost 40 more photos of Romney than Obama — but researchers coded slightly more than half of the photos of Obama as “positive”and slightly less than half of the photos of Romney as “negative.”
- Oct. 1-7 — For the week of the first debate, the tone of the photos began to level out, as researchers recorded a dramatic drop off in the percentage of “negative” images of Romney and a rise in the percentage of photos of him that researchers coded as “positive.”
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, the Washington Post published more “balanced” photos of the two candidates — researchers coded roughly equal numbers of photos of the two candidates, and coded the photos similarly.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
In February and March 2012, WashingtonPost.com provided extraordinary photographic coverage of all four GOP candidates on almost a daily basis. As the paper of record in the nation’s capital, WashingtonPost.com closely covered the top candidates as they campaigned across the primary states. Campaign stories appeared daily on the site’s home page, as well as on the dedicated section Campaign 2012, the Election 2012 Blog, the individual pages for each candidate, and multiple other specialized pages, including ones relating to campaign ads, finance and polling.
Despite the fact that researchers pinned more photos from the WashingtonPost.com than any of the other news outlets, suggesting that the Post had stronger photographic coverage than the other outlets studied, the percentage of attention that the WashingtonPost.com gave to each candidate tracked with those other outlets’ proportion of coverage.
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 447 photos: 216 photos of Mitt Romney, 133 photographs of Rick Santorum, 66 of Newt Gingrich and 32 photos of Ron Paul.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
POSITIVE: Judging by the sheer number of photos of the former Massachusetts Governor, the Post had already decided by late February through March that Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate for president. With over 200 photos published through the website (although quite a few were used for multiple stories and therefore counted more than once), the Post pictured Romney in a wide range of settings and expressing a wide range of emotions.
Yet throughout the images, whether Romney appeared friendly or stern, coders noted that Romney appeared confident. Coders never coded an image as showing Romney looking vulnerable, lonely or depressed. Even the many photos that showed Romney alone tended to show him in a commanding position — in fact often those images were shot from a literal low angle so Romney appeared larger than life.
- Fewer than half the photos captured Romney smiling or laughing, yet far fewer still showed him with a frown, grimace, or glare. Instead a wide number caught him in mid-speech, seriously making a point. The takeaway, researchers found, was that Romney appeared “presidential.”
- Coders did question a number of positive-appearing photos, however, such as the handshake (above) that appeared to almost be parodying Romney as a glad-handing politician. Coders also noted that tendency with the other candidates — few of the Post’s photos seemed to be nuanced. Instead most images seemed selected to be read at a glance, especially from a distant glance.
- Romney also appeared in the Post’s photos as a family man. Ann Romney appeared in nearly a quarter of the images — and often the photos captured an affectionate moment (such as the handholding in the photo above) — reinforcing a positive message of family values.
POSITIVE: The Post featured Rick Santorum in over a 100 photos across the February-March primary season, although, as was the case with the images of Romney, many photos appeared on multiple occasions. The Post typically defaulted to close-up shots of Santorum, as it had of Romney, where his expression — and the meaning of the photograph — could be read at a glance.
- While photos of Santorum often showed him smiling or laughing or pictured him positively in mid-speech, by the end of March Santorum appeared grimacing, frowning and otherwise defensive or frustrated.
- Coders also noted that the Post ran appreciably more photos of Santorum (even though many were repeats) in late February and early March then it did later in the month of study — likely a consequence of Romney’s shift from front-runner to presidential candidate presumptive.
POSITIVE: Coders were at a bit of a loss about how to characterize the Post’s photos of Gingrich overall. On one hand, coders rated roughly 24 percent of the images of Gingrich as “very positive” — a higher very positive rating than any of the three other candidates — yet they evaluated 28 percent of the images of Gingrich as “negative.” To put that in context, the same coders evaluated barely seven percent of images of Romney as negative.
- Coders noted that the Post selected extreme close-ups of Gingrich more than it had of the other candidates, often capturing positive expressions and a rather avuncular demeanor.
- More significantly, coders noted, only two pinned photos of Gingrich showed him mingling with or surrounded by grassroots supporters. The figure Gingrich appeared closest too was his wife; the Post often ran photos of her at his side, or in several cases, in his arms.
- Photos used of Gingrich were also taken from further away more often (roughly one in five photos) than the Post’s images of the other candidates — an odd flipside of the Post running so many tight close-ups of Gingrich.
PAUL / 32 Pins*
NEUTRAL: Even more so than Gingrich, Ron Paul was at times lauded and at times dismissed in the pages of the Post. The Post published perhaps the most positive photos of Paul across this study (e.g. see an energized Paul shaking hands at left top), but among the most negative ones too (note how small Paul looks in the police-line-up-esque photo at left bottom).
- The Post implicitly took note of Paul’s underdog status by running relatively few photos of Paul. Yet many of the photos it did run showed Paul engaging with supporters, even though the Post ran images of Paul smiling or laughing in just 14 percent of the photos.
- To contrast the coverage of Paul and Romney: coders noted that 44 percent of the photos of Romney in the Post showed him smiling or laughing, while nearly half of the pinned photos of Paul showed him stiff or stern.
The Washington Post
2012 Primary Election Coverage
The Post‘s niche is politics. Based in Washington, the hub of politics around the country, it is no surprise that its coverage was dogged and extensive. The Post provided extensive coverage of the 2012 Republican primaries, which included numerous photo galleries, thousands of news articles and blogs, videos, and its own Campaign 2012 site, prominently linked on its home page. The Post gave each candidate his own page, which included a bio and links to the Post’s most recent articles and pictures of the candidate.
PINTEREST: The interaction between The Washington Post and Pinterest was unpredictable. Some days the interface would be seamless, with Pinterest picking up every picture, thumbnail, and video screenshot. Others days the Pinterest “pin it” button did not locate some or any of the pictures on the screen. Once pinned, however, most Post pictures could be linked back to successfully, however at times the links back to the Post site appeared broken.
CONTEXT: The Washington Post is an online and print news organization regarded as one of the leading daily newspapers and news websites in the United States. The paper is especially known for political coverage of its hometown — perhaps the apex of which was the reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Watergate scandal that contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
The Post was first published on December 6, 1877 by Stilson Hutchins. The paper and website today are divisions of The Washington Post Company, a diversified media and education company.