Tracking NPR’s political coverage

Starting today, NPR’s ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen, is going to publish results of daily tracking of how NPR is covering the presidential campaign on its magazine shows — Morning Edition and All Things Considered — and online.

It’s an admirable effort to provide some solid data to what is usually anecdotal complaining that the network is favoring one candidate or another, and it should provide an opportunity for NPR to self-examine whether it’s falling deeper into the trap of horse race coverage.

She’ll track the number of stories of each candidate, whether it was a reported story or interview, whether voters appeared in the story and whether it referred to polls,something the network reportedly is trying to avoid.

The first data dump, released today, includes stories run from last Sunday to last Thursday.

During that period, NPR had 97 stories (online and on air) that focused mainly on Trump, and 60 on Clinton. Another 49 stories examined both candidates or wider campaign issues. Democrat Bernie Sanders was the focus of eight stories (the tracking period started after Clinton became the presumptive nominee). Third-party candidates were discussed in three stories. (Oreskes told me the newsroom is “going to be watching them very carefully,” a response that I am sure will not satisfy those who feel they deserve more attention right now.)

Why are the numbers so out of whack for Clinton and Trump? Mostly it comes down to the first two weeks of tracking, when Trump’s reaction to the Orlando shooting, including his controversial remarks about President Obama, received lots of press; he also fired his campaign manager during that period. The two middle weeks were relatively balanced. This past week, Trump again had a slight edge, in the lead-up to the Republican convention.

On the question of horse race-type coverage: Six of 29 stories in the week of June 26 referenced poll results, including this interesting interactive digital story about the electoral college battle, as did five of 31 stories in week four and none in the abbreviated last week. That seems reasonable to me.

It’s a good start.

  • John

    I agree it’s a good start. That being said, it’ll do little to stop the claims of bias that people make, because it’s as much about what’s covered as it is how much coverage is given.

    example headlines:

    “Candidate X Killed 14 puppies” Definitely newsworthy, will be interpreted as bias against candidate X.

    “Candidate X brokered a peace deal between Canada and Mexico, ending the 1000 year war” Also newsworthy. Also will be interpreted as bias either against candidate Y or unjustly favoring Candidate X, depending on what point of view you want to take.

    Face it, there’s no way to win. Just keep reporting, and try not to worry about the opinions of it too much (speaking to NPR/MPR in general – I know this is a blog).

  • Postal Customer

    What will be the remedy if it turns out that coverage is deemed unfair? Will NPR resort to “fairness” at the expense of accuracy the way that so much mainstream media does? Is this a precursor to more Chuck Todd types, who go out of their way to tell us that “both sides do it?”

  • PaulJ

    I would like to see a metric that shows who the interviews are with, just to see if it is an echo chamber.

  • lindblomeagles

    Problem. Data Collection. Analysis. Proposed Solutions. Action. Evaluation. Good science.

    • jon

      WWDD? (What Would Deming Do?)

      • lindblomeagles

        Significantly cover third parties and hope Republicans and Democrats started worrying about losing their individual coverages.

  • Khatti

    I’m actually not interested in what NPR does covering the election. What I would find far more interesting is what NPR covers after the election. I don’t think Donald Trump will win, what happens to his ardent supporters when he goes down in flames? I find Trump’s rank-and-file far more interesting than Trump himself. I’m curious to know if they will have, or can find, a home.