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.