This study set out to determine how major American news outlets photographically cover different sports — and specifically two of the most widely covered championship games in US athletics.
Researchers from the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park, used Pinterest to collect 3,274 photos that 16 major news outlets in the United States used to visually cover the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game in the 36 hours after both games, on February 3-4 and April 8-9, 2013, respectively.
Researchers then analyzed the photos to determine how sports news outlets — the Bleacher Report, CBSSports, ESPN, FoxSports, NBC Sports, NFL.com, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports — as well as major news outlets — the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, Detroit Free Press, Louisville Courier-Journal, New Orleans Times-Picayune, San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today — visually portrayed the two events. (See here for more on the methodology of this study.)
The researchers of this study understood that comparing the coverage of the Super Bowl to the coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. And evaluating photographs — even of the same event — is fraught with problems. Photographs are not objective. In fact they can never be. But within the constraints of evaluating photographic coverage across sports, researchers worked through a methodology that allowed them to identify how news and sports outlets visually framed different sporting events
“Photographers have to be not only great artists and great reporters,
they have to be smart.”
— George Soloman, director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism
at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.
Challenges in conducting a research study of media use of photos
Historically very few research studies — either in the public sphere or in academe — have taken on the challenge of studying the photographic coverage of events, especially sports events.
The research team assembled for this SportPix study conducted an extensive literature review and found only a handful of other studies that it could use to inform the current project — most significantly a study of photographic coverage of the 2012 US presidential election, conducted by ICMPA. (See that PrezPix study here.) Researchers did not discover any recent study of sports photos that was of sufficiently similarity that it could provide a definitive template for selecting and categorizing images, or for coding those found. After weeks of review of existing/previous studies and of evaluating those studies’ strengths and limitations, the ICMPA research team generated its own questions and categories, then conducted a series of mock studies to further refine those selections, categorizing and coding rubrics.
It is perhaps important to note here, that despite the dearth of photographic study precedents, the researchers discovered that people of all kinds — from everyday citizens to sports fanatics — love to view and respond to photos. In fact a motivation for this study was the phenomenal growth of Instagram and Pinterest as photographically driven social media platforms. This SportPix study draws on that interest.
Throughout this website, this study makes an effort to describe in a systematic way how these media framed these major sporting events, looking at all aspects of the games from the on-the-field and on-the-court action to photos of fans and celebrities.
Using Pinterest as a tool to compile and organize the photos, researchers systematically evaluated each photo for 18 different factors, methodically analyzed that data, and finally summarized that analysis while yet remaining cognizant that no two viewers of a photograph will understand that image exactly the same: each will bring his or her biases to the image, and both will look at and react to that image differently, especially if the person has an allegiance to a certain team.