Jovial John beats po-faced Phil in photo stakes as academic cries foul

Phil Goff
John Key

Oh dear, the academics have their knickers in a knot.

It is all because some newspapers printed more pictures of Prime Minister John Key than then Labour leader Phil Goff during the last election campaign.

You might think that associate professor Claire Robinson of Massey University would have more to worry about.

But no, Dr Robinson, a political marketing expert believed to be earning more than $100,000 a year, has accused the papers of substantially favouring Mr Key during the campaign.

After counting all the images run in the New Zealand Herald, the Dominion Post, the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star Times she made a startling discovery.

John Key’s photo featured 138 times while Phil Goff just 80 times.

It is hard to know why Dr Robinson should find this so surprising, given what she said to the Dominion Post last year about why Mr Key appealed to female voters.

She said he represented values women like.

“He’s a doting husband, adores his kids and on top of that he’s a nice guy. He’s not afraid to show emotion and you can read that in his face.”

But it seems Dr Robinson’s crush on the prime minister has been replaced by guilt at Mr Goff’s political demise.

That guilt could be the result of an earlier dalliance with Labour.

According to a blog she made on David Farrar’s website last year, she voted Labour in the 1990 and 1993 general elections.

Anyway, for reasons best known to herself, she examined all 218 images of Messrs Key and Goff which were published in the last month of the campaign.

Dr Robinson does not appear to have drawn any conclusions on the newsworthiness of the photos – a factor which could have saved her the trouble of a lot of measuring.

She measured them for size, noted where they were placed and “scored them for positive, neutral and negative messages depending on whether they were smiling or looking grumpy”.

“And on all of those factors,” she told Radio New Zealand, “John Key came out on top.

“Phil Goff was the one who looked grumpy the most, he had the lowest number of images and the lowest proportion of images on the front page.”

So why was that, the RNZ interviewer wanted to know?

“Goff wasn’t so well regarded and I suspect that perhaps a subconscious sense of support for the prime minister was played out in their choice of images [in terms of] the size, proportion, location and tone.”

Dr Robinson hopes her findings will encourage newspapers “to think again about how they are going to portray leaders, particularly in the election campaign, and put as much focus on measurement of images as they do on words”.

“The point about images is that people go to them first, that’s what attracts people to a story.

“A lot of people only take their messages from images so they are really powerful.”    

Biased coverage

Of course, Phil Goff could not agree more.

In the New Zealand Herald he is quoted as saying that newspapers' biased coverage of last year’s election did not help his result.

“It would have substantially helped to have had favourable coverage and greater coverage, and particularly of photos,” he said.

But there could be more to it than that.

Last year in the Dominion Post, Claire Robinson put his lack of appeal down to timing.

“Phil Goff is exactly the same sort of guy [as John Key]. He’s a family man but I think John Key just got the timing right.

“Phil Goff hasn’t had the chance or the magic to really show his feminine side.”

So there you go Phil, the bottom line is you were just not as sexy as John, and we all know what really sells newspapers.

(Just wait for the "how can this be?" soul-searching on Colin Peacock's Media Watch and Russell Brown's Media 3 – Ed.)

rvaughan@nbr.co.nz

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16 Comments & Questions

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"..... associate professor of Massey University ..... ... political marketing expert ...."

Vitally important role in these straitened times for academia. Worth at least $100k pa in my opinion.

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Another academic whizz trying to get published somehow, someway to either save her own skin - Publish or be damned - or she's a willing Labour Party sycophant.

She probably needed to make some noise to appear to be credible because she doesn't want to end up like the PhD academic a few month's back complaining that WiNZ told her to apply for a job at McDonalds because she couldnt find anything else.

At least National didn't do something like Auntie's pledge card rort "misappropriating" $840,000 of tax payer funds to slant and rig the 2008 election. Remember, where Labour then needed to retrospectively change the law so as to avoid having to prosecute itself.

It was around that time that Auntie hung-out her police driver in the speedgate affair that really turned the public against her. Many thought next time she should just take her broomstick and self-drive!

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Good to know that such valuable research is being done in our universities. Maybe she will follow up with John Key v. Dotcom.

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Massey University - say no more.

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No doubt the Greens will call for an inquiry.

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Oh, so now we know why Labour lost in 2008. Makes sense.

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So "smiling and waving" is the measure of success, is it?

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Excuse me, but doesn't the incumbent always have an advantage? Just ask Mitt Romney about the coverage of Hurricane Sandy during the US election. And I bet similar results would have been recorded in 2002 and 2005 if anyone had bothered to waste taxpayers time (time = money) in counting.

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Oh dear, who cares. Never mind

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There seem to have been tons of photos of David Cunliffe in the media over the past couple of weeks. So presumably he's now the most popular?

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Where's the counter-factual research from the election before last, viz. Helen Clark (then-PM) and John Key (as challenger)...?
Has Claire Robinson done that photo-study research so as to provide a credible base line for her study as a comparative bench-mark ? My guess it will show that a PM holds an advantage of around 50%-plus over a challenger.
Surely this 'research' is more properly an introductory under-graduate level study.

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Poor Phil. Wah. Wah.

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Had anyone not noticed the media bias prior to the election at the time? It seems this is old news, and would have been better published last year.

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But wasn't Labour deliberately hiding Phil Goff from the voters?
Didn't they even not feature their leader from election hoardings?
They can hardly blame the media if Labour had a leader they themselves were ashamed of.

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Has this academic forgotten that Goff stated he did not want the election to be about him but about the policies? According to her, he got his wish!

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Yep, Labour (Mallard and co in strategy) kept Goff off their billboards even! The laughable thing about this whole "research" is that she has taken no account of the other left of centre party leaders, Peters, Norman, Turei, Turia, Sharples and Harawira. Politics is not a two-horse race in New Zealand any more, but virtually all the minor parties are the left split up. I would have thought that this is a glaring error on her part. So much for $100k buying cleverness...

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