Big news report card: Five key questions about news coverage of March for Life

Last week, I noted -- and tmatt expounded upon -- President Donald Trump's comments concerning media coverage of the annual March for Life.

In cased you missed it, Trump cited concerns by pro-life demonstrators that "the press doesn't cover them." Unless you're new to GetReligion, you know that this journalism-focused website has raised that same issue for years.

Trump's statement prompted Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a former GetReligionista) to note in a story:

The Washington Post has covered the March for Life every year for the past decade, according to archives.

Yes, but the issue media critics have debated for decades is how much news organizations covered the march and where they displayed that coverage, especially in comparison with similar events.

So how did major news organizations do in covering Friday's march? 

In the Fox News video above, a critic complains that the cable news attention focused on the event failed even to come close to that paid to the Women's March on Washington the previous week. I don't watch a lot of cable news, so I can't speak to that claim. Obviously, most media attention in recent days has focused on Trump's executive order concerning refugees -- and rightly so, I would argue. It should also be noted that the Washington Post offered a multi-layered package of coverage of the march that was, well, yuuuuuge..

I did want to review the written coverage of the March for Life by seven major news organizations -- and ask five questions that I believe will help highlight how those media outlets treated the story.

1. Does the media outlet shy away from use of the term "March for Life?"

This is a question first raised earlier this month in a post by our editor, Terry Mattingly, who asked:

The main New York Times story on the march certainly makes you wonder: The march's name doesn't appear until 200 words into the story, and the headline doesn't use it. However, a photo caption up high does refer to the March for Life.

The Los Angeles Times waits even longer -- until the 600th word of its story -- to use the term March for Life. And the demonstration's name does not appear in the headline.

Compare that to The Associated Press, CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post -- and all of which use "March for Life" in their headlines. All but USA Today also mention the event's name high in the story. 

2. Does the news organization highlight Vice President Mike Pence's "Life is winning" quote?

Pence's quote that "Life is winning again in America" seems to be the event's sound bite of the year.

Five of the seven stories that I critiqued caught it, and most use it early in their story. For example, it's the top quoted item used by both CNN and USA Today. However, the quote does not appear in the AP and Wall Street Journal reports.

Some of the stories also refer to a Pence quote mentioning "God-given liberties." CNN, which had some editing issues overall with its piece, instead cites "god given liberties." (Yes, the God vs. god question is one that GetReligion has tackled previously.) 

3. How does the story refer to the crowd size?

Whether the March for Life would approach the size of the Women's March on Washington (which drew hundreds of thousands, according to news reports) generated a fair amount of discussion in advance of the pro-life event. 

So how did the stories characterize the number of March for Life activists? Neither AP nor CNN attempts any kind of number, simply referring to the "crowd." The Washington Post and USA Today put the number at "thousands." The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal all point to "tens of thousands." In its lede, "droves" is the New York Times' description, while the Washington Post follows up "thousands" with "massive crowd."

As for comparing the crowd sizes, the Journal reports:

Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, discouraged comparisons, saying Friday’s demonstration was rooted more in tradition than last week’s event. But she said that the two marches do represent a growing rift among women’s organizations.
“I would have gone to that march until they specifically came out with a platform a week ahead of time that was pro-choice,” she said. “The mantra was inclusion, inclusion, inclusion—except for the pro-life cause.”

4. Does the story mention that, hey, Pence is the highest-ranking official ever to address a March for Life?

Yes. All of them do. And there's no doubt that the vice president's appearance -- coupled with the election of a president who promises to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices -- gave the event its highest profile in years.

I know that the Washington Post story ran on the front page of Saturday's newspaper. Anybody know where the other newspaper reports critiqued here appeared in print?

5. Does the media organization interview and quote actual, real-life participants in the March for Life?

Believe it or not, neither AP nor CNN quote a single marcher — unless I missed a separate sidebar in either case (and if I did, please feel free to provide a link in the comments section).

The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal all quote at least one marcher, which is good. USA Today quotes a few marchers along with a few pro-life lawmakers, which is better. And best of all, the Washington Post quotes a number of marchers in a story that really does an exceptional job at providing relevant details, including religious insights.

What questions did I neglect to ask?

What stood out to you that was especially helpful — or concerning — in the news stories that you read?

By all means, please weigh in with your journalism-related thoughts and media questions, either by commenting below or by tweeting us at @GetReligion.

Image via March for Life Facebook page

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