Same Diff: Tracking Trump’s People

How six news orgs are covering the president’s staffing choices

(Salvatore Ventura)

With a new administration there’s a lot to keep track of—campaign promises, 100-day plans, day-one measures, and of course, staffing. The Trump administration is quickly filling up key positions on its staff, and publications are doing their best to inform their readers of those appointments and nominations. Some have resorted to building out custom pages to track the moves, but no two are exactly alike. Let’s take a look at how they differ.

But first, welcome! This is the first of an occasional series of posts I’ll be writing here about how news organizations around the world are going about the same things differently. The plan is to focus on the types of work like this, the pieces that don’t fit neatly into our CMSes, or that need custom design or code. I’ve been doing this work for seven years and remain fascinated by the varying approaches to the same subject matter. When news breaks, (or perhaps when news is planned 12 months ahead) how do we in media make the same things, differently?

Who’s Tracking What

So far I’ve seen seven publications take a stab at breaking down the newly forming Trump team: The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and Quartz. That last one, I made with Nikhil Sonnad.

Let’s consider what each publication chose to include:

 Washington PostNew York TimesCNNNPRWall Street JournalBoston GlobeQuartz
Chief Strategist And Senior Counselor 
National Security Adviser 
White House Counsel  
Senior policy advisor     
Senior Advisor 
CIA director 
Counselor to the President   
White House press secretary   
Director of National Intelligence  
Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser    
National Economic Council Director     
White House communications director     
Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services Administrator      
FEMA Director      
NSA Director      
Federal Housing Administrator      
NOAA Administrator      
Transportation Security Administrator      
Bureau Of Land Management Director      
National Park Service Director      
Customs And Border Protection Commissioner      
National Institutes Of Health Director      
Food And Drugs Commissioner      
Immigration And Customs Enforcement Director      
Deputy Commerce Secretary      
Deputy National Security Adviser      
Security and Exchange Commission Chair      
Army Secretary      
National Trade Council Leader      
Refulatory Reform Advisor      
Special Representative for International Negotiations      
Cybersecurity Advisor      
Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives      

Every publication is tracking the cabinet positions. When it comes to tracking the most positions, NPR takes the cake with 22 non-cabinet roles in their tracker. The one I made at Quartz is the lightest, with only cabinet-level positions.

Do Rumors Count?

Of course nominations aren’t kept very secret in the run-up to official announcements.

CNN, WaPo, NYT, and WSJ all list people rumored to be under consideration for certain posts. The rest do not.

 Washington PostNew York TimesCNNNPRWall Street JournalBoston GlobeQuartz
Shows rumors   
Doesn’t show rumors    

The decision to include rumors is as much an editorial choice as a design one. Keeping track of rumors requires not just more effort by reporters to keep their finger on the pulse of the transition but also puts more demands on the staff required to add to and update the piece.

What They Look Like

The designs of the pieces fall into two buckets: those that first provide visual overview of all appointments, and those that jump straight into details on appointees and summaries of each position.

 Washington PostNew York TimesCNNNPRWall Street JournalBoston GlobeQuartz
Has overview   
Doesn’t have overview    

Both methods have utility. A reader looking for information on the latest appointee announcement might only be interested in that person’s biography—an overview would get in the way. A reader who hasn’t been following appointments closely and wants to check on the transition’s progress would probably be better served by seeing an overview of the appointments first to get a lay of the land.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and Quartz have both.

Screen shot

CNN, NPR, and WSJ only have position-by-position details.

Screen shot

The Globe only has an overview.

Screen shot

Appointments vs. Nominations

The publications also vary widely in what descriptions are included with each position.

NPR and NYT explicitly indicate which positions will require a Senate confirmation.

Others like CNN, Quartz, WaPo, and The Wall Street Journal use careful language to indicate passively the status of a position.

Do readers understand the difference between an “appointment” and a “nomination?” At Quartz we thought our readers would. The Washington Post calls people named to cabinet positions but unconfirmed by the Senate as “announced.” The Wall Street Journal labels the members of the same group “named.” CNN uses “nominated” for those folks, and “named” for those who require no other authorization to start in their role.

And what about copy fitting? Here’s a chart of the average length of the biographical blurbs that accompany each nomination or appointment.

Screen shot

Names and Faces

All of the trackers except the Globe’s has photographs for each person discussed, which is one of the biggest reasons the Globe’s effort feels so sparse. WSJ and NPR use rectangular crops, the rest use round. The New York Times published their piece with round photos, but is now using rounded squares.

 Washington PostNew York TimesCNNNPRWall Street JournalBoston GlobeQuartz
Round⚫️⚫️◻️⚫️   ⚫️
Rectangular   ◻️◻️  

For a little bit of fun on your own, take a look at how many of the photos used are the same across publications! Here’s Elaine Chao.

Screen shot

Who Made It and How Quickly

In terms of getting a piece out the door, CNN won that perennial contest, judging by publication dates and page metadata.

  • CNN: Nov. 9
  • NYT: Nov. 12
  • WaPo: Nov. 16
  • NPR: Nov. 18
  • WSJ: Nov. 22
  • Quartz: Nov. 22
  • Globe: Dec. 2

And of course, what about the people? Here are the bylines and credits listed on each piece:

  • CNN: CNN Staff
  • NYT: The New York Times / Mikayla Bouchard, Alicia Parlapiano, and Wilson Andrews
  • WaPo: None / Kevin Schaul, Kevin Uhrmacher, Chiqui Esteban, and Elise Viebeck
  • NPR: None / Katie Park, Arnie Seipel, Jessica Taylor, Meg Anderson, Alyson Hurt, Ariel Zambelich, and Emily Bogle
  • WSJ: WSJ Graphics / Jieqian Zhang, and Jessia Ma
  • Quartz: David Yanofsky, Max de Haldevang, Nikhil Sonnad, and Steve Levine
  • Globe: Matt Rocheleau

I hope you found this useful! Did I miss the tracker that you made?

Notice something else interesting about the way these publications made them? Let me know by shooting an email to david.on.source@yerit.com.

Catch you next time.


  • David Yanofsky

    David is a reporter for Quartz. He has exposed law breakers by tracking Instagram posts, expanded the capability of his fellow reporters by developing newsroom tools, and is currently suing the Department of Commerce to gain access to some of its data.


Current page