A Look at Front-Page Coverage of EPA Proposed Power Plant Rules

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EPA’s much-anticipated proposed coal fired power plant rules attracted major media attention in early June … but not necessarily as page one lead stories.

For those Americans closely tracking climate change issues, it may have seemed the world virtually stood still on June 2 as the U.S. EPA released its long-anticipated proposed rules for curtailing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“Is anybody talking about anything else?” one blogger wondered.

The answer is Yes, they were. The nation’s front-page newspaper editors, for example, had a number of other things on their minds. The world, and its 24/7 pace of “hot news,” didn’t stop after all. Far from it.

A Yale Climate Connections random sampling of 51 newspapers’ June 3 front pages — the second paper listed for each state and the District of Columbia in the Newseum’s collection from that day — provided some specific data points:

Roughly 45 percent, 23 of the 51 front pages examined, did not mention EPA’s new proposal. Four of the surveyed newspapers’ front pages, 8 percent, noted the new rules proposal only in a top, side, or bottom news bar. In seven others, 14 percent, the EPA proposed rules captured front-page below-the-fold coverage, with no illustrations or graphics. On the front pages of 12 of the sample, 24 percent, the EPA proposed rules were featured in some way, whether by above-the-fold placement or an accompanying illustration that called attention to the story.

In only five newspapers, 9 percent of the sample, was the proposal the main story of the day, filling half or more of the first page: The Casa Grande Dispatch (Arizona), The Bakersfield Californian, The Columbus Telegram (Nebraska), The Beaufort Gazette (South Carolina), and The Charleston Gazette (West Virginia).

Three of these five newspapers — The Casa Grande Dispatch, The Bakersfield Californian, and The Beaufort Gazette — framed the story as national news. The two others highlighted local or regional implications of the rules: the 26 percent CO2 emissions reduction targeted for Nebraska, in The Columbus Telegram, the future for coal, in The Charleston Gazette.

Coverage by America’s Seven Most Widely Read Broadsheets

In five of the nation’s seven largest-circulation broadsheets — only one of which, The Washington Post, was included in the random sample — the EPA rules proposal was the lead article or a featured story for the day.

Here’s the full breakdown:

  • In three papers, the main story of the day: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune;
  • In two papers, an above-the-fold and/or illustrated story: The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post;
  • In USA Today, a sidebar mention only;
  • In The Denver Post, no first-page mention at all.

Reviewing the first day after the rules proposal was announced, of course, does not mean the surveyed papers had not given coverage — and in some cases front-page coverage — in advance of the official announcement. Some had done so, basing their articles on unofficial “leaks” and other information they had received, often reporting it without full attribution.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Writing at The George Washington University with a long interest in climate change communications. (E-mail: msvoboda@yaleclimateconnections.org)
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