How State Media Is Covering Clean Energy And Environmental Regulations

››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

A two-part Media Matters examinantion of the largest newspapers in CO, NH, NV, OH, PA and VA from July 1-August 15 and from August 16-October 31, 2012 revealed a variety of shortcomings in the way clean energy and regulatory issues are covered by those publications.

Reporting On The Environmental, Health, And Economic Benefits Of Environmental Regulations Is Improved, But Still Infrequent

Across All Six States, The Risks Of Dirty Energy Continue To Be Infrequently Reported Despite Improved Coverage In Some States. Coverage of the negative impact of fossil fuel use on public health, the environment and the economy has improved in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia newspapers, but overall remains infrequent. See graph:

Other Findings: Public Opinion Data Ignored, Ohio's Post-Summer Decline In Energy Coverage, And The Continuing Failure To Examine The Risks Of Dirty Energy

Public Opinion On Energy Policy Still Rarely Cited In News Stories. Polling data and public opinion on energy-related topics and on the government's role in energy development appeared in very few stories. Here's how the numbers have changed between Part One and Part Two:

  • CO: 0 percent of 60 stories (down 13 percent)
  • NH: 10 percent of 10 stories (down 1 percent)
  • NV: 0 percent of 49 stories (down 3.4 percent)
  • OH: 7 percent of 41 stories (up 5 percent)
  • PA: 3 percent of 76 stories (up 3 percent)
  • VA: 0 percent of 62 stories (no change)

Coverage Of Energy Policy Has Declined Sharply In Ohio, New Hampshire and PennsylvaniaWhile It Remained Stable In Other Papers. Comparing rates of publication between Part One (46-day sample) and Part Two (80-day sample), Media Matters discovered the biggest decline in the rate of energy policy-related items in Ohio's newspapers and slight increases or decreases in other states. Here are the current averages:

  • ·CO: 5.3/week (up 13 percent)
  • ·NH:  0.9/week (down 36 percent)
  • ·NV:  4.3/week (down 2 percent)
  • ·OH: 3.6/week (down 60 percent)
  • ·PA:  6.7/week (down 31 percent)
  • ·VA:  5.4/week (up 2 percent)

Virginia Media Improved Their Coverage Of The Risks Of Dirty Energy. In articles on energy policy, papers reported on the risks of dirty energy at the following rates:

  • CO: 46 percent of 50 stories (up 2 percent)
  • NH: 14 percent of 7 stories (down 6 percent)
  • NV: 17 percent of 36 stories (up 2 percent)
  • OH: 44 percent of 36 stories (down 1 percent)
  • PA:  48 percent of 87 stories (up 4 percent)
  • VA:  52 percent of 50 stories (up 14 percent)

PREVIOUSLY: Environmental, Health, And Economic Benefits Of Environmental Regulations Are Often Ignored

Across All Six States, The Benefits Of Environmental Regulations Frequently Go Unreported. The benefits generated as a result of environmental regulations were reported in no more than half of the items mentioning such safeguards in each state. See graph:

Other Findings: Public Opinion Data Ignored, Dirty Energy Dangers Overlooked 

Public Opinions On Energy Policy Rarely Cited. Polling data on energy-related topics and on the government's role in energy development made their way into very few stories across each examined state. Totals:

  • CO: 13 percent of total coverage
  • NH: 11 percent  of total coverage
  • NV: 3 percent of total coverage
  • OH: 2 percent of total coverage
  • PA: 0 percent of total coverage
  • VA: 0 percent of total coverage

Across All Six States, The Risks Of Dirty Energy Are Reported Less Than Half The Time. Papers reported on the risks of dirty energy in energy policy articles at the following rates:

  • CO: 44 percent of total coverage
  • NH: 20 percent of total coverage
  • NV: 15 percent of total coverage
  • OH: 45 percent of total coverage
  • PA:  44 percent of total coverage
  • VA:  38 percent of total coverage 

Nevadans Are Receiving Poor Coverage Of Clean Energy Issues. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada's largest newspaper, stood out among the papers. Only 7 of the 26 articles (27 percent) that mentioned clean energy also mentioned the benefits of clean energy. By comparison, papers in the other five states mentioned the benefits of clean energy at a significantly higher rate:

  • CO: 86 percent of total coverage
  • NH: 83 percent of total coverage
  • PA: 79 percent of total coverage
  • OH: 64 percent of total coverage
  • VA: 50 percent of total coverage

Virginia And Nevada Newspaper Audiences Are Learning About Energy/Regulatory Debates In The Op-Ed Page. The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot have all but ignored energy policy discussions in their straight news sections -- 83 percent of the total 35 items on the subject of energy and environmental safeguards were opinion pieces, while only 17 percent of its coverage was straight news stories. Nevada papers had similar results -- 79 percent of their 24 pieces on the subject were opinion pieces, while only 21 percent were straight news stories. By comparison, in the other four states, the proportion of energy/environmental news stories vs. opinion pieces was as follows:

  • CO: 43 percent of total energy/environmental coverage were opinion pieces, vs. 57 percent straight news
  • OH: 32 percent of total energy/environmental coverage were opinion pieces, vs. 68 percent straight news
  • NH: 22 percent of total energy/environmental coverage were opinion pieces, vs. 78 percent straight news
  • PA: 44 percent of total energy/environmental coverage were opinion pieces, vs. 56 percent straight news

METHODOLOGY

Media Matters conducted its analysis based on searches of news coverage compiled in the LexisNexis database between July 1, 2012 and August 15, 2012 for the eleven newspapers listed below. Please note that Nexis results for the Cincinnati Enquirer were only available through Aug. 6th at the time this study was completed. As a result, articles appearing in that paper between August 7 and August 15, 2012 were excluded. Papers examined:

  1. Denver Post (CO)
  2. Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
  3. Reno Gazette (NV)
  4. Union Leader (NH)
  5. Cincinnati Enquirer (OH)
  6. Cleveland Plain Dealer (OH)
  7. Columbus Dispatch (OH)
  8. Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
  9. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA
  10. The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
  11. Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)

Media Matters used a broad search string to ensure that all articles focused on energy policy, clean energy, and environmental safeguards were included in the results:

energy OR enviro! OR "green energy" OR "clean energy" OR "wind energy" OR solar OR "nuclear power" OR geothermal OR "air quality" OR "clean water" OR fracking OR "natural gas" OR drilling OR "Keystone XL" OR "Environmental Protection Agency" OR smog

Media Matters reviewed and manually narrowed down the results to articles that 1) were primarily concerned with environmental safeguards or energy policy and/or 2) highlighted some aspect of either the clean energy sector or the fossil fuel industry. Stories that were manually excluded from the results include:

  • Standard earnings reports
  • Articles about utilities, power outages, and the price of electricity generally (unless the story presented a broader discussion of energy policy or environmental safeguards)
  • Articles about smog, weather or the drought (unless the story presented a broader discussion of energy policy or environmental safeguards)
  • Articles about nuclear power or renewable biofuels (e.g., ethanol, methane from landfills, wood-burning, etc.) -- except when the latter refers to environmental safeguards on the subject
  • Wire reports, stories taken from national papers
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