June 26, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Two high court decisions, many ways to play the stories

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court released two rulings that captured editors’ attention — rejecting the death penalty for child rape and tossing out a multi-billion dollar judgment in the Exxon Valdez case.

Both rulings have significance. What’s a front page to do?

The New York Times and The Washington Post printed stories on both on the front page, as did The Dallas Morning News. The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press used the death penalty ruling as its off-lead and included the Exxon case in a smaller story below.

The death penalty decision was more widely reported across the U.S., including on Page One of The Denver Post, The Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“High court rules out death for child rape,” The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., said. “5-4 decision strikes down Louisiana law,” The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, said. But smaller newspapers in Louisiana didn’t give the story A1 play.

“Ruling in Louisiana man’s case affects Texas law passed in ’07,” the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman said. The Houston Chronicle noted the Texas tie in a tease to an inside story but used the Exxon story on its front page. The Tennessean of Nashville played reaction to the decision across the top: “Politicians blast child rape ruling.”

In a full-page report, the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News said of the decision in the two-decades-old Exxon Valdez oil spill: “‘This is it; it’s done.’”

In the West where environmental issues are a key topic, newspapers favored the Exxon oil-spill case. “The punitive award reduction … frustrates Oregon fisherman,” The Oregonian in Portland said. “The Supreme Court ruling in the 1989 Exxon Valdez case is regarded as a victory for large corporations,” The Idaho Statesman in Boise said.

But news play varied in Montana. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Billings Gazette ran the Exxon ruling. The Great Falls Tribune published the death penalty ruling, and the Independent Record in Helena used neither.

In North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer said: “Supreme Court cuts damages in oil spill,” while sister newspaper The News & Observer of Raleigh led with: “Court limits death penalty, again.”

Kate Kennedy is front pages editor at the Newseum.

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