Mass media are important sources of information about water issues that significantly influence civil life. This paper presents a content analysis approach to contextualize the water issues reporting of the People's Daily. The intent of our approach is to uncover the reporting pattern of water issues and the relationship between government policies and their news reports. Using the newspaper with the second widest circulation in China, the content analysis approach reveals that the document frequency of water issues had shown a flat trend since the 1970s. Water-related articles were given more significance by providing additional front pages. The results suggest that newspapers have been focusing more on the recreational function and protection of water since the 1980s. The results also show that there was a relative shortage of coverage on certain types of water-related central government documents. Lacking persistence was another feature of policy propaganda. These factors could work against public engagement in water issues and undermine the public's understanding of and confidence in water management measures. We believe these results could help water resource managers to interpret media content of water issues and improve the propaganda of their policies, which would contribute to better administration of water resources.