What Impacts Sustainability Media Coverage

October 25, 2012

Cindy Drucker, EVP, Weber Shandwick, Social Impact

Change was the topic of Wednesday’s breakout session in which members of the global media debated sustainability. Specifically, panelists discussed what has changed with regard to sustainability in the press over the past 20 years. And the discussion didn’t disappoint. Representatives from major media outlets such as The Economist, The New York Times, Le Monde, Time, and Harvard Business Review talked about how business, politics, and resources impact sustainability media coverage. A few thoughts based on the discussion:

  • Yesterday’s news is, well, yesterday’s news. Coverage of an interesting story in the news doesn’t mean a reporter (or editor) is wedded to producing follow-up stories on that same subject. Panelists said journalists look to provide timely information and a perspective that is relevant within a context of interest to their audience. Sure, climate change is interesting, but unless you have truly groundbreaking news, the pace of progress is too slow to be of interest in a fast-moving media world.
  • Don’t show me the money. Giving money to a cause and talking about the related environmental savings is old hat. These actions don’t inspire the media to “stop the presses.” Instead, stories that offer the opportunity to advance a narrative and provide more complexity—for instance, pieces that spotlight the nexus between sustainability and social justice—will gain more traction.
  • Media is business too. Media outlets aren’t always equipped to run with sustainability stories. They’ve got limited editorial staffs, and editors are grappling with a variety of coverage demands. Also, the news cycle moves quickly. Media representatives on the panel said it’s important for companies to think about the relevancy of a story within the greater perspectives of these realities. As a side note, panelists noted that short-term financial reporting by business reporters can bleed over into the kind of sustainability stories that get covered.

The takeaway: Panelists predicted that over the next 20 years we may see sustainability become truly integrated into mainstream business coverage. One can only hope.

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