Business stories are climate stories: five ways to rewrite the finance journalism playbook

Sharon Chen, managing editor of Bloomberg Green and member of our Oxford Climate Journalism Network in conversation with our own Mitali Mukherjee.
30th November 2022
13:00 - 14:00

The speaker

Sharon Chen is the managing editor for Bloomberg Green. She oversees a global team of reporters covering climate change from Beijing to San Francisco. Before this, she was Bloomberg's Beijing bureau chief and worked for the news organisation in Singapore and New York.

Watch the video of Sharon’s talk

Read an automated transcript.

Why climate coverage matters

  • As COP27 comes to an end, it’s clear we still have a long way to go in the fight against climate change. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels are set to hit a record high this year. 
  • Our latest report found that people who consume climate news weekly are more likely to think they know the basics of climate science, and yet only 40% say they know at least a moderate amount about key climate policies at the global and the local level. This figure is similar for infrequent users.
  • The slow progress of climate change doesn’t fit the traditional focus on fast-paced news, sometimes leading to the under-coverage of this crucial story.
  • “No topic is exempt from the effects of the climate crisis. There is just no area of ​​society or area of ​​journalism that would not already see changes that have to do with the climate crisis,” said Oxford Climate Journalism Network co-founder Wolfgang Blau.

Five takeaways from Sharon’s talk

1. Intentionally incorporating climate reporting in a newsroom is key. For Bloomberg Green, this has meant finding a compromise between the two common approaches of siloing climate reporters in a separate section or getting the whole newsroom to cover climate while not having any dedicated climate reporters. 

“We have a small group of subject matter experts, but then we constantly evangelise to the rest of the newsroom, and we work hand in hand with them. So they have the context and the sources and the deep knowledge of the companies and the governments that we want to examine. And then on our side, we have the subject matter experts who have followed COP since the beginning, who have really drilled down into the science and read the IPCC report every time it comes out and follow all these really specific climate arguments and then we're able to marry the two and I think that has been the success of bringing our climate journalism into the mainstream a bit more,” Sharon explained.

2. Finding local sources enriches stories. “You can call up a scientist at ESA or at you know, the Met in the UK, and they can tell you about the weather in China, or they can tell you about the weather in Brazil, but how useful is that information, that quote, in actually conveying what's happening on the ground?” Sharon said. 

A journalist can get the data from experts but would obtain more value in quoting a scientist or an expert who's experiencing what's happening on the ground than they would be quoting someone who is merely taking the data and turning it into a phrase. “In my experience, the challenge with that is actually getting the reporters in the West to work with the reporters on the ground because it's very easy sometimes to overlook that step and feel like you can just churn a story out of New York or London about something that's happening in the Global South,” Sharon said. For Bloomberg Green, this also means getting in touch with their pool of reporters worldwide.

3. Examining claims and being aware of greenwashing is crucial. Sharon described how her team and Bloomberg as a whole are ‘inundated’ with press releases from companies announcing sustainability initiatives and ‘green’ projects such as offsets, carbon credits, new financial instruments, and more and then have to examine whether these initiatives are actually going to have the impact those companies claim, or whether the announcements are just ‘greenwashing’.

“Sometimes, we might publish a six paragraph story on something that came out because it was a big company or because it was a big announcement from the US, for example, without having the time to truly examine it. And then it's about going back and really looking at what they're proposing and what they're talking about and it might take months before we do a real deep dive into, for example, ESG ratings. But when we do that, we really get to the core of fundamentally what the argument or what the proposal is and does it make sense,” Sharon said.

4. Use the data that’s already out there. “There's so much free climate data available out there, which I think makes climate reporting unique. I know we want to talk about data visualisation and data-driven stories and climate journalism is such fertile ground for that just because there is so much research that's out there that people have access to and that can tell compelling stories,” Sharon said. Seeking out and using freely available data can help direct climate-focused stories, as well as make them more engaging for the audience.

5. Push the climate story at the top of the agenda. Sometimes, Sharon said, news organisations have to ascribe value to their climate coverage and put it where people will see it. 

“I think the challenge is, even though you have a climate desk, are you playing it on the front page? Are you pushing those stories to the top of the agenda? Are you saying as a news organisation: ‘We are telling the reader they need to read these stories rather than responding to what readers want to read’? In which case, it's always going to be the latest political drama on the front page, and so the challenge is how a news organisation is going to decide, ‘We are going to make this the story of the day, even if it doesn't get hits, or even if it doesn't get that much traction, but the fact that we are putting it out there shows that we think you should read the story.’” 

The bottom line

Newsrooms should be making a concerted effort to improve their climate coverage, deciding on a newsroom approach and getting in touch with local experts when reporting about events overseas. Questioning and investigating claims by companies and governments is also a really important part of the beat. Climate change stories may not always be the most popular stories, but they are of vital importance and this should be represented in how they are addressed within newsrooms and placed in newspapers and websites. 

If you want to know more…

  • To find climate change experts in the Global South, have a go at using our Global South Climate Database. | Try it
  • Listen to this podcast episode in which members of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network discuss how to improve climate coverage. | Listen and read a transcript
  • Find out more about the Oxford Climate Journalism Network.  | Check it out
  • For more on how people follow climate change news, read our new report. | Read it