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Sustainable Finance and the News Media

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SUFIN (Sustainable Finance and the News Media)

Reporting period: 2019-09-16 to 2021-09-15

The European Commission has actively recognized that the European economy needs to be put on a sustainable footing. However, despite recent commitments (e.g. European Green Deal), a broader societal change toward a more sustainable economic system has failed to materialize. The aim of the MSCA-IF “SUFIN” was to fill the research gap by studying how SF is represented in the news media, how the reporting comes about and what potential effects the coverage might have on attitudinal and behavioural changes on citizens and investors regarding SF.

The MSCA-IF “SUFIN” managed to conduct socially relevant and excellent research in the field of SF (e.g. connection to EU policy), present research to an academic and professional audience (e.g. virtual conferences in communication science, journalism research, board member of the Brussel-based NGO Finance Watch), and publish research in peer-reviewed journals (International Journal of Business Communication, Journalism, Sustainability, Journalism Studies). Second, the research insights were shared with the broader public (e.g. news coverage, podcast: Sustainonomics, Twitter), the project contributed to education in the field of SF (e.g. teaching at University of Oxford, platform Sustainonomics) and to the promotion of women in SF (e.g. network for women). Third, the international network by Prof. Strauß could be enlarged by various activities (e.g. integration and networking at the University of Oxford, Oxford Sustainable Finance Programme), training and education activities (e.g. online courses on sustainability/ communication/SF across the globe) and policy work (e.g. membership/board member of Finance Watch). Fourth, the fellowship contributed to the further education of Prof. Strauß in the field of SF (e.g. Sustainable Finance Foundation Course, University of Oxford), sustainability and additional research methods (e.g. network analysis: SMART Data Sprint). Fifth, and finally, the MSCA-IF re-enforced the professional maturity and independence of Prof. Strauß by her being offered and taking on the position as Assistant Professor in Strategic Communication and Media Management at the Department of Communication and Media Management at the University of Zurich, as of April 2021.
The MSCA-IF fellow has conducted and written four academic papers in total related to the project, out of which all have been published/accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The first academic paper is entitled “Covering sustainable finance: Role perceptions, journalistic practices, and moral dilemmas” (Journalism; impact factor: 3.179); the second paper is called “Devil’s Advocate or Agenda Setter? The Role of Journalists Covering Sustainable Finance in Europe” (accepted to Journalism Studies, impact factor: 2.345). Both papers are based on 33 interviews among (financial) journalists in Europe, covering SF. The third paper is a conceptual paper, called “Communicating Sustainable Responsible Investments as Financial Advisors: Engaging Private Investors with Strategic Communication” (Sustainability; impact factor: 2.576) and the fourth paper, “Framing Sustainable Finance: A Critical Analysis of Op-eds in the Financial Times” is a critical text analysis, accepted for publication in the International Journal of Business Communication (impact factor: 1.326).

What is more, the fellow successfully managed to advance the content analysis of SF coverage in the UK and Germany. Prof. Strauß has collected the news data, constructed and tested a codebook (reliability tests) and trained two coders. By the end of the fellowship period, all news articles for the UK (approx. 600) and three quarter of the German sample (400) were manually coded for a wide range of items (e.g. topic, actors, sentiment, frames). In addition, the fellow familiarized herself with the method of focus groups and survey experiments. She conducted a literature review and designed several communication materials dealing with green/ethical banking (social media campaigns, video, poster).

Beyond the empirical work related to the MSCA-IF, the fellow also engaged in additional research projects that were either a continuation of previous research positions (e.g. postdoc at Media Innovation Lab at the University of Vienna) or emerged during the fellowship period through collaborations (e.g. project on heatwave coverage in European news with Dr. James Painter; consortium and project proposal for the European Green Deal Call LC-GD-10-2-2020). Furthermore, Prof. Strauß also continuously provided academic services (e.g. reviewing for a range of journals, conferences, and the Swiss National Research Fund).

The project work and research findings were/are to be presented at eleven international conferences in total. Besides the three publications from the fellowship, four more publications were achieved, resulting from previous academic positions/work of the fellow. In terms of outreach, the fellow was two times covered in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, interviewed for a podcast by SWR2, covered in the newsletter “Climate Narratives,” invited to a panel discussion on SF at Bogazici University, and published six blog posts related to the fellowship on the project website: https://www.nadinestrauss.com/sustainable-finance. Furthermore, the fellow regularly communicated about SF and her fellowship on Twitter, contributed to policy work through Finance Watch (board) meetings, and engaged in outreach and networking activities through the education platform and podcast Sustainonomics, that she developed together with Adele Desana in 2020.
One major impact of the MSCA-IF was the distribution and publication of the research findings of the fellowship, and therewith, the insights into news construction processes and gatekeeping processes of coverage about SF in mainstream, financial and specialized news in Europe. The findings have shown that the topic of SF has become highly controversial among journalists. In a similar vein, the findings of the framing analysis of op-eds by financial representatives about SF in the Financial Times provide a critical view towards the public discussions of SF by the financial industry and showed that SF works as a new PR or marketing narrative to strengthen the financial corporations’ reputation. In this sense, the research of the fellowship has made clear that there is a need of implementing more scrutiny and check-and-balance systems in the financial sector to ensure that SF activities are in line with the Paris agreement and SDGs goals. Likewise, the publication about the communication strategies to raise more awareness for SF among private investors in financial advisory talks works as a guideline that practitioners (e.g. NGOs, initiatives, investor relations) can use to effectively communicate SF to key audiences or the broader public.
Selection of tweets, promoting the fellowship, Finance Watch board work and "Sustainonomics"