Corporate responsibility reporters frequently nominate ‘media’ as one of their company’s key stakeholder groups. Yet it’s often a one-way relationship as the reports themselves rarely generate news media coverage (the traditional kind, where a news editor makes an editorial decision about newsworthiness). This is despite the fact that CR reports are full of topical data and analysis about the state of business and society.
When I studied journalism in the early 90s, digging up good information sources was a key part of the news gathering process.
There’s not a lot of digging required to find a CR report these days. They’re readily available on company websites or sites such as CorporateRegister.com (which recently launched an Australian page).
Here are four reasons why I think journalists should pay more attention to CR reports:
- Leaders make commitments in CR reports. One of the most telling sections of a CR report is the Chairman and/or CEO’s statement summarising their company’s non-financial performance over the reporting period. Best practice CR reports are about balance so you should learn what they thought they did well and what they intend to improve and why. CEOs also nominate their key measures and targets for the year ahead. These are important commitments and they know their stakeholders will hold them to it.
- CR reports are full of data. Companies publish data on local and international policy issues that are important and topical. Take greenhouse gas emissions, for a start. The Government’s proposed carbon tax is at the top of the policy agenda in Australia. To find out more about what leading Australian companies think about a low-carbon economy, the quantitative impact on their business and what they’re doing about it, check out the Environment section of a company’s CR report. You should find a GHG inventory of their Scope 1 and 2 emissions and get a better understanding of the company’s key environmental impacts (and therefore a better understanding of how they can reduce their emissions). Other significant policy issues covered by reporters include diversity, gender equity, workplace safety, privacy and customer satisfaction.
- CR reports are about people. How much more human interest can you get than what companies are doing to try and make their workplaces more equitable and safe places to work? Measures and targets that indicate whether they are succeeding or not (Employee engagement up or down? Harassment complaints up or down? Proportion of women in senior leadership roles up or down? LTIFR up or down?) are surely material issues for business journalists to stay on top of.
- Potential readers are being drawn to alternative sources of information and have formed new communities of interest. Websites such as JustMeans and CSRwire and a community of sustainability bloggers including Elaine Cohen and Jen Boynton provide information, commentary and analysis on corporate responsibility initiatives and reports. Social media is amplifying and extending the reach of these content providers and curators.
In the UK, the Guardian newspaper has a site Guardian Sustainable Business which sources content from a professional network including experts and bloggers. I think this is a great initiative. Australian media organisations should pay attention to this and perhaps take a leaf out of their (e)book.
What do you think? Has your CR report generated media coverage? Or is media coverage not an objective of your reporting efforts at all? Do you get more value out of direct engagement with your stakeholders?