8 Themes That Will Influence Media Coverage in 2022

By Jonah Davis

In 2021, the media was dominated by news of the continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, mixed economic data, supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and rising concern over inflation. So it’s understandable that there is a certain level of anxiety for what lies ahead in 2022. The overarching themes for media in 2022 may not come as a surprise, but will cover countless sub-topics and categories that will continue to evolve. 

Watch for the following eight major financial and economic themes that we expect to influence media coverage in the coming year: 

1. The Pandemic Effect

As the world surpasses 5 million COVID-related deaths and confronts the Omicron variant, the pandemic continues to generate key challenges in public health, economics and society. This is the most obvious category of media coverage, but it is also the most pervasive. The pandemic’s tentacles reach every corner of our lives, and the effects will play out for years.

  • The short- and long-term effects on business and labor will be a big story. The retail and hospitality industries, particularly restaurants, hotels, and urban retail stores, will continue to be susceptible to the public health situation. From there, the effect trickles down to commercial real estate, and in turn, city and county finances all over the country. 
  • Long COVID has major economic and social implications. Tens of millions of people all over the world continue to live with debilitating symptoms. They will need continuing care or accommodations related to work — or they may not work at all. We don’t yet know how this will affect the global economic picture.
  • The gap between rich and poor on the individual and country levels will likely become starker. We will see this particularly around access to vaccines, which will affect how long this pandemic lasts.

2. The Macro Picture

The pandemic itself is the dominant factor in local and global economies. Inflation, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have resulted from the pandemic and are contributing the economic storyline. Companies large and small face this triple threat; small businesses will likely suffer the most. The labor issue in particular is transformative, as the new reality of hybrid life and work takes hold and will likely never return to the way it was before. Those issues will capture a great deal of coverage as will the financial staples of monetary and fiscal policy actions, or lack thereof.

3. Market Forces

Financial outlets and their readers and viewers will largely remain preoccupied with one thing: whether the stock market is going up or down. The answer to that question may very well be tied to known factors like inflation, the anticipated raising of interest rates and further curtailing of stimulus by the Fed, the broader path of the economy and the health of corporate earnings. But the unknown — black swan events or unforeseen market forces — will also have an impact. Other market themes that may flow from these are the continued appetite for IPOs and SPACs, the availability of investment capital and the evolution and regulation of cryptocurrencies.

4. Geopolitical Tension 

We enter 2022 with the world’s most important bilateral economic relationship (U.S. and China) and one of the world’s most strategic bilateral relationships (U.S. and Russia) in historically tense and volatile states. Both will command frequent and extensive international coverage.

  • U.S.-China: The year kicks off with the Winter Olympics, which puts China in the global spotlight as an economic and military superpower. As we now see, the Games have already spawned political dustups over China’s human rights record and its censorship. There will likely be more: China’s tightening grip on its financial system, the crackdown on overseas corporate listings, the still chilly US-China trade relationship, and military jockeying in the South China Sea and even the Atlantic all prove to be potential flashpoints in the year to come.
  • The Russia factor: The media is on full Russia-Ukraine watch. A Russian invasion will have an immediate effect on commodities markets — these are two of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, and their crop will be fully taken off line for the winter if there is war. That means wheat prices surge and food inflation is here in a bigger way. Add to that the implications for energy markets (endangering Nord Stream 2) and more dire relations with the West. And given Russian interference in the 2016 elections, 2022 and 2024 are not out of bounds.

5. U.S. Political Reality 

What happens within our own borders is uncertain enough, and the 2022 mid-term elections will be a focal point of media coverage. The balance of power in the 50-50 Senate is up for grabs, and the House appears to be leaning Republican even as districts are yet to be settled. The ancillary effects of another U.S. election — stricter voting laws, gerrymandering, changing demographics and misinformation — will warrant coverage along with the policy implications of a Republican Congress and an even further gridlocked Washington.

6. Climate Realities

This is that one issue governments and companies want to confront, but won’t or don’t know how to. In 2022 this focus is expected to shift from how climate change was caused to what needs to be done about it. This is already happening on some level, but as we saw post-COP26, the international community had to dial back commitments or fail to part with old ways. The global energy transition from carbon-based sources to renewables will be a major undertaking. International bodies, the media and perhaps the public will seek to hold both governments and global business accountable to pledges they have made on the road to net zero.

Other story lines that may arise and attract coverage include lending to carbon-emitting companies and the global effects of climate change on populations such as climate refugees or food shortages. Technology to fight climate change and its effects will also continue to evolve and gain attention.

7. Emerging Technologies 

Among the eight themes here, this one is really the most boundless, with countless startups and investors seeking myriad ways to solve the world’s problems. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, big data (including the energy it demands) are the big technological themes for the media. Balancing the financial benefits of these innovations with ethical questions will also attract reporting. 

Some of the tech areas that will attract media attention include:

  • Mobility, as the electric vehicle (EV) boom and autonomous driving development transform the way goods and people get from point A to point B.
  • Cybersecurity, which hangs like a cloud over the corporate and federal consciousness, but only becomes a public crisis or concern once a hack has occurred.
  • Healthcare innovation, where COVID vaccines and therapies have gained most of the headlines, cell and gene therapies, oncology, and the use of psychedelics drive investor interest and regulatory scrutiny in biotech and pharma.

Outside of physical technology, the specter of regulation of big tech looms over Silicon Valley and Washington. Criticism of big tech has received significant coverage (note WSJ’s “Facebook Files”), so there will still be shiny innovations and new products like Web3, crypto, the “metaverse” that have the potential to distract from the negative.

8. The Corporate Conscience

This is a theme that will continue to develop into 2022 as companies are held accountable for investor and employee demands for sustainability, more diverse and inclusive workforces, and a new normal of hybrid life. ESG, while a mis- and overused term by some media outlets, will be a primary issue bridging companies, investors and society. The investor leg of that three-legged stool is particularly important for us. The integration of ESG into shareholder activism and SEC policy will be key themes, along with the impact from 2022 mid-term elections and a potential shift in balance of power.

Follow the entire ICR 2022 trends series on the ICR Insights blog.