Reporter's Toolbox

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Toolbox is a regular column focused on the world of data journalism, with an emphasis on data tools, techniques and database resources that journalists can use to improve their environmental reporting. 

 

January 12, 2022

  • Tens of thousands of dams around the United States provide important functions — but also represent critical environment or public safety risks. Now, one central resource to help environmental journalists cover these structures has been improved in important ways. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox walks you through the main changes to the National Inventory of Dams, and points out some lingering weaknesses.

December 8, 2021

  • As awareness grows about how pollution can cause certain cancers, it’s smart to look beyond cancer risk and also explore available information about actual cancer cases. Reporter’s Toolbox explains how extensive data collected regularly in state-level cancer “registries” can take your coverage on the pollution-public health connection to another level. Plus, avoiding pitfalls in reporting possible clusters.

November 17, 2021

November 3, 2021

  • Public data around environmental issues has been a thing at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for decades, ... except when it hasn’t. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox looks at how data transparency is back in fashion under the Biden EPA, and the many ways that environmental journalists can build on available datasets for their coverage.

October 20, 2021

  • Climate change makes flooding — and flood reporting — increasingly likely, and yet government data on flood risk often falls short. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox offers an alternative, an ambitious, peer-reviewed dataset from a unique nonprofit research outfit that offers free data aggregated to the zip code, county and congressional district levels. More on the dataset and how to use it.

October 6, 2021

  • The launch of NASA’s new Landsat Earth-observing satellite is a reminder to reporters that millions of images from over five decades can help unearth many environmental trends, whether deforestation, coastal erosion, suburban sprawl or wildfire impacts. The new Reporter’s Toolbox explains how the service works and how to access the resource, along with examples of prize-winning stories.

September 22, 2021

  • In a few weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will officially release the latest year’s Toxics Release Inventory. But as Reporter’s Toolbox explains, you can get ahead of the data — and possibly generate some scoops. That’s because EPA quietly releases incomplete preliminary data months earlier. Top tips on making sense of the early data, along with nine smart story leads.

August 25, 2021

  • High-impact environmental stories often come by tracking polluted air, whether from summer smog, wildfire smoke or numerous other sources. Reporter’s Toolbox offers a series of air pollution data reporting resources, including an interactive map of U.S. air quality monitors. Get the details, plus eight smart suggestions for critical stories from the air pollution data you tap.

July 14, 2021

  • Urban tree cover is no luxury, but rather an important environmental and public health necessity. And for years the lack of urban trees has harmed socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. To help report on tree cover in U.S. urban areas — and to track it against environmental justice measures — the latest Reporter’s Toolbox spotlights an extensive tree equity scoring database. 

June 23, 2021

  • For reporters covering the long-standing conflict over offshore drilling, which erupted again this month after a federal judge blocked a halt to new leases, an Interior Department database offers a wealth of data about offshore wells. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox walks you through the maze of bureaucracy behind the database, and then provides detailed guidance on how to make the most of its info.

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