Reporter's Toolbox

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Reporter's 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.

For questions and comments, or to suggest future Reporter's Toolboxes, email Toolbox Editor Joseph A. Davis at

Journalists can receive Reporter's Toolbox free by subscribing to the SEJournal Online, the digital news magazine of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here.

September 6, 2023

  • A decade’s worth of government pesticide data — only available before through FOIA — has been made newly available. And, explains the latest Reporter’s Toolbox, it can lead to revealing environmental, public health and environmental justice stories. More on how the data came to be compiled and advice on using it smartly, along with some caveats.

August 9, 2023

  • Whether marginalized communities suffering from asthma or cities cloaked in smoke from far-away wildfires, journalists looking to connect public health and environmental concerns around air pollution will find much of the data they need via the Centers for Disease Control’s asthma surveillance data. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox outlines the source and smart ways to use it.

July 12, 2023

  • The U.S. air quality alert scale is showing a lot of unhealthy colors this season, from oranges up to unhealthy reds and purples or worse, as smoke from wildfires in Canada periodically drifts across various U.S. regions. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox explores a key database and other resources to help journalists report on the spread of smoky air.

June 21, 2023

  • A billion pounds of chemicals are used on U.S. crops each year. Designed to protect them, they can also leave residue on foods we eat and enter the waterways we drink from. Reporter’s Toolbox has some key data sources for journalists, whether they’re looking at the big picture or are drilling down locally around issues of pesticide use and human or ecological health.

June 7, 2023

May 24, 2023

  • Sometimes the challenge for environmental reporters is a mess of data. But sometimes it’s just less data. That’s the case with confined animal feed operations, which have been the subject of a years-long political tug of war over tracking emissions harmful to humans and the environment. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox explains, then offers alternate sources for CAFO data.

May 10, 2023

  • A climate modeling service designed for journalists may help them not only survive a hot summer but to cover it better too. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox takes a look at the Climate Shift Index, developed by Climate Central, designed to isolate what part of the heat is due to climate change, pinpointing days and places, and providing useful maps.

April 19, 2023

  • Most environmental journalists are familiar with the Toxics Release Inventory as a data reporting tool. But there’s another potentially useful chemical reporting database, this one focused on the highest-volume chemicals. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox explores the Chemical Data Reporting National Review, reports on how its data is gathered and shares its strengths — and some weaknesses.

April 5, 2023

  • When it comes to a core data set that just keeps giving for environmental journalists, Reporter’s Toolbox points you to the Toxics Release Inventory. A new year of data has just been released, with much insight to be extracted. And the TRI now also includes PFAS chemicals for the first time. Here’s how to use it for your local stories.

March 22, 2023

  • Environmental reporters can prepare for possible rail accidents involving hazardous materials — like the one that hit East Palestine, Ohio — by having a keener understanding of what hazmat may be regularly carried through their communities. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox guides you to helpful lists of dangerous substances while offering a rundown of nearly a dozen-and-a-half of the worst offenders and their risks.