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 sejournaleditor@sej.org.

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.


June 5, 2024

  • As global warming worsens heat-related illnesses, U.S. government agencies have refined a data tool whose greatest value may be to warn people about the extreme heat events that can send them to the emergency room or worse. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox explores the improved HeatRisk site and how its combination of climate and medical considerations refocuses attention on the vulnerable.

May 22, 2024

  • A massive data set that tracks greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is now newly updated, and the latest Reporter’s Toolbox calls it essential for informed reporting on U.S. climate policy. Its three decades-plus of measurements can help journalists track big emitters near them and from a variety of major sources ranging from landfill methane to industrial polluters.

May 8, 2024

  • The latest data from the five-year USDA agriculture census has specialized features that suggest numerous environmental stories — whether on irrigation, pesticides and fertilizer, renewable energy, conservation or more. There’s even a feature that provides data by congressional district. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox has more on the data source and how to use it smartly for your coverage.

April 24, 2024

  • If solid data about the world’s energy and climate change realities is what you need for your environmental reporting, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox suggests you scour the vast datasets of the intergovernmental body known as the International Energy Agency. Its data (mostly open) chronicles much about the energy transition and offers easy-to-browse info and free-to-use charts. Plus, it’s not afraid to make policy recommendations.

March 27, 2024

  • Forests are full of environmental stories, from timber sales and wildlife habitat to climate change and hunting. And for reporters in search of resources to report them, the U.S. Forest Service offers an immense array of datasets to match the hundreds of millions of acres of land under its domain. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox gets you started on using the vast Forest Service data collection.

March 13, 2024

  • How well are U.S. communities preparing for the threats of climate change? A data-rich climate mapping resource that provides vibrant insight into resilience and adaptation can help reporters better understand the answer, even down to the neighborhood level. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox takes a closer look, including at the many data sets that feed into the resource.

February 28, 2024

  • A new Spill Tracker website is a good source of information on chemical spills, albeit one with an agenda. But according to the latest Reporter’s Toolbox, it’s just one among a set of powerful resources for covering dangerous releases, large and small. More on Spill Tracker, plus another half-dozen-plus government and nonprofit data sources on petrochemical incidents.

February 14, 2024

  • To get a bead on where electric power plants fit in the energy transition, Reporter’s Toolbox suggests a useful dataset collected directly from electricity generators. In this second of two parts, explore the vast array of data available from the Energy Information Administration. Plus, a pro tip on finding data around the climate consequences of power generation.

January 31, 2024

January 17, 2024

  • If you find yourself covering local waterways and are not a numbers geek but still want good-quality, easy-to-use data to inform your reporting, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox has a handy web app for you. “How’s My Waterway” uses numerous authoritative government datasets in a straightforward format that’s super easy to explore. Get started with intro videos, webcasts, widgets and a ZIP code-based map.

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