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.

December 13, 2023

  • The global warming gas methane was much in the news at the start of the just-ended COP28 climate meeting, with a final Biden administration rule to trim releases by the fossil fuel industry. But when it comes to good journalism on the problem, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox spotlights the work of a team of journalism students who used sophisticated satellite data to tell the story of underreported methane flaring at drilling sites.

November 29, 2023

  • In the second of two parts on how to report locally on wetlands permitting, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox helps you muck around an Army Corps of Engineers “permit finder” database that’s accurate and particularly good for zooming in on map-based geographic data. Plus, see the part one TipSheet on how reemerging wetlands controversy brings the issue to your area.

November 15, 2023

  • A sprawling governmental data portal provides millions of water quality records that with a little groundtruthing environmental journalists can use to tell stories that range from problems with pathogens in failing treatment plants to beach closures and fish consumption advisories. The latest Toolbox points the way to the Water Quality Exchange, while offering caveats, questions to ask and storytelling tips.

November 1, 2023

  • For environmental journalists looking to get granular on their coverage of climate risk, Reporter’s Toolbox recommends a new collaborative effort that integrates dozens of separate datasets to provide insights down to the census-tract level. Because it can also be cross-indexed by subjects like health and socioeconomics, it’s particularly useful for environmental justice reporting. Toolbox walks you through the new Climate Vulnerability Index.

October 18, 2023

  • If you’re harboring serious doubts about the climate future but want to be prepared to cover it, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox offers up a seasonably ghoulish list of a dozen and a half great visualization sources to help tell the story. And lest it leave you spooked, remember, as the saying goes, everything will be OK in the end. And if it's not OK, it's not the end.

October 4, 2023

  • For reporters seeking stories that connect environmental and health issues, there may be no better — or more wide-ranging — place to start than with high-quality data from the Centers for Disease Control’s wide range of datasets. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox looks into where the CDC’s data originates from and how that affects its usefulness, and offers up a helpful overview of CDC data surveys.

September 20, 2023

  • In the aftermath of breaking wildfire news, when environmental journalists are looking to tell the bigger picture story, there are myriad resources that provide data and insight. To help you sort through it all, the latest Reporter’s Toolbox scans eight powerful data portals that provide everything from real-time tracking and satellite data to risk analysis and health impacts.

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.