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.

June 15, 2022

  • As funding from the U.S. government’s massive infrastructure bill starts to get spent, big swaths of it on environmental-related concerns, Reporter’s Toolbox points to a problem for journalists covering it  — there appears to be no single database to help track the money. But for intrepid reporters, various data sources are out there to help tell the story.

June 1, 2022

  • A new data tool that captures information on 1.5 million-plus active U.S. oil and gas production facilities can be a powerful tool for journalists looking to report on potential pollutants, especially when overlaid with local census data, school locations and the like. Reporter’s Toolbox takes a closer look at the new Oil & Gas Threat Map, shares caveats and offers story ideas.

May 18, 2022

  • An intriguing portal to the vast data resources of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the Environmental Dataset Gateway — could lead to many hidden story ideas, suggests the latest Reporter’s Toolbox. Find out more about the EDG and consider a handful of possible angles, including PCB transformer registrations, precipitation, heat-related hospitalizations and chemicals in consumer products.

May 4, 2022

  • As the weather grows warmer, air pollution from smog typically worsens, as does smoke from spreading wildfires. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox spotlights the data that can help improve your coverage, whether via an easy-to-use report on the state of the air from a prominent nonprofit, or straight from various quality EPA data resources. Find help getting started on your air pollution coverage projects now.

April 20, 2022

  • Updated data on U.S. emissions offers environmental journalists an opportunity to chase down local climate change news, whether from a range of sectors and industries, or from 8,000 major facilities, with tools that allow a county-by-county view. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox takes a look at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual release of the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.

April 6, 2022

  • Environmental journalists trying to track potential problem polluters have a valuable new tool — a notification service that creates weekly alerts on the enforcement or compliance status of facilities and companies across a range of environmental laws and customizable categories. Track geography, type of emissions, industrial category and more. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox has more on the recently launched ECHO Notify service.

March 23, 2022

  • Each year brings another update of the Toxics Release Inventory database. And each year, it gets ignored or downplayed by too many news outlets. As the new Reporter’s Toolbox points out, not only does the latest iteration of TRI have some notable updates but it also offers plenty of room for localizable stories. Here’s how to mine the resource.

March 9, 2022

  • The Biden administration, which has been making environmental justice a top goal, has released a new screening tool that complements existing environmental equity databases, but with especially strong attention to a range of categories like clean transit, clean water, housing issues, life expectancy and more (although, interestingly, not race). The latest Reporter’s Toolbox has a guide to the new screening tool.

February 23, 2022

  • As extreme precipitation, intensified by climate change, becomes a more frequent story for environmental journalists, recent coverage points to important holes in the rain data bucket. But the latest Reporter’s Toolbox identifies some useful government and commercial data resources that track and predict rainfall and offers suggestions on using the data they provide.

February 9, 2022

  • A key federal database on toxic chemicals, kneecapped under the Trump administration, is now back. The latest Reporter’s Toolbox reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week resurfaced the ChemView service, and explains the background law that fuels its data, while offering tips on how to make smart use of the database as it expands in coming years.