Distrust Your Data: Jacob Harris on Six Ways to Make Mistakes with Data

Read the full post on The Source.

Critique is always annoying when it’s expressed in indefinite terms. So, I’m going to do something I don’t normally like to do and pick a recent example of a data journalism story gone wrong. This is not to scold those who reported it—indeed, I’m well aware of how easy it is for me to make similar mistakes—but because a specific example provides an explicit illustration of how reporting on data can go wrong and what we can learn from it. And so, let’s begin by talking about porn. [LB note: You have been warned.]

Society of Environmental Journalists Fund for Environmental Journalism: Request for Proposals

Thanks to generous support of the Fund for Environmental Journalism (FEJ) by the Grantham Foundation and many individuals, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) is able to offer professional journalists a fifth year of mini-grant opportunities for projects and entrepreneurial ventures related to reporting on the environment. The next deadline for proposals will be Midnight (EDT) on July 15th. Decisions are announced approximately 60 days after the deadline. Winning projects receive grants of $350 to $3,500.

Over the past four years, SEJ has provided over $90,000 in essential support, or acted as a fiscal agent to facilitate grant support, for 51 reporting projects in various media. Grants are made to both newsroom staff and freelance journalists to cover costs of travel, lab testing, graphics and website development, document access, and other budget items without which journalists would be unable to produce and distribute specific timely stories about important environmental issues. In addition to the grant, SEJ provides mentoring support to any grantees requesting it.

To learn more about the FEJ grant program, including applicant eligibility and submission guidelines, or to see information and links about past awards, please go to the Fund for Environmental Journalism page of SEJ’s website. Please note that at this point in time, only online applications in English are being accepted; and international applicants must give advance consideration to how they expect to receive funds, as SEJ cannot arrange wire transfers and no more than 10% of a grant may be spent on its delivery.

To the interested public, please consider making your own donation today, and help SEJ build the Fund for Environmental Journalism to support new work! If you would like to help experienced environmental journalists continue producing rich and rigorously investigated work, please make a gift on SEJ’s secure website. To arrange a sustaining (monthly), planned/legacy or memorial gift, please email the SEJ office.

Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources announces the Frank Allen Field Reporting Award

The Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources invites applications for their inaugural round of the Frank Allen Field Reporting Awards. The application deadline is April 25.

IJNR will accept proposals for grants of up to $1000 to help defray the costs of reporting projects that focus on natural resources, the environment, energy, development, agriculture, environmental justice, and public health.

The purpose of this grant is to provide financial support for qualified, professional journalists, in order to allow them to report on important topics that they may not otherwise be able to cover. At the discretion of the selection committee, up to eight awards may be granted.

Awards may be given for the full amount requested, or may be given for a percentage of the full amount.

Grant money may be spent on any costs incurred for normal reporting activities: travel, lodging, research, etc. If you have questions, please feel free to ask:

More CRS Reports on Environment/Energy Leaked by Unknown Source

Via the Society for Environmental Journalists.

Congress funds and orders up a great array of non-partisan expert explainers on the issues of the day via the Congressional Research Service. Unfortunately, Congress does not think the voting public can handle the truth, and keeps the reports secret. We thank the anonymous leakers who give them to the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists — which thoughtfully publishes them. Here are some that environmental reporters may find useful:

Many Powerful, Free PDF Scraping Tools Available for Data Journalists

Via the Society for Environmental Journalists.

We all know it. Some agencies and organizations publish data in PDF format to keep journalists and the public from using the raw data. Take heart. Help is on the way.

There are two kinds of files in the PDF format, a page-description language developed by Adobe for use with its Acrobat reader. One kind arranges text and graphics on a page, and the other is simply a scanned bitmap. Only the first kind is easy to convert to raw data.

One easy software tool — Tabula — was demonstrated at the annual conference of the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) in Baltimore February 27, 2014. You can download it here.

We gave it a test run. It worked fine, though you want to pay attention to the instructions unless you have a tutor guiding your mouse hand. We started with this PDF — the biggest available database of coal-ash sites from Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project. We ran it through an intermediate stage as a comma-separated-variable (CSV) text file. Then imported it into Excel. It came out as a perfectly good spreadsheet, which you can find here.

Calling all students and teachers: Young Reporters for the Environment Competition

Via Great Lakes Echo.

Student reporters and educators alike – the National Wildlife Federation’s “Young Reporters for the Environment Competition” is looking for your environmental work!

The contest is open to students ages 13-21. Eligible submissions should demonstrate investigation about an environmental topic, offer solutions, and reflect knowledge of how the topic relates both globally and to the community.

Contest entries are accepted as:

  • Single photograph
  • Photo essay, consisting of no more than 12 photos
  • A written article, no more than 1000 words
  • Video, no more than three minutes long

The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2014. National winners, which are announced at the end of April, are then entered into the competition’s international level. International winners are announced on World Environment Day, on June 5. Prizes vary, but include reporting equipment (tablets, cameras, etc.) and Amazon gift cards ranging in value.

For rules and more information, click here.

Position announcement: Climate Science Writer, The Daily Climate

Full-time, benefits-eligible position with a leading nonprofit journalism organization.

The Daily Climate is one of two online news publications of Environmental Health Sciences. The Daily Climate, its sister publicationEnvironmental Health News and EHS operate as fiscally-sponsored arms of Virginia Organizing, a Charlottesville, Va.-based nonprofit.

The position reports to Daily Climate Editor Douglas Fischer, and is funded by an annual, renewable grant.


  • Several years experience in reporting in related fields
  • Strong familiarity with /experience in climate science reporting
  • Fluency with social media and multi-media tools
  • Familiarity with all aspects of the climate beat: energy, environmental impact, politics, economics, history of climate science and climate journalism. Ability to connect the dots between climate science and these other aspects.
  • Ability to prospect and pitch unique story ideas with fresh angles
  • Skill in spot news, explanatory writing and investigative reporting


The Daily Climate functions as a remote workplace. Employees work from their homes, though this job will require travel for reporting. A 40-hour or more work week is the norm; flexibility in hours is essential. Stories will also be published on Environmental Health News, and EHN’s Editor-in-Chief will be heavily involved in story generation and editing.

While the position focuses on producing content for The Daily Climate and news outlets which re-publish our work, the employee will be expected to be familiar with and occasionally participate in the daily assembly and aggregation of The Daily Climate.

Value-added assets:

The following skills are not essential, but will enhance the prospects of job candidates:

  • Advanced degree(s) in journalism or related fields
  • Second-language skills
  • Web design and Search Engine Optimization skills

The Daily Climate is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE). Qualified applicants are considered for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status.

Benefits: Comprehensive health plan; three weeks annual vacation; Provision of essential hardware and software

Apply with resumé and supporting materials to Publisher Peter Dykstra at

Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

$500 offered for first-place winners in seven categories. 

SEJ’s awards honor the best environmental journalism in seven categories, bringing recognition to the most important stories on the planet. Journalism broadcast or published in print or online is eligible.

SEJ’s 2014 Awards will be presented on Sept. 3, 2014, at SEJ’s 24th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Contact Chris Bruggers, Awards Director, (502) 641-1844

Fund for Environmental Journalism Announces Fall/Winter 2013 Grantees

Thanks to generous funding from the Grantham Foundation, and individual members and friends of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), we are pleased to announce grants totaling $12,500 to five journalism projects selected in SEJ’s Fund for Environmental Journalism Fall/Winter 2013 grant cycle. In addition to the grant, SEJ will provide mentoring support to any grantees requesting it.

SEJ launched the Fund for Environmental Journalism in 2010 to support reporting projects and entrepreneurial journalism ventures related to the environment. Since inception, including the current cycle, small grants totaling more than $90,000 have been awarded to both staff and freelance journalists to cover costs of travel, document access, graphics and website development, translation and other budget items, without which journalists might have been unable to produce and distribute specific, timely stories about important environmental issues.

Congratulations to the grantees in the Fall/Winter 2013 cycle:

Elizabeth Grossman
Portland, OR
$1,500  for reporting a piece in Alaska on how climate change is affecting native Alaskans’ food security and diet, which traditionally has relied on hunting and fishing

Douglas Haynes
Madison, WI
$2,900 to complete a book set in Nicaragua that examines the environmental-justice and sustainability issues raised by the worldwide migration of the rural poor to cities

Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism
Editor: Fiona Macleod
South Africa
$2,200 for development of an online app that would alert residents and NGOs to environmental-impact assessments being done in their regions on activities such as deforestation, fracking, mining, construction of dams and power stations, and creation of new landfills

Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones
Washington, D.C.
$3,000 for travel associated with reporting an investigative series on pipeline safety

Shamsheer Yousaf
Bangalore, India
$2,900 for travel in India, and video and web-production costs, to produce a multi-media story on India’s construction of reputedly the world’s largest nuclear power complex, even as other countries back away from nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster

To learn more about the FEJ grant program, including applicant eligibility and submission guidelines, or to see information and links about past grants, please go to the Fund for Environmental Journalism web page. The next deadline for proposals is July 15, 2014.

Please consider making your own donation today, to help SEJ build the Fund for Environmental Journalism and support new work! If you would like to help experienced environmental journalists continue producing rich, rigorously investigated and unbiased content, please make a gift on SEJ’s secure website.

The Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism

By recognizing the highest-quality environmental reporting about the North American West, the Knight-Risser Prize seeks to inspire journalists in all media to bring sophisticated reporting, solid environmental science and compelling storytelling to the public.

For purposes of the award, the Western North America is defined as:

  • The United States west of the Mississippi River
  • Canada west of Ontario, including Nunavut
  • All of Mexico

For full eligibility information and to enter, visit The deadline is March 15, 2014.