Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Environmental Sensor Journalism: the start

These days, it seems like data is all around us. But for many journalists, especially those working in developing countries, coverage of sensitive environmental issues is severely constrained by a lack of accessible information. What’s more, reliable information is difficult to collect in certain ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest or Ganges Delta, that are in constant flux.

With this pilot project, the Earth Journalism Network wants to capitalize on the groundbreaking developments in the realm of sensor technologies to devise innovative methods for our global network of environmental journalists and their peers to obtain the information they need to incorporate the latest data into their reporting. We’re certainly not the first to come up with this idea: during the 2008 Summer Olympics, the AP used sensors to monitor the air quality in Beijing. We aim to bring these techniques and technologies – and any new ones we discover along the way – to non-mainstream outlets around the world, where audiences could benefit the most from this kind of in-depth environmental coverage.

Our ambitions are high for this initiative – indeed, there are countless environmental stories that lend themselves easily to the ever-widening range of sensors technologies – but, for this pilot project, we’ve chosen to build off the work undertaken by others and narrow our thematic focus, for the most part, to air pollution. Air pollution is a major threat to the health of many of our journalists and their audiences: exposure to air pollution is on the rise in many developing and urbanizing countries; by now the world has been made aware of China’s mounting pollution crisis. Just last month, the World Health Organization listed air pollution as a carcinogenic.

As part of this project, we will be working with the DustDuino, a model we chose for its low cost, simplicity, and flexibility. We’ve chosen to devote our annual weeklong Training of Trainers to this very topic, so we will invite 12-15 journalists – both existing partners and journalists with whom we have never worked, urban and rural journalists – and experts in this field to Berkeley so journalists can learn how to use and leave with sensors of their to bring to their home outlets. 

DustDuino (Mental Munition)

In addition, EJN staff will be working with a variety of technologies and professionals throughout the duration of the project with the ultimate aim of developing something new: a new type of sensor, a new means of transferring and storing information efficiently and safely…something that will enable our journalists and environmental journalists everywhere to take advantage of the resources they might not realize at their fingertips. What that final product ends up being, only time will tell.

For our next blog, my colleague Willie Shubert will explore the “cost v. connectivity” debate that arises through the development of these sensors. For now, check out EJN Executive Director’s recent article on sensor journalism in the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Pilot Project: