Public Health Concerns and Air Quality

In Harm's Way investigation was featured on a PBS program called Expose.

“In Harm’s Way” investigation featured segment on PBS program, Expose.

This week we were lucky to have the opportunity to hear from two different experts – one from the perspective journalism and the other from public health.

Lise Olsen, investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle joined us virtually on Monday to talk with us about her work on several news stories she has done related to covering the environment. In particular, she shared with us her experiences in working on the “In Harm’s Way,” report done in 2005 by Dina Cappiello, former reporter for the Houston Chronicle, that examined the air quality in four different areas in Texas. It’s a great investigative story and it shows how the newspaper used sensors to measure air quality in specific areas of Texas. The impact of the story had far-reaching impacts for the community.

Lise shared with us some resources as well when it comes to reporting on air quality/air pollution. Here are some of those resources that any journalist or journalism student may find helpful:

quintana lecture

Dr. Quintana presenting findings from her latest research about air quality along the border.

On Wednesday, we had Dr. Penelope (Jenny) Quintana, professor in the Graduate School of Public Health visit with us and share her research findings on the public health effects of air pollution on vulnerable populations along the U.S.-Mexico border. In particular, she presented findings from her recent study that explored air pollution near the San Ysidro border and its effect on the people who cross the border and live in the surrounding communities near the border.

Overall we learned this week that air quality can impact an individual’s well-being. For example, particle pollution can lead to breathing issues, asthma and in some cases, lung cancer.

Nexlegost week, we will be exploring the Science of Winds with Kevin Robinson and Data 101 with Joe Yerardi, reporter of inewsource.

We will be working with Legos next week too — what do legos have to do with journalism and sensors? Stay tuned here to find out! 🙂


Sensor Ethics, Team Blinky

Well we had another exciting week in our sensor journalism class! This week we covered the important aspect of ethics when using sensors for news gathering and reporting. The recent Tow Report on Sensor Journalism has a great section on the ethics of sensor journalism and served as our reading and point of discussion this week.

When doing sensor journalism, there are four key things that every reporter and news organization should discuss before jumping in:

  • Privacy and surveillance issues
  • Building, acquiring and ownership of the technology
  • Accuracy, interpretation and representativeness of the sensor data
  • Community involvement – roles of responsibility and transparency

john keefe

On Wednesday, we had the thrill to do a Google Hangout with sensor guru and Senior Editor for Data News for WNYC, John Keefe. He gave a great talk  (you can check out his short presentation here) about the ways in which he has used sensors in his work at WNYC and his work with Team Blinky. We had time for Q&A and were able to get some new insights and advice on our sensors, calibration, and the challenges with reporting with sensors. It was a thrilling week!

Next week we will have Lise Olsen, investigative reporter for The Houston Chronicle join us for a virtual chat on her data work on environmental news stories and Dr. Penelope Quintana, professor in the Graduate School of Public Health at SDSU to share with us her research on air quality.

More exciting news to come!

Air quality observations, GIS and journalism

kevin robinson lecture

Kevin Robinson giving some geology pointers to the class.

This week was a blast! We had the opportunity to discuss this week the role of GIS in journalism and where environmental news can be explored from this perspective. Using sensors for environmental monitoring, one can see the potential of using GIS as a newsgathering and reporting tool.  We referenced this text in our discussions this week – a blog post by Richard Bedford that details the impact and importance of GIS in journalism today. Kevin Robinson, geologist and co-teacher in this course, gave a great primer on the history of GIS and where it is today. He also showed us some unique maps, one of which was this wind map: and this other map showing real-time wind currents around the world:

We also continued with our air quality observations. The students shared their experiences in placing their sensors in and around San Diego. We had the opportunity to make some informal observations on the campus as well.

Next week we have a virtual chat with sensor guru and Senior Editor for Data News for WNYC, John Keefe. We are looking forward to getting his advice and insight! More updates to come!

students building sensors

Sensor Journalism Course Launches, Explorations Begin

And we are off the races! We have launched our sensor journalism class this spring at San Diego State. We have an amazing bunch of students in the class who are excited to get into storytelling with their sensors.

sensor components

Sensor kit components for sensor journalism class.

These past two weeks we spent time building the sensor kits and conducting informal observations with the sensors. We have had some interesting discussions already about the possibilities and challenges of open-source sensor technology, air quality in San Diego and the science behind PM 2.5.

If you want to know more what we are doing this semester, check out the syllabus I have uploaded available from the navigation above.

We have an exciting journey ahead!

Air Quality Open-Source Sensors and San Diego


We are documenting here the efforts of a special, one-of-a-kind sensor journalism project underway by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University.

sensorThis special project, “What’s in the Air,” is a collaborative between journalism and geology students from San Diego State University along with inewsource, a nonprofit news organization, to experiment with the concept of using electronic sensors to test air quality in San Diego in an effort to help the public be more informed about pollution and its impact on the city.


We are just getting underway with the project and seeking people to help us in the following ways:

  • Volunteers to help us test our electronic, innovative sensors throughout the San Diego area
  • Students who would like to join us on this exciting journey that begins in spring 2015
  • Educators (K-12) who would like to learn more about this project and interested in implementing a sensor experiment in their classroom
  • Innovators/makers who are interested in experimenting with different kinds of sensor technologies

If you are interested in participating in the project, please complete this form:

Also, stay tuned to this space as we will be posting more details in the weeks and months ahead as we get started. 🙂

This project is administered by the Online News Association with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation.