A basic tenet of journalism is to understand what you report. If you cover the environment, you need to know science the way good education reporters understand pedagogy, political reporters understand legislative process, police reporters understand courts, city hall reporters understand the authority of city managers, city mayors and city councils.

The links below provide information on some basic pollutants that you’ll likely cover on the environment beat and that you need to understand.

You don’t need to be a chemist or a biologist. But you need to have a sense of the causes, sources and consequences of a variety of pollutants. These are some that most often pop up in the news.

You can learn more about pollutants by playing this game of Jeopardy. You can guess but you might also hunt for answers with the help of the links below. Either way, play it multiple times to help with retention – questions are scrambled and new ones may appear each time you play.

Also go to the Poynter Institute’s NewsU and create an account from the link in the right column.  Go to the course link just below the site’s banner and select the course list. Select reporting and then the course called Covering Water Quality: What you Need to Know.

–David Poulson, associate director, Knight Center for Environmental Journalism

Some background on common pollutants