The Rainforest Investigations Network (RIN) is a collaborative investigative journalism initiative founded in 2020. Led by the Pulitzer Center, the network brings together journalists to expose the causes and powers behind the destruction of the planet’s major rainforests in the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia.
We believe the network is an innovative and unique effort to improve coverage of one of the most important issues today: the destruction of ecosystems and the implications for biodiversity and climate change. To achieve this goal we have a strong focus on data analysis and sharing information inside and outside the network, facilitating transnational collaborative journalism, building capacity, and creating long-lasting impact.
In its first year, RIN selected 13 journalists from 10 countries, who as Investigative Fellows dedicate themselves for a whole year to projects that mix fieldwork and building sources with data analysis. This gives them the unique opportunity to work solely on rainforest issues and complete projects they otherwise would not be able to do.
Twelve of the Fellows work from the three rainforest regions and one works in an international context because of the global importance of the issue. Their outlets include local, regional and international newsrooms, providing unique opportunities for global data collaborations.
With the support of the network, the Fellows were able to overcome challenges with obtaining governmental information in Colombia, lining up flight information with satellite imagery of air strips in the Amazon, tracking supply chains from Indonesia to the U.S., and untangling complex corporate structures financing environmental damage in the Congo Basin.
Our network highlights how ecologically important regions are threatened by supply chains connected to consumers in developed countries. These chains, supported by large multinational companies and governments, are often linked to illegal exploitation of natural resources such as agricultural commodities and timber. Sometimes they are even linked to organized crime, as with gold mines in Venezuela and Brazil.
It is because of this global nature that RIN relies heavily on the power of sharing data to communicate the scale of this problem. We believe that this is the only way to truly reveal the complexities in a systematic way.
In addition to the Fellows, the network has an editorial team of experienced investigative and environmental journalists, including an environmental investigations editor, a data editor and an editorial coordinator. With constant support from the Pulitzer Center’s senior editors and outreach teams, the editors closely follow the investigative projects and provide not only editorial advice, but also access to databases, analysis tools and other investigative resources. .
In the past year, the network organized eight training sessions on data analysis, uncovering supply chains and reading financial documents, for example, tailored to the varying levels of investigative experience among the Fellows. As the initiative reports on territorial transformations caused by environmental degradation, the use of high resolution satellite imagery has proved to be one of the most important methodologies for us.
In its first year, RIN has produced over a dozen in-depth investigations that have already had impact in the countries in which they were published. The stories are based on extensive research of public documents and have been produced with multidisciplinary teams of journalists, data scientists, and environmental science researchers. In Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil, companies and governments have responded immediately to the revelations brought by the reports, proving the power of investigative journalism based on rigorous data analysis.
RIN is a network that will continue to grow through the selection of new Fellows. At the same time we will continue to look for ways to contribute to training and sharing data journalism methodologies.
Description of portfolio:
This portfolio includes eight investigations selected from the almost 40 stories produced by the first group of Rainforest Investigations Network Fellows, which reached almost five million readers.
Story 1 – Pahang Deforestation Adds to Decades of Indigenous Land Rights Struggle in Malaysia
Published by Macaranga in partnership with the Southeast Asia Globe. Fellow Yao Hua Law analyzed hundreds of environmental permit documents and found how a Malaysian logging company was infringing on the land of an Indigenous community. The reporter compared satellite images to illustrate the rapidly advancing deforestation at the site. Because of these revelations, the community took legal steps to block the project and the permit was withdrawn.
Story 2 – Amazon Fast Approaching Point of No Return
This report by Jessica Brice published on the cover of Bloomberg’s Business Week magazine looks at the mechanisms of illegal land grabbing in the Brazilian Amazon. By consolidating public databases and scraping information from PDFs, the report shows the intricate legal gray zone that involves local politicians and the agribusiness presence in Brazil’s National Congress.
Story 3 – Greed for Gold
Originally published in Portuguese by Hyury Potter at Intercept Brasil, it exposes irregular gold mining conducted by company Gana Gold in the state of Pará. The reporter obtained documents from Brazil’s National Mining Agency and showed that the operations had no environmental licensing. He showed the destruction caused by the mining company with high-resolution satellite images obtained with the help of RIN. After publication, the company was fined.
Story 4 – Irresponsible Food State
This long investigative report by Indonesia’s Tempo magazine shows how economic recovery plans launched during the pandemic are generating deforestation. Through field trips with the use of digital maps and drones, the reporter showed that the development areas proposed by the government in Kalimantan have not been respected and have advanced into areas that are supposed to have protection. The story was used as an example of how Indonesia does not uphold deforestation pledges at the UN climate talks in Glasgow.
Story 5 – How Americans’ Appetite for Leather in Luxury SUVs Worsens Amazon Deforestation
Published by Fellow Manuela Andreoni in The New York Times, this story follows in detail the leather supply chain starting from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest to the suppliers for some of the top U.S. carmakers, which she uncovered through analyzing cattle purchase and sale document data. After publication, a local court in Brazil mentioned the story to argue for changing regulation.
Story 6 – Palawan Authorities Rezone Forest to Allow Mining
A co-publication of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and NBC, this series looks at the nickel supplied for electric vehicle battery production in the U.S. The field reporting along with analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery shows that expansion plans on the island of Palawan in the Philippines will worsen an already complicated situation for local communities.
Story 7 – This Fabric is Hailed as ‘Eco-friendly.’ The Rainforest Tells a Different Story
Led by RIn Fellow Andy Lehren, the NBC investigative team and RIN colleagues at Tempo Indonesia used digital mapping and high-resolution satellite images to reveal the connection between illegal deforestation in Indonesia and the production of clothing with viscose fabric, used by international fashion retailers.
Story 8 – The Colonial Network of Palm Oil Plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Fellows Gloria Pallares (EL PAIS) and Madeleine Ngeunga (InfoCongo) teamed up to show the companies behind environmental destruction in the DRC. With the help of RIN editors and financial specialists hired by RIN, they untangled a complex corporate web to find who is financing the destruction.