What Google’s News Lab Means for Reporters, Editors, and ReadersBy Jordan Teicher July 2nd, 2015
Last week, Google introduced the News Lab, a digital journalism toolbox full of useful reporting tools and lessons about how to use them. If you click to the site, you’ll see that the project offers help with four different areas journalists deal with on a daily basis: research, reporting, distribution, and optimization. There’s even a sleek video about data journalism with testimonials from some well-known media geeks like Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein and New York Times Upshot Editor David Leonhardt.
At the end of the clip, Klein looks into the camera and says: “We will know we’ve done a good job on this when people stop using this term. When data journalism is just journalism, as it always has been and always should be.”
Klein’s line is corny, but I think it brings up an important point: Until recently, data journalism had been so specialized because it was difficult for journalists who didn’t have mathematical backgrounds to break in. But as more tools become available to the public, it will be easier for everyone to create meaningful data visualizations that either tell stories on their own or complement traditional text articles.
With that in mind, here is a brief rundown of what the News Lab has to offer.
A few tools listed in this section—like Google Translate, Google Alerts, and reverse image search—are already pretty familiar. But Google has packaged them with some more complex tools like Public Data Explorer, for example, all of which make it easy for you to access sophisticated information. There are even a few visualization features that you can play around with when translating the data to graphs and charts, although you’d probably be better off creating your own graphs elsewhere unless you’re crunched for time since Google’s customizations here are fairly basic.
While Public Data Explorer lets you work with existing studies, Google Consumer Surveys helps you create your own. You can design a survey, target your demographics (there’s even an option for only reaching mobile users), and receive a detailed analysis with responsive charts directly from Google. The one catch is this tool isn’t free; prices range from one cent to $3.50 per respondent for standard surveys depending on how may questions you ask, and surveys that are totally customizable start with a flat fee of $2,000.
The two standouts here are Google My Maps and Google Earth Pro. Both features take programs most of us have already used and give them a storytelling angle. For My Maps, you input data that can be visualized on a map you create, which is useful if, for example, you need to show where crimes were committed in a city, or where traffic bottles up the worst during rush hour on certain roads.
With Google Earth Pro, you can design a tour on Google Earth that can be exported as a video clip and embedded into your work. Customization here even lets you decide what angle you want to use for each location on your tour, which is a cool, subtle way for you to make the tool your own.
The bells and whistles in this bucket will be more useful to editors and publishers than reporters, but anyone with a blog can still benefit from the straightforward lessons Google attaches to each tool. The section starts off by focusing on big-picture tasks such as monetizing your work in Google Play Newsstand and getting it accepted by the gatekeepers of Google News.
Then, the focus shifts to video. There are five YouTube lessons, three of which are basic. But the two to look out for—one about Youtube’s Partner Program, and the other dealing with YouTube’s Creator Academy—are valuable to visual storytellers who already know what they’re doing on the platform. YouTube’s Partner Program in particular is worth exploring, something we’ve covered before, as it gives creators a chance to make money off of their work.
Lastly, there is a brief section on the more complex and analytical aspects of publishing. Again, this section is more suited to the publisher side than the creator side, but it won’t hurt anyone to learn more about Google Analytics, YouTube analytics, and metadata.
Some of the News Lab offerings are already ubiquitous, but the most important takeaway from this initiative is that Google wants to make an effort to help reporters create and optimize high-quality content.
News Lab has an infrastructure with plenty of room to expand; a handful of new features have lessons “coming soon,” and in addition to the four main sections, Google partnered with groups like Matter and Hacks/Hackers to explore ways to push the boundaries of journalism in new directions. There are even case studies from The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN that show how major publishers are using News Lab to innovate.
So we have the toolbox and a few fun new toys to keep us busy. Now, we’ll just have to wait to see how Google fills up the rest.Image by Ostill