Harnessing the power of Google to produce better and bigger journalism

When any journalist starts researching a new story idea, the first thing they do is usually a quick Google search. But, Mary Nahorniak, a Google News Initiative teaching fellow said there are many more tools reporters could be using to facilitate and enhance their work, from little known advanced search options, to programs developed specifically for journalists.

Nahorniak gave a workshop on Google Tools at the 2021 International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) on Wednesday, April 28. View her presentation in English here, or the Spanish presentation from her colleague Juan Manuel Lucero, here.

Google Tools workshop ISOJ 2021

One of the newer and more “powerful” tools developed specifically for journalists is Pinpoint, which can extract keywords from various types of files including hand-written documents, photos and audio — which it can transcribe automatically from multiple languages.

“Pinpoint is a research tool,” Nahorniak said. “It uses the best of our AI and machine learning technology to help reporters go through large numbers of documents and I mean large — tens of thousands of documents.

She added that Pinpoint was developed alongside and with feedback from the journalism industry, and has already been used by organizations like Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and USA Today, as well as by famed reporter Maria Ressa from Filipino site Rappler and by Verificado in Mexico.

In the case of Reveal, she said reporters used Pinpoint to search through thousands of pages of emails and records from health agencies from around the country for a series about the spread of COVID-19 in U.S. immigration detention centers.

When it comes to visuals, Nahorniak showed how Google Earth Studio can be used to create free high-quality 3D imagery for video storytelling from Google’s satellite imagery database.

In addition, the tool Timelapse allows users to utilize geographic imagery compiled by Google Earth to show how the surface of the planet has changed over time to portray the impacts of climate change, deforestation, and the construction of mega-cities. It also contains hundreds of free, downloadable videos from locations around the globe.

Reporters can also make use of lesser-known tools like Fact Check Explorer, a searchable index of fact checks from known fact-checking sites like Snopes and Newsmobile, as well as news organizations like AFP and USA Today that have fact-checking arms.

Nahorniak also pointed out simple tools that average internet users might already be familiar with, like the “-” sign to remove words they don’t want in an advanced search. But she says other tools like “site:” to search within certain websites or certain domains like “.gov” can also be helpful, especially when those sites lack comprehensive search tools themselves.

Other functions like “cache:” can look for the most recently saved version of a website, or “snapshot” taken by Google as a backup in case the current page isn’t available. Such functions, Nahorniak said, would be helpful in recent cases when the White House and Centers for Disease Control are rapidly changing the information on their websites. Other tools like “filetype:” can look for certain types of files like a PDF or a CSV. Journalists can then combine all of these tools to look for specific documents.

Another common tool, like Google Alerts, she pointed out, can be used to receive notifications for the names of holding companies that might come up in court cases, and wouldn’t otherwise be easily searchable by the public facing name of the company.

“Search is only as good as the query that you use,” Nahorniak said. “And I know you’ve found that through practice, and this is going to help you find what you need when you need it.”

Those interested in organizing training workshops for a specific newsroom can go to g.co/newstraining or reach out to newslabssupport@google.com.