The Google Bootcamp on Thursday at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s convention brought together journalists from various platforms and industries to discuss ways to visualize big data and statistics. The session offered ways to use Google as more than just a search utility.
Simon Rogers, a data editor at Google News Lab, led the three-hour bootcamp to show journalists how they can use Google and Google Trends to display their work and findings.
What is data journalism?
Data journalism is not any different than what journalists already do, Rogers said. “At its heart, data journalism is about telling stories using data,” he said. It is adding another dimension to storytelling with visuals to make it interesting. Before joining Google, Rogers spent years working on data for Twitter and the Guardian.
Data also allows journalists to engage readers in a substantial way, Rogers said.
For example, the Guardian asked readers to find interesting stories by sorting through 40,000 public documents on expenses incurred by Members of the Parliament. Finding stories in such cases can be tedious. The idea is to make data interesting by finding trends, Rogers said.
Some ways to visualize data include using maps, charts and infographics to simplify complex pieces of information. When using color in maps, Rogers reminded attendees, it is important to remember that certain colors would not register for color-blind readers.
It’s important to publish data with the news stories because it helps to be transparent with readers, Rogers said. Matching stories with statistics is a way to use public databases that journalists might not normally use.
Rogers mentioned that, in the past, journalists would have to find someone who could work with Flash or other specialized programs to work with data. Today, there are a lot of free, easy-to-use tools that journalists can use to quickly showcase their work.
Some popular tools that make it easier to produce visualizations with data include Datawrapper, import.io, and Google’s own Google Trends.
Finding trending topics online: Google Trends
Rogers explained that journalists and social media producers can use Google Trends to to find charts and patterns for trending topics on a specific day. Trends updated a month ago to visualize real time data.
“People crave for verification,” Rogers said. “And strong data allows for that. Google Trends is a very good way to tell stories that people are already thinking about, using data.”
Journalists can use Google Trends to compare different search entities and see how they’ve been trending over a span of time. Their visuals are publicly available for journalists to use and embed into stories. If journalists don’t want the graphs and charts, Google also provides the corresponding data sets for the public to download and use.
Looking beyond the trends
Assessing search history can be a way to accurately find what people are talking or thinking about in the online realm. “On Google search, people are honest in a way as no where else. There are no dumb questions on Google. Thus, it is a reflection of what people search,” Rogers said.
Varad Diwate contributed to this report.