Credit: By Carlos Luna on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Google offers many tools that can be used in journalism for anything from researching and newsgathering to engagement and sharing data.

Speaking on the first day of the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Google's Nick Whitaker showcased some of the tools and platforms that journalists might find most useful.

Search tips

There are 570 million people, places and things around the world indexed for search, Whitaker told a packed room at the Hotel Brufani, "but it's the connections between them that gives the meaning".

Many people already understand the use of quotation marks in search to find results for a particular phrase – such as the "surgeon's scalpel", he said – but fewer people know how to remove search results using certain words.

Searching for "Malaysia" in recent weeks is likely to return many stories around the disappearance of flight MH370, but such terms can be removed by adding a minus to the term, as in -MH370, -flight, -jet.

There are many other ways to use Google to search for more specific terms, he said. A lot of them, including image searches, are covered in this guide previously published by Whitaker also pointed delegates to Google's Inside Search page.

Google trends

"Google trends shows 'hot searches'," Whitaker said, taking advantage of the millions – if not billions – of searches conducted through the engine every day.

Popular topics and keywords can be searched by region, and users can see how interest in topics has changed over time.

Not only could such does such information provide a story in itself, or the visualisation to a story, but it can help newsrooms to understand the keywords around breaking news stories or trending topics.

Understanding what readers search for is central to search engine optimisation (SEO), not only in including those words in tags and in the story itself, but as a source of ideas for future potential stories around a subject, Whitaker said.

Google public data

As part of its far-reaching search functionality, Google also sources and stores a large amount of public data from international organisations that could prove vital for journalists.

"It's basically a library of data sources," said Whitaker. Using the example of internet reach, he pulled up statistics from the World Bank for internet usage as percentage of population.

Graph showing internet users as percentage of population

Users can choose to add countries of interest and compare countries by particular criteria. This can also be embedded as an animation, showing how internet penetration has developed over time.

Animated graph of how the spread if internet users per population has developed in countries over time

Public data is formatted to work well on mobile, said Whitaker, and encouraged delegates to explore the 131 data sources.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is generally known as a conference calling service for users of Google+, Whitaker said, but it can go further than that.

"People think Google+ is just another social network," he said, "but there are ways journalists can use some features and products to more effectively reach an audience."

Although Hangouts can be used as a private conference calling platform, many news organisations have been taking to Hangouts on Air as a broadcasting service.

The main video screen automatically displays the person who is talking, and the conference call can be livestreamed on YouTube, from Google Hangouts itself, or be embedded into a web page.

There are some additional functions to build engagement as well, he said.

The 'Q&A app' creates a "special type of hangout", said Whitaker, in which viewers on Google+ or YouTube can leave comments and questions in a sidebar of the live video.

The sidebar uses YouTube's comment voting system to let viewers pick which comments or questions they like, than the person in control of the Hangout can bring those questions back into the conversation that is being broadcasted.

Another feature is the Control Room app.

"It gives you the ability, as the host, to mute other people's microphones or cameras," Whitaker said, comparing the process to the control room of a broadcast studio. "You can eject people out of the hangout if you want to."

Journalists could treat the process "like a radio phone-in", he said, inviting viewers (who have a Google+ account) to take in the conversation and ejecting any potential "trolls". The Control Room feature also gives control over bandwidth for the different speakers, to present a smooth viewing experience.

A third feature for Hangouts is the Toolbox app, in which users can create graphics to add to the video, again bringing the output closer to broadcast quality.

Al Jazeera Stream uses Hangout on Air for their #OpenEditorial Meeting

When the Hangout has finished, the video is automatically saved to YouTube, Whitaker said, so it is important to think about how to maximise reader engagement through the video hosting platform as well.

Users should bear some technical considerations in mind, he said, such as having a bandwidth of 1.5MB per second for each person in the Hangout, and using the best sound and lighting options available.

Some users also record Hangouts ahead of time to edit the best parts together, but the tools and apps still apply. has previously published advice on how journalists can use YouTube, while Whitaker recommended journalists visit Google's Media Tools page to find out more about what the organisation can offer.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).