Journalists are always looking for handy shortcuts to make the workflow of news production that little bit swifter, whether that is gathering story leads, verifying information or writing up your article.
Speaking at the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) summer conference yesterday (3 July 2019), Matt Cooke, head of partnerships and training, Google, explained that there are many open-source tools at journalists' fingertips to help out. Here are some select picks to weave into your workflow.
Voice typing on Google Docs
If there is one task that bogs down journalists, it is transcribing audio from a dictaphone. So much so that some news organisations are exploring shortcuts with automated transcription tools.
There is a free tool on Google Documents though, that allows you to do just that. Under the drop-down menu for 'tools', there is an icon called 'voice typing...'
Once you press play, the tool will transcribe audio in real time. You can speak directly into a microphone, or play audio on loudspeaker from an external device. It will then transcribe the voice using AI and machine learning.
Google search refinements
How many times have you tried to search in vain for a link that you knew existed but could not find it? Cooke said there are simple ways to filter search results and find what you are looking for faster, by using a number of important, if basic, keystrokes:
- "exact quote": Searching with an exact quote in speech marks will pull up the precise article where that can be found.
- -phrase: using a hyphen before a word to remove it from the search criteria, e.g. cup -world
- site:search: filter search results by a specific website, e.g. journalism.co.uk:digitalnewsreport2019
- file:type: filter search results for specific documents, e.g. digitalnewsreport2019:pdf
- site:Instagram.com journalism -skiing: search for specific Instagram posts, e.g. 'site:instagram.com journalism -bbc'
- site:twitter.com inurl:lists < search >: search for specific Twitter lists on a given topic, 'e.g. site:twitter.com inurl:lists
Digital image verification
In a landscape lurking with deepfakes and misinformation, journalists need digital tools to effectively verify content.
"There is nothing that will replace journalism, your analysis and your integrity but there are digital tools that can help you make that decision yourself," said Cooke.
"There are digital tools out there that are free, which can help you gather more information before you run a story or share a video."
Reverse image searching is the first port of call to give an indication whether an image is authentic or not. Head to Google Images and click the camera icon. From here, you can either use the image URL or upload the image yourself.
It will produce search results where the image is hosted elsewhere, but what is particularly key is the 'visually similar images' that will be produced. Here, you can identify if your image has been tampered with, or is in fact related to something entirely different. The same process can be achieved on tineye.com
Cooke warned the tool does not currently work well on mobile devices, but it is an area Google is looking to improve.
Verify with YouTube
There are also telltale signs as to whether a video hosted on Google-owned YouTube can be trusted.
The filter function on YouTube has many options for refining search results. For journalists, Upload date is key and Cooke recommended that this is used to verify whether breaking news stories are indeed breaking or just resurfaced.
Clear red flags can be found elsewhere, mainly on the uploader's account. Verified accounts will have a tick by their account name which is the sign of a reputable source.
Other giveaways could be on the 'About' section and whether that links to a correct website. You can also keep an eye out for other curated playlists showing content that would be unusual for an independent news organisation.
Finally, look at uploader's other videos. If today they have compelling footage in Manchester, but yesterday it was video games in Sydney, that could be a challenge, said Cooke.
Alternative options include the Amnesty International YouTube DataViewer, which takes a URL for a video and provides background info.
Watchframebyframe.com can also be used to play YouTube and Vimeo videos frame by frame, to see any inconsistencies in content. This technique was used to debunk a video of a skiier which digitally added a bear closely in the background, as three of the frames reveal the bear not in shot.
"More crucially, when I speak to people on news wires, they say they use technology like this freely available to interrogate data coming through, particularly if they want to work out location," Cooke said, adding the tool can also be used to read street signs caught in snapshot moments.
Verify by Translate
Staying with YouTube, some videos will show foreign characters that are not easily typed on English-speaking keyboards.
Google Translate has an option to draw in foreign letters, such as the German 'ß' or Japanese characters, and translate accordingly. It can help to set the language input first, but it can also detect language.
The pencil icon in the bottom right hand corner will enable handwriting, and you can use your mouse or finger, depending on device, to draw the letters.
Verify by location
Some news organisations like Euro News leverages the power of open-source location-based tools to verify content.
Revisit websites in the past
Past that, there are ways to find out what stories news organisations were leading with on a particular day. Archive.org/web features a wayback machine which allows you to turn back the hands of time, and revisit a website in varying degrees of regularity.
Type in a website in the search bar, and you will find a slideable black and white graph which you can click on to visit the site at that point in time using cache data. There is also a calendar with blue hotspots that can go to specific dates.
"I can get a sense of their editorial judgement of the day, where they were placing stories or their hierarchy, and a sense of their headlines and editorial perspective of things," said Cooke.
Other niche - but handy - sites
Who.is allows you to find out who owns a particular website and can be used to weed out unreliable or unverified sources.
Suncalc.net allows you to see in any given area, on any given date, the direction of the sunrise and sunset. This can be useful in getting the bearings of verifying images and other time stamps.
BBC Africa Eye used open-source tools like this with their Anatomy of a Killing investigation.
Journalists can leverage the power of Google search results, to see the most searched terms on any given date, as anonymised index data.
By visiting Google Trends, and filtering by geography, time and certain categories, you can see at a glance what are the most searched-for queries.
Where does this come of use? Journalists can use this to spot trends on Google, Google News and YouTube, and compare them against other keywords. But it can also be a great source of stories.
Many publishers have done this to great effect, notes Cooke, including Sky Sports News with their Transfer Deadline Day coverage to know what their audiences are demanding answers to.
There are 50 lessons on Google tools on the Google News Initiative Training Center, on data journalism, safety and security, verification and more. More topics should be added in September.
Free daily newsletter
- App for journalists: Voice Record Pro, for transcribing audio interviews
- Podcasts, student support, and health reporting: here is your weekly journalism news update
- The Economist uses sports coverage to grow its audience
- Newsrooms that do not personalise content are missing out on 'vital' opportunities to grow
- Robot journalists revive hyperlocal communities left behind by declining regional media