Why Freelancers Should Check Out Google Media Tools


Launched in mid-October to coincide with the Online News Association conference in Atlanta, Google Media Tools is a collection of, well, media tools. Although they’ve all been around in some form or another, the site was created to centralize existing Google products that could be used to create great content.

“We looked at what can these products do to enable and empower journalists who try to do their job more efficiently and effectively,” says Google’s head of media outreach Daniel Sieberg.

In a workshop dubbed “Google 101 for Journalists” held in Minneapolis, Minn. recently, Google media outreach lead Nicholas Whitaker continued Google’s PR push for Google+, emphasizing its value as a way to link content (including YouTube videos and written stories) across Google. Google+ Communities and Hangouts on Air were also heavily hyped, although free and low-cost alternatives do have advantages.

Google Trends Explorer

Still, the media tools page has many valuable resources for journalists looking to incorporate data or visual elements to their stories.

“I think there are a few underutilized or undiscovered tools out there,” says Sieberg. One of them is Google Trends, which allows users to view search data going back to 2004 sliced by topic of geography. “I think it’s something journalists have heard [of] but many haven’t had the chance to dive into and explore, not just Google Trends, but the Trends Explorer, which gives you this opportunity to customize.”

Users can select geographic location, dates, categories and type of search (web search, image, search, news search and YouTube search are among the categories), and compare multiple terms, locations or time ranges. Web developer Antone Roundy, who works with Net Pulse News, has used Google Trends to draw traffic to his site.

Tools for Data Visualization

“Fusion tables, I think, is something that journalists have heard of but maybe weren’t comfortable enough with data visualization to dive into it,” says Sieberg. This Web service stores data in multiple tables that users can view and download. It can help visualize data with timelines, line plots, scatterplots, bar charts, pie charts and geographical maps. Reporters who understand what fusion tables are all about can use the tool to manage large volumes of spreadsheet data online, creating charts and maps and embedding them on their websites. The Guardian has documented online some of their newsroom uses of fusion tables.

Making Custom Maps Easier

The Google Maps API has been available for quite some time, but now there’s an easier alternative for journalists who are less tech-savvy.

“There’s a relatively new product called Maps Engine which is an even lower bar of entry for creating custom maps and plotting different points,” explains Sieberg. Both free and paid versions are available. The tool allows users to select from several map styles and create customized, interactive maps, where they can pinpoint specific locations, draw lines and polygons, and display additional data. The maps can be embedded onto a website. The controversial interactive map of New York gun owners was published online using the Google Maps API.

Another useful tool for covering emergencies or disasters is a crisis map, maintained by Google’s crisis response team. Most recently, it’s been used for Typhoon Yolanda, displaying a crowdsourced map of crisis areas, evacuation centers and relief drop zone areas.

“There are a lot of different tools people may have heard of in some capacity but haven’t thought of them in terms of newscasting,” Sieberg says. The goal, he explains, is to empower journalists who are consistently being asked to add to their feature set. Although the learning curve can be steep, tools that become increasingly easier to set up and use can ease some of the burden.