The Google News Lab in 2016, and where we’re headed

It’s been quite a year for the news industry. The events of the last year have brought many of the opportunities and challenges that news organizations face every day to national and international attention. Topics like fake news, the future of data journalism and polling, fact-checking, investigative journalism, and many more are no longer just happening at news industry conferences — they’re now part of the public conversation.

That’s a good thing, because the tools and technology the Internet makes possible today have great potential to make us more informed — but also present challenges to our information ecosystem. It will take news organizations, tech companies, and news consumers working together to ensure the future of quality journalism is bright.

Here at the Google News Lab, our mission to collaborate with journalists and entrepreneurs to help build the future of media. Throughout 2016, we’ve been working alongside news organizations and innovators around the world to help address the most important topics at the intersection of media and technology. In particular, we’re focusing on Trust and Verification, Data Journalism, Inclusive Storytelling, and Immersive Storytelling.

So as we close out the year, I wanted to share some of what we’ve done and talk about where we’re heading, with a goal of opening us up for feedback from the broader news community. Please leave your ideas or thoughts in the comments below.

Here’s a snapshot of what our work looked like in 2016:

Trust and Verification

Trust in media has never been a more important topic. The internet has empowered everyone to create content and engage in eyewitness reporting at a scale never before possible — but it’s also made it harder to separate fact from fiction. How can we help newsrooms and journalists leverage the opportunity of the web to expand their coverage while working together to improve trust in news organizations?

At the center of our efforts around this topic is the First Draft coalition, which we started in 2015 with seven social media verification organizations to create standards and best practices in the news industry for verifying eyewitness media content and combating fake news. In 2016, we expanded the coalition to over 80 partners worldwide, and were thrilled to welcome Facebook and Twitter as well. Any news organization can sign up, and in 2017, we’ll be working with the coalition to engage in more projects like Electionland, our polling place verification initiative.

Our Electionland map showed search spikes for voting problems

We’re also working hard to make our own platforms better for eyewitness media content with the YouTube Newswire, our partnership with Storyful to verify YouTube videos for use in newsrooms. And we’re supporting the Trust Project, whose goal is to establish protocols and tools to help news organizations signal the value of their reporting to both audiences and technology platforms.

Data Journalism

Unprecedented computing power — and access to data — has empowered journalists to find insights and tell stories that were never before possible. Yet this growing field requires significant resources, training, and collaboration to become a universal skill set for all journalists. Since we launched our team two years ago, we’ve been asking ourselves — how can we help data journalists grow their work and leverage the best of Google data to bring new insights to their readers?

The foundation of our work is Google Trends, which anonymizes and aggregates in real time the trillions of searches that happen every year around the world to help journalists get insights on what’s on our collective minds. Our data curators at the News Lab work with journalists around the world to derive insights from the data and visualize it in ways that bring new insights to their readers.

Our Rhythm of Food data project showed seasonal interest for food around the world

In addition to empowering news organizations with new insights from Google data, we’re working to convene the data journalism community and help advance the open data movement. We want to help data journalists at all levels of ability around the world get the support they need to grow, which is why we support data journalism hackathons and awards programs like the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards. And we’re releasing tools like our tilegrams visualization, opening up data sets on GitHub to empower the community to do new and exciting things with Google data sets.

Diversity and Inclusive Storytelling

Every journalist — and every reader — comes to a story with their own bias. Diversity and inclusion are essential to create media that reaches new audiences, and opens us up to new perspectives. How can we help journalism seek out and amplify voices that aren’t regularly heard in the mainstream, offering coverage that’s representative of the audiences they seek reach?

This is a newer area of focus for us, and one we’re excited to engage in through training, partnerships, and technology. Part of that means bringing a focus on diversity to all of our newsroom trainings. Through partnerships with Ida B. Wells Society, Future News, Le Monde Académie, Neue Deutsche Medienmacher, and the Paris Street School, we’re working to provide trainings on Google tools to journalists from diverse and/or non-traditional backgrounds.

Our News Lab for Black Media Day brought Google trainings to journalists of color in NYC

We’re also partnering with organizations like Witness to focus on the stories online that affect marginalized populations. Our latest project with the Witness Media Lab, Capturing Hate, chronicles the landscape of transgender violence videos uploaded for entertainment on online video platforms. The team analyzed over 300 videos of transgender violence and the viewer engagement around these videos, which shed light on the abuse of transgender people and the role of video in perpetuating that abuse. These are important topics and we’re looking forward to several more projects like this with the Witness Media Lab in 2017.

Immersive Storytelling

Significant advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, and drones can produce richer journalism and create empathy in readers. Yet there are significant storytelling, technical, and ethical challenges around these new technologies. How can we experiment together and create best practices and standards for these important new fields of journalism?

At the heart of our work in this field of storytelling is our Journalism360 coalition, which we created with the Knight Foundation and the Online News Association to build thought leadership, training, and experimentation to VR. The coalition is funding experimentation by providing $500k in grants to news organizations to experiment with VR storytelling — applications will be open early in 2017.

We’ve also been experimenting ourselves with various publishers, such as partnering with the Guardian on 6x9 — a VR story exploring solitary confinement that won a CINE Golden Eagle Award, and with Berliner Morgenpost on Refugees in Berlin, which won a Grimme Online Award for excellence in online reporting. Here at Google, Daydream is our big focus for VR moving forward, and we’ve already seen impressive Daydream apps from the likes of The Guardian, Huffington Post/RYOT, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN.

Given the recent FAA rulings on drone usage in journalism, we’ve been leaning into this area as well, holding the first-ever Drone Journalism bootcamp at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln earlier this year. We’ll be holding four more of these bootcamps in 2017, with UNL, The Poynter Institute, and the National Press Photographers Association.

Drones, journalism, and cornfields — what could be better? We’re partnering with the Drone Journalism Lab on four bootcamps in the U.S. in 2017.

We’d love your feedback on each of these focus areas. Are we asking the right questions? Are we tackling the right areas? What would you like to see the Google News Lab do to improve the future of journalism?

We’re looking forward to 2017. As always, you can follow our work at g.co/newslab, or follow us here on Medium.


Steve Grove is the Director of the News Lab at Google.