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Simon Rogers of Google News: the importance of data and sentiments in the Colombian elections

“Data journalism is becoming a key part of newsrooms,” said Simon Rogers, editor of Data at Google news Lab, in dialogue with TechMarkup. The conversation focused on the importance of journalists having different tool to understand and process the large volumes of data that are generated today.


In this context, he analyzed the use of Google Trends, a tool that, based on search engine records, shows the most searched terms and topics in certain places and times. “It is a public tool that everyone can use. Probably the largest open journalism tool available”said Rogers, who has extensive experience in journalism.

He worked for more than 11 years as an editor at the British newspaper Guardian where, among other things, you set up the data blog. she wrote the book Facts are sacred (Facts are sacred) and since 2015 he has been working at Google Newsa business unit of the company that focuses on sharing knowledge and tools to empower the news industry. His particular area of ​​expertise is data journalism and newsroom innovation.

Google Trends is open and free
Google Trends is open and free

One of the points he mentioned during the interview was the launch of ua platform that shows tendencies dedicated especially to the next presidential elections in Colombia, which will take place on May 29, 2022.

We have launched a page that is updated in real time 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, where you can see what is trending around the Colombian elections. You can see the candidates, the questions and the problems that are being searched for, ”she stressed.

Based on Trends, Google generated a version with information linked to searches related to the presidential elections in Colombia
Based on Trends, Google generated a version with information linked to searches related to the presidential elections in Colombia

interests during elections

During the elections the searches linked to the candidates grow as well as the places where to vote, or how to do it, for example.

To demonstrate the level of interest that this content generates in users, it established a comparison with the weather, something that is always quite sought after on the web. And in relation to this, he said that in the last elections in the United States there was an important peak that even exceeded interest in the climate.

“If you’re a journalist and you’re covering the election, data is your friend,” he said. He added: “Trends is really helpful to get a sense of how issues and candidates resonate with the population, in real time.”

He highlighted the importance of contextualizing the information obtained from the searches. So, for example, he said that probably the searches you see on the Trends site focused on the elections and related content will be much more relevant to someone who lives in Colombia or follows this topic closely than someone who is not on the subject.

In this way, he sought to exemplify how the data itself is not enough to do journalism, but rather serves as a complement. They are a tool from which journalists can create information. He also highlighted the importance of reporting “Data journalism is even better when data is combined with traditional reporting,” he concluded.

Simon Rogers, Data Editor at Google News Lab
Simon Rogers, Data Editor at Google News Lab

Behind the scenes of Google Trends

Simons explained that one of the most interesting things about Trends is behind the scenes or what happens in the backend, that is, the part of the platform that the end user does not see and whose function is to access the information that is requested, through the interface, to then return a response.

The user sees the result of his search in a few seconds, but behind that there is a technological development that took years to build. He highlighted the role of the engineers working on this project, as well as the use of machine learning which is what allows the search engine to continue learning and Trends to detect more relevant aspects.

“On the backend, what Trends does is it categorizes all those searches, and it geolocates them and the searches are anonymous,” he explained.

And he added that it not only allows you to obtain the searches per se but also the related content. “So if people are looking for information on a particular candidate, you can tell what else they’re looking for. And you can see some interesting things, regarding the way people consume entertainment or what are the issues that concern them or whatever, ”she exemplified.

Asked about the amount of data that is processed daily, he said that they do not have the total number because they take a fragment of the total searches: “We have a sample of about a fifth of all searches, which is a lot,” plot.

searches and emotions

Humans are very emotional creatures. You may be looking for information on the election one minute and on a TV show the next, or Kim Kardashian, or a record, music that you like, or a song that you really like or something like that and it really depends on how you feel at the time,” Rogers explained.

This volatility in the interests is reflected in the searches and that is why the trends vary from moment to moment. And they also serve to have a window to understand a little more about human complexity.

The data set can identify how we feel as humans and especially at a time when we just went through this pandemic. Actually, we are still going through this pandemic. In the US, like a million people died, it was an unbelievable number. This is a very emotional thing to understand and Trends data can give us a little insight into that, people’s feelings and how they change from day to day.”concluded the specialist.

Other useful tools for journalists

Pinpoint allows you to unrecord audio and offers other options for working online
Pinpoint allows you to unrecord audio and offers other options for working online

Rogers highlighted the usefulness that different tools can have to make graphs that allow data to be visualized. Especially considering that dynamic graphics integrate large volumes of information into a powerful and concise visual image.

pin point is a great tool for those who have to deal with a large volume of knowledge and data”, he said, referring to said platform that is part of Google News and that integrates a tool to automatically record audio, as well as some facilities to upload and share files for group work.

On the other hand, he said that the classic spreadsheets are still useful for him to visualize all the information and organize content. Finally, praised the use of online tools that allow convert files in different formatssuch as PDF to text, for example.

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