Mary Ellen Bates on "Google Squared"
Aug 25th, 2009 by analyticjournalism

Mary Ellen Bates offers up this good tip on “Google Squared” at

Bates Information Services, ________________________________________________________________________________________

August 2009

Google Squared

Google Labs — the public playground where Google lets users try out new products or services that aren't yet ready for prime time — is my secret weapon for learning about cool new stuff. My favorite new discovery in Google Labs is Google Squared. It's a demonstration of a search engine trying to provide answers instead of just sites, and at a higher level than the simple “smart answers” you see when you search for “time in Rome” or “area code 909”. Rather, Google analyzes the retrieved pages, identifies common elements, and creates a table with the information it has compiled.

This is a fascinating tool that helps you compile facts into tables that Google builds on the fly. Hard to describe, easier to show. Go to and type in a query that will retrieve a number of similar things — organic farms in Colorado, for example, or women CEOs… even superhero powers.

Google Squared generates a table of facts extracted from its index, with the items you are searching for as the left-most column, along with columns for whatever related characteristics are relevant for the topic. For organic farms in Colorado, for example, the table in the search results has columns for the name of the company, an image from the farm's web site, a snippet of description about the farm, and columns for telephone number, location and “season.” Note that some of these columns may have few entries in them, depending on what information Google analyzed. For women CEOs, the table includes the CEO's name, a photo, a snippet that indicates what her position is, her date of birth, and her nationality. For superhero powers, you will find the superhero's name, a photo, a far-too-brief description of said superhero, the hero's first appearance (in print, that is), publisher and even the hero's “abilities”.

Interestingly, you can insert your own items in a Google Squared table, and either let Google populate the rest of the row or type in whatever content you want in that row. I added Catwoman to my superheroes table and Google filled in the new row with her photo and description; I could provide the rest of the info. For some tables, Google even suggests additional columns. For my superheroes table, I could add columns for Aliases, Alter Ego, Profession (the Joker is a lawyer, of course), and so on. You can add your own columns, as well.

You can also delete a row or column that isn't relevant to your search. If you log in to your Google account, you can save your customized tables for later use. And you can export the table into Excel (the images are exported as URLs).

Google Squared is never going to compete with a real human's analysis of a collection of facts, but it can be a great way to start brainstorming, as a quick way to organize the results of your search, and as a starting point for a nicely-presented deliverable for your client.

“May I publish or reproduce this InfoTip?” Be my guest! Just make sure you credit the source, Bates Information Services, and include the URL,

The Internet, Data and Phil Meyer
Apr 3rd, 2008 by Tom Johnson

Last week we had the opportunity to participate in a symposium honoring Phil Meyer, Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel. About 30 journalism educators, practitioners and former students of Phil's spent the better part of two days kicking hard on the topic “”Raising the Ante: The Internet's Impact on Journalism Education and Existing Theories of Mass Communication.”

Kathleen Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, used the symposium as the basis for her column last week at The column (not quite a blog) is called “Poll Positions” (about public opinion, polls and the process of conducting and reporting them). Here is her column's link:

Kathy's column makes reference to something we wrote on the topic of the future of polling. That short paper, but with all of its hyperlinks, can be found at “Are We Researching How To Do Research?”

On Thursday night Phil gave a short speech at a dinner attended by the participants and his family. In “Something strange and possibly dangerous,” he highlighted that change is not coming, it is here, and that all of us have to change out thinking and practices if democracy is to survive.

“We need to turn our conversation toward an economic theory of journalism. We need to apply existing theory to understanding the processes and effects of the new media. We need to learn how to sell enlightened understanding to the public so that it can preserve its democratic values. The synergy of mass media and mass production is gone, probably forever. Something strange – and possibly dangerous — is taking its place.”

Strange and dangerous and something most exciting.

So why can't this sourcing thing be fixed?
May 23rd, 2005 by JTJ

It can. 

The NYT this morning tells us that “Big News Media Join in Push to Limit Use of Unidentified Sources.”  Readers are told:

Concerned that they may have become too free in granting anonymity to sources, news organizations including USA Today, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, NBC News and The New York Times are trying to throttle back their use.
some journalists worry that these efforts could hamper them from doing
their jobs – coming in a hothouse atmosphere where mistrust of the news
media is rampant, hordes of newly minted media critics attack every
misstep on the Web, and legal cases jeopardize their ability to keep
unnamed news sources confidential….
Last year, The New York Times adopted a more stringent approach to its
treatment of confidential sources, including a provision that the
identity of every unidentified source must be known to at least one
editor. A committee of the paper's journalists recently recommended
that the top editors put in place new editing mechanisms to ensure that
current policies are enforced more fully and energetically.”

We look forward to these “new editing mechanisms.”

Yes, policies on unnamed sources should be made,
those policies should be clear and everyone in the newsroom should know
what they are.  But more often (as in “every day”), editors must
know the sources — indeed, all sources
— are for a story, how to reach those souces and how to verify what
the reporter wrote, even if the reporter is out-of-pocket. 

This is not difficult if journalists recognize that a
PC-based word processing application already has the tools to assist in
this “Who Are The Sources” mission. (If the publication is still using
something like the old Coyote terminals, sorry, we probably can't
help  you.) 

The tool is the “comment” function in the word processor.  While the newsroom is making policies about sourcing, add this one: “Every
paragraph of every story will end with an embedded comment.  That
comment will show editors exactly how the reporter knows what he or she
just wrote.”
  The comment might include a source's name,
phone number and date-time-place of interview.  The comment might
include a URL or a bibliographic citation.  It might include
reference to the specific reporter's notebook.  But in the end,
the comments should be sufficient that an editor can “walk the cat
backward” to determine exactly how the reporter knows what he/she just
wrote.  Doing so helps prevent unwarranted assumptions and errors
of fact, if not interpretation.

There will be those of the Burn-Your-Notes School of
libel defense who will contend this is comment thing is suicidal. 
We would suggest, first, that very few stories ever become court
cases.  Secondly remember that truth is the first defense in libel
actions, and it is our responsibility to deliver that truth.

The NYT: Do as I say (sorta), not as I do
May 8th, 2005 by JTJ

Today's NYT “Week in Review” carries Daniel Okrent's column, “The Public Editor.”  This week's solid piece — “Briefers and Leakers and the Newspapers Who Enable Them” — takes another deserved shot at the use of unattributed and/or anonymous sourcing. 
But both Okrent and the NYT fall short in providing adequate
transparency and leveraging of the digital environment to the benefit
of both readers and the newspaper.

Okrent reports on some analytic work regarding the NYT's use of sourcing
practices, work carried out by a grad student at NYU, Jason B.
Williams.  Okrent gives appropriate attribution to Williams and
his data and, let's assume, reported it correctly.  But he only reported the data.  At the
end of the essay, Okrent quotes NYT editor Bill Keller: “'We need to
get our policies [regarding sourcing] hard-wired into the brains of our
reporters and editors that
we are obliged to tell readers how we know
what we know
,' Bill Keller told me the other day.” [The IAJ's emphasis added.]

Here Keller and Okrent disappoint us by prompting one of the fundamental
admonitions to novice journalists:  Don't TELL the reader, SHOW the reader what you know.

The way
to build reader confidence and improve the relevance of journalism
would have been to provide an online link to Williams' raw data so readers
could explore it for even richer insights and draw their own

Initial published description of the RRAW-P process
Mar 2nd, 2005 by JTJ

It was in the early '90s, when JTJ began thinking about and researching
the process that results in the journalist's product.  It
eventually boiled down to the RRAW-P process:
Research–>Reporting–>Analysis–>Writing and finally
Publishing/Producing/Packaging.  The attached paper first appeared
in the Social Science Computer Review in 1994.

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