By Deb Christian

NEW YORK — Religion Communicators Council national convention attendees were treated to a “three-fer” when Daniel Sieberg presented a Friday afternoon keynote. Sieberg, global head of media outreach with the Google News Lab, revealed new digital tools to improve storytelling, offered a sneak peek at news reporting’s future, and challenged our thinking about the relevance and value of virtual reality for communications.

Sieberg discussed the tools, data and program pillars Google News Lab has available to help communicators tell the stories of the news. Along with the tools, Google News Lab trains journalists to best use them. The site has a curriculum with 35 lessons targeted to journalists. Media partnership training networks working with different organizations have been created.

Future of news reporting

Google Trends collects data and formats it numerous ways show what people are most interested in. Information illustrating election information collected can be shown in real time on graphs. Live Stream is a way of publishing on Google that makes it possible to speak directly to billions of users. Reporters will be able to learn how to verify the accuracy and get permission to use first draft, raw video – the eye-witness media that cell phones make possible – in crisis reporting situations.

Sieberg spoke about how the new technologies make it possible for YouTube creators to ask direct questions of candidates and make videos of the responses and release the information to even wider audiences.

Is virtual reality relevant?

A new Ricoh camera, about the size of a projector remote, is on the market that can create 360 still images or video to show the view from an election debate stage or as a camera-sourced virtual reality image. Computer-generated and augmented virtual reality along with the camera-sourced experiences can be crafted to show what it is like to be in solitary confinement, for example. The new Google tool is called Google cardboard.

More tools

Not all users are as savvy about these new technologies, however. During a Q&A session, Sieberg listed several Google tools that are basic to intermediate level of difficulty to learn to use. They included Google Trends, a basic-level tool that can be used to explore data; Fusion Tables will fuse tables of data and is intermediate level tool and has step by step instructions; Google Scholar, also intermediate level, provides papers on various topics, written by experts; Public Data Explorer will aggregate data and is also a basic to intermediate-level tool.

Google doesn’t produce news, but wants to foster the growth of news, said Sieberg. Google sees itself as a news “accelerator.” Noting Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it available and accessible,” he also spoke about a smart, passionate staff that is oriented toward doing the right thing.

A final question: How is the integration of Google tools changing the way news coverage agenda is set? It offers so many more choices for writers, reporters, journalists and other communicators when media and technology intersect.

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