American Journalism Heroes vs. Today’s Google Era Reporter

In Journalism by UFSocial Staff

by Celeste Martinez, UFSocial Contributor

1864. Nellie Bly, the first female journalist, was born. She is known for taking some challenges during her research process, specifically posing as a mental patient to write a series of articles, Ten Days in a Madhouse, about the conditions at mental institutions.

1948. Ray Sprigle, a white journalist from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, camouflaged himself as black and traveled 3,000 miles through the South to see how was the daily life for 9 million blacks under Jim Crow’s racial segregation laws. When he went back home he put together a 21-part series about his experience.

Both of these journalists embarked on risky journeys to deliver content to their audiences. It was the way to get a closer glimpse at the real situation: to be physically present and see it themselves so they could go back and report about it. This type of research comprises the old form of journalism. As the digital age is evolving and Google has become a one-stop place in which users can perform any type of search, it has also become a hub of information for journalists.

Research is one of the core duties of a journalist as he or she writes a news story. Google has devoted the last couple of years to providing multiple tools, like Google Images, YouTube, Google Hangouts, and Google Maps, that make this process easier to bear; it has moved this task from the field to the journalist’s desk.

Let’s see the differences between the old journalist and the Google era journalist:


Storytelling and verification

In traditional journalism, there were no other type of media standing between the person telling the story and the actual story. What readers were able to read was a story seen through their eyes and narrated out of personal experience; stories that they put together. Production and validation of information was in the hands of the person conducting the interview because they were the source.

Here is an excerpt from Ten Days in a Mad-House:

“The water was ice-cold, and I again began to protest. How useless it all was! I begged, at least, that the patients be made to go away, but was ordered to shut up. The crazy woman began to scrub me. I can find no other word that will express it but scrubbing.”

As a journalist, Nellie Bly was at the heart of the story. She took what she was witnessing and turned it into a news story. The only information given to her to write that story was the one seen through her eyes.

Today, as journalists write their own stories, they have access to a lot of information information to include using Google search, Google+, Google Maps and Google Trends. By using Google, they find multiple types of content from different sources, like news articles, images, maps, public data, alerts, and news archives.

If a journalist has to write a story today about Nelly Bly, here are Google Search results, which even include a location on Google Maps for a shop named after the journalist:


Screen Shot Google Search Nelly Bly


Screen Shot Google Maps

Screen Shot Google Maps

Because there is so much information from different sources, there is a need to engage in a verification process. For example, there is quotes section in Google Images. If a journalist were to use one of those quotes, they have to make sure they are Nelly Bly’s. In order to do that, they can continue their search on Google to see if there is a lot of content related to that quote, which may point out to its veracity.

Here is a look at one quote, followed by Google search results, which may indicate the quote belongs to Bly.


Screen Shot Google Images

Screen Shot Google Images


Screen Shot Google Search

Screen Shot Google Search



Nellie Bly and Ray Sprigle spent some time engaging in personal conversations throughout their experiences, as they were writing the story about them. They were physically present at those particular places. This most probably helped in building trust and openness between the interviewer and interviewees.

Here is an excerpt from Sprigle’s I was a Negro in the South for 30 Days, which shows that one-on-one and trust building:

Records of actual court cases, prove there is no justice for the Negro in criminal court. Every Negro I talked to insists that there is equally no justice for him in civil courts.

“If you black, you never mess with no white man in court,” a black share-cropper told me when I asked him why he didn’t sue “The Man” (the landlord).

“All you git is mo’ and worse trouble.”

In today’s Google era journalists can use Google Hangouts to make these interviews from a distance, thus creating certain anonymity because of the fact that they’re not physically present. There may be less trust from the person on the other side and the dynamic of the conversation may not be the same as the one that flows when one person is in front of the other. On the other hand, Google Hangouts cuts distance, saves news organizations travel expenses and makes it possible to extend the life of a piece of content, while engaging audiences.

In 10 Ways Reporters Can Use Hangouts on Air to Enhance News Coverage, Sarah Hill recommends using Hangouts to continue the conversation after airing studio interviews. Here is an example of a news organization hosting a Hangout with Mike Tyson and viewers after airing a studio interview:


Taking into consideration the journalist’s process before and after Google, it’s important to note that Google’s development has brought with it the possibility to enhance the journalist’s storytelling and research processes. Notibly it can also provide tools to help in the verification of information, such as Google Reverse Image which helps trace an original photograph on-line.

Google gives access to data to create compelling visuals (Google Public Data Explorer), helps journalists discover historical publications and scanned newspapers (Google News Archive) and even assists in speaking any language (Google Translate). The result is a one-stop place which journalists can access from their desks to deliver valuable content.

Speaking about valuable content, here is a tribute to Nelly Bly paid by Google in May 5, 2015 to commemorate her 151th birthday.

About the Author

Celeste Martínez is a marketing and communications professional who has been helping brands build meaningful relationships with their customers through point-of-purchase marketing for more than a decade. As founder of Buzzworthy Creations, she brings her experience in marketing and sales to provide customers with solutions to influence customers to choose a specific brand at the point-of-purchase, online through social media and offline through promotional materials.

About the Author

UFSocial Staff