Using Google Trends in the newsroom

While most student journalists are pretty familiar with Google’s suite of applications and tools, one they may be unaware of is Google Trends. This Google tool allows users to discover what searches are or were trending at specific times and in specific locations around the world.

Here are a few examples of how the tool could be useful to journalists:

  • In doing a historical retrospective story, reporters could look back at the trending topics for specific months and years.
  • In covering an election, reporters could look at the popularity of search terms in different areas and compare them to the popular search terms in their own region.
  • To measure the popularity of a new trend, reporters could compare the number of searches before and after it was introduced.

I plan to introduce the idea to my own staff with a little mini-lesson. For this lesson, they will work with a partner, and each pair will have a Chromebook.

  1. Discuss with a partner: You have been assigned a story about popular trends that irritate teachers. After talking to a few teachers, you want to gather some data on the trends they mentioned (fidget spinners, water bottle flipping, air pods). How would you approach the story?
  2. Introduce Google Trends: Project the Google Trends search engine and demonstrate how the search tool works. Search a recent topic of conversation. Choose two terms to compare over a period of time (Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the year 2016, for example).
  3. Show an example of how Google Search data was used in a journalistic story. Here’s a recent one: Is another recession on the horizon? Google search data has some clues.
  4. Apply: Partners open their Chromebook and begin searching for the annoying trends story. Give them plenty of time to experiment and see what they find. Together, they need to make three interesting factual observations using the trend data.
  5. Whole-class discussion: What worked? What didn’t? What did you discover about the tool? How might you use this as a reporting tool?

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of The Whirlwind newsmagazine and online news publication at West Albany High School in Albany, Ore. She's done some print stuff, some video stuff, and some web stuff over the past 16 years as a student media adviser.

Michelle Balmeo has 66 posts and counting. See all posts by Michelle Balmeo

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