Google Hangouts Closes Reporter, Audience Gap

Google Hangouts Closes Reporter, Audience Gap

Reporter shares insights from Hangouts On Air experiment
Editor's Note: Axiom News is partnering with The Gazette Company, a Cedar Rapids media organization, to share its stories. This story highlights an innovative way that journalists can be more collaborative in their reporting through the use of new technologies. This is part of an exploration of how journalists and community can cocreate stories together. 
 
One of the latest news experiments being tested out by The Gazette and KCRG involves webcams and a reliable internet connection. Part of Google Plus, Hangouts is an online video conferencing platform (like Skype) that allows people to have private or public, live-streamed video conversations.
 
“One thing we’ve been talking about a lot is how to get the community more engaged and make them feel like they’re more part of story and that 
 
  Hayley Bruce

they’re being heard in terms of what we’re writing about. I think this is a good way to do that because it lets them participate and closes that gap between the reporter and the source,” says Hayley Bruce, in-depth/enterprise reporter with The Gazette’s digital team.

Hayley helped launch The Gazette’s first Hangouts On Air experiment last month, which demonstrated what closing that gap can look like. Journalists often act as liaisons between communities and experts, Hayley explains, but Hangouts blur the lines for audiences as they can ask their own questions to experts via live chat while the conversation streams.

KCRG reporter Nicole Agee hosted a live-stream conversation on technology in the classroom with technology integrationist Sarah Lalk and technology co-ordinator Matt Nelson from Waverly-Shell Rock Community School District the day before a feature story was published. Questions were also crowdsourced from audiences during the broadcast.
 
All Hangouts On Air conversations are automatically saved to a Google Plus user’s YouTube channel, making them available for anyone who missed the live video chat.
 
Hayley and others on the digital team have ideas for future, continued use of Google Hangouts. Chats can be convened before and after stories are published, for instance, in order to gauge what people are interested in, and to determine what questions to ask sources and what direction to inquire into through reader participation.
 
The platform also provides a means for story follow-up after a piece runs, as many reporters receive follow-up questions. “Through a Google Hangout, you can go back to people and answer some of those lingering questions.”
 
“That’s when this process functions best — when we’re all giving each other feedback,” she adds.
 
Hayley was greeted with interest from other reporters when she talked about Google Hangouts over lunch. She finds it encouraging that reporters are open to taking some time out of their day to experiment with new tools for engaging communities in new ways.
 
“A lot of the time, people aren’t thinking about the digital component, they’re thinking about the deadline, so it’s helpful to gear people in that direction,” she says. Hayley is keeping an eye out for stories that lend themselves well for additions like Google Hangouts conversations or interactive maps.
 
The team is also considering using the video conferencing platform to host conversations or forums during elections, especially with candidates located outside of Cedar Rapids.
 
“It’s a cool tool, but there are some holdbacks as far as technology,” Hayley cautions. The team is experimenting via trial and error to find the best applications of Google Hangouts with an awareness that it may not be ideal under all scenarios.
 
“The people you’re talking to have to have the right equipment — a webcam and microphone — and figure out some of the complicatedness of Google Plus. It’s not easy to do last minute,” Hayley says.
 
The interview conducted for this story, in fact, raised some of these technical complications. Google Hangouts On Air automatically records the screen that the host selects — whether it’s the host’s screen or that of one of the other call participants. Even when all seems set up and ready to go, in that moment of realizing that your words and movements are being recorded, it can distract from remembering to switch the screen back to oneself for recording purposes — which happened in this instance. A screen recording from the other end also ran up against technical challenges, rendering its audio unusable.
 
“Like I said . . . trial and error. :) ” notes Hayley in a follow-up email.
 
 

A version of this article was originally written for the Our Voice news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)axiomnews.ca.