I’ve been a journalist by trade for over seven and a half years now and ever since I started out I’ve had a handy tool at my disposal – and it is called Google. Some of the senior journalists I know bemoan the rise and rise of this ‘Google Generation’ using contrived facts and figures and blindly narrating or writing those facts as the absolute truth, but I can’t imagine not using Google. Even though, nothing, absolutely nothing beats the remarkable impact that the mobile phone has had, especially in India.
I really don’t think Google is that bad as a tool. Sometimes when I have to find numbers and the government of India for one usually puts out their numbers in some hidden table somewhere on the world wide web, Google is a boon. Or for finding out email addresses or mobile phone numbers. Popping a simple search string into Google can save you the headache of asking around for numbers.
Especially since we might work with colleagues who treat their phone books as a state secret. I’m lucky that I don’t work with such people, but some of you in the profession know exactly what I’m talking about – heck, I’ve heard cases of journalists actually calling up their contacts and insisting that they don’t speak with the new kid. Google has been an equaliser in those respects.
Sure, some of those on the ‘Free Tibet’ side of things argue about Google’s ethics when it comes to China, but then again India’s ethics with China are equally bad, even though we now have proof that they tried to sabotage things at Vienna. Of course, our diplomacy with certain states is suspect, particularly given our own vibrant and positively chaotic democracy, but that isn’t the point.
The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t think I would have been able to do a lot of the stories that I have done over the years without the amazing search engine or the internet for that matter. Sure, it has spawned a whole generation of extremely lazy folks who take Google and its search results as the absolute truth. When I say we can’t trust what we read sometimes it is because people have copied passages verbatim from Wikipedia via Google or film critics have taken entire passages after searching for ‘(Insert Movie Name) review’. And worse!
But Google has also given a voice to the dispossessed and downtrodden as well as those who disagree with the general point of view laid out by pretty PR types.
Sure, I don’t particularly like Chrome. I’m far too used to needing a toolbar, and despite claims of propriety, using a Google browser gives me the heebie-jeebies when it comes to privacy concerns. Not that Google couldn’t know what I did once I logged into a service provided by the big G, such as Gmail or Google Reader.
But on the whole, I think Google has helped Journalism, particularly in a time of shortening deadlines and the battle for sound-bytes you could always fire up your computer and find a nice familiar web-page. Google. Heck, I’m switching back to Firefox and I continue to love Windows and MSN Live Search isn’t that bad. But Google is like this good friend online (though pagerank manipulators still exist – though they’re called Search Engine Optimisation companies) which usually tells you what you need to know.