📍A free way to transcribe recordings, analyze documents and more
How to make the most of Pinpoint, part of Google's toolkit for journalists — Wonder Tools #137
Google’s Pinpoint is a free digital hub for storing and analyzing giant collections of documents, emails, audio files, handwritten notes and more. It’s part of the Journalist Studio, Google’s free toolkit for research, data analysis, and data visualization. Many of the tools are useful regardless of what field you’re in. Read on for how to make the most of Pinpoint and an overview of other free services in the toolkit.
Note: I’m spending holiday time with family; this post is a refresh of a prior post. - Jeremy
Here’s what Pinpoint can do
You can store up to 200,000 documents in each collection. Request more space if you need it.
But it’s not Pinpoint’s storage that’s most valuable. The platform helps you to spot subtle data patterns or anomalies. In exploring a giant collection of FBI documents on Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, Pinpoint helped me pick out specific references to Gandhi.
Pinpoint doesn’t ask the questions for you, but it makes it easy to query data efficiently so you can explore lots of angles. It’s fast and free of extraneous menus so you can focus on analysis without complex commands.
Pinpoint’s notable features
Transcribe audio recordings to help you locate key moments
Pull text from images
Extract text from handwritten documents to make them searchable.
These are crucial capabilities if you’re exploring a collection of old letters, notes, or recorded meetings or interviews.
Telling stories with data requires multiple steps. The process often starts with a question. You find data, clean it up, organize it, pore over it, analyze it and look for patterns. You spot anomalies. You identify inflection points. You visualize the data, contextualize it and present it.
Doing all of that work manually on a giant dataset without machine assistance can be a prohibitively tough task given the constraints today’s reporters are under.
A new form of computer-assisted research
Pinpoint doesn’t obviate the need for investigative insight and effort. It just lets committed journalists or researchers point computing power at mundane aspects of document exploration, like searching for term references and transcribing audio. That frees up time and attention for deeper digging and for following up on connections that surface between entities in the documents.
In addition to drawing on your own private data sets, you can start with 60+ data collections from partners like the Washington Post. These include Mueller investigation court filings, various materials from Bolsonaro, JFK assassination records, and more than a decade of congressional financial disclosures added by the Center for Public Integrity.
For any journalist on the receiving end of leaked data, evidence of corruption, or secret audio recordings, Pinpoint provides a crucial new helping hand.
Note: Pinpoint doesn’t work well on mobile devices, so plan to use it from a 🖥️ computer.
Fill out this form to request access to Pinpoint
To see this in action, join me for a live demo with Google News Lab's U.S. teaching fellow, Mary Nahorniak. In this 45-minute Pinpoint training:
Learn how to upload and examine your own document sets with powerful searches of handwritten notes and text within images.
We'll show you how to use Pinpoint to transcribe audio and video files, such as interviews and recorded meetings.
We'll review case studies & see how U.S. newsrooms have used Pinpoint.
Google Journalist Studio also includes:
The Common Knowledge Project | Explore, visualize, and share data about local topics of interest
Data Commons | Combine publicly available data across multiple open sources such as census.gov, cdc.gov, data.gov
Google Data GIF Maker | Make little gifs out of simple data comparisons. They’re not as fancy as these data gifs, but neat anyway.
Dataset Search | Search for data — on COVID-19, for example
Fact Check Explorer | Find fact checks about a person or topic
Google Trends | See what’s popular where. Find ideas for potential end-of-year trend stories.
Project Shield is a free service to defend news, human rights and election monitoring sites from DDoS attacks, which are used to censor information by taking websites offline
Flourish | Make charts, graphs, tables and graphics. This free tool for creating data visualizations is now owned by Canva. Try it even if you’ve never made a chart in your life. Read my prior post for more on Flourish.
Census Mapper | Get an embeddable map that displays U.S. Census data at the national, state and county level, as well as census tracts. Here’s an example of a quick census map for Suffolk County, NY.
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Hi, Jeremy! There’s a service called omg.lol and I’m trying to learn more about it but getting stuck. It offers an affordable single web/profile page that you can create ( <username>.omg.lol ) but it does a lot more than that too. It’s the “a lot more than that” that I’m struggling with. I thought maybe it might make a nice tool for a future issue of Wonder Tools. It’d be nice to have someone who can break down the tech-speak. I mean, I thought PURLs were something my mother wore but it turns out they’re actually Persistent URLs. Weird. I don’t know what the use case for them is, but hey, omg.lol offers them and I wanna use them if I can figure out how and why. Also, it all somehow integrates with Mastodon (another future issue of Wonder Tools?) and the fediverse, but I’m all like 🤷🏻♂️
Anyway, just a thought!
This is brilliant. I’ve signed up. Thanks for sharing PinPoint.