Host Online Debates, Conversations With Google+ Hangouts

Google Hangout has become a low-budget tool that allows journalists to have some “face time” with their audiences.

In the build up to the 2012 elections, The New York Times held a series of conversations with voters on women’s issues, bipartisanship, switching parties and other popular topics of conversation.

Google Hangouts has also been a key aspect of The Huffington Post’s engagement strategy in their HuffPost Live features, which invite both experts and interested readers into live, online conversations.

Here are some other ideas on how StateImpact reporters could consider to use Google Hangouts:

  • Hold an “ask me anything” session on Google Hangout, with yourself or a local leader or expert.
  • Moderate a Hangout debate on core community issues, and embed the Hangout video on your site to generate more discussions.
  • News pitch meeting. Open a Hangout during a story meeting and ask people what they think you should cover.
  • What other ideas can you come up with?

Google Hangout 101

Basic steps for holding a Google Hangout:

  • You need to have a Google+ account first. It’s very easy to register once you’ve had a gmail account.
  • Log into Google+.
  • Create a Google+ post advertising your Google hangout.
  • Click the video icon to start the Hangout and then click “Join”.
  • Click “Invite” (upper left-hand corner of the hangout dialogue). You can invite individuals or whole Google circles.
  • To broadcast the chat live, click “Enable Hangouts On Air.” This will also allow the Hangout to be recorded on YouTube.
  • You can embed the live chat in a webpage, and after the hangout is finished, Google will produce the video and post the finished piece using the same embed link.

Perhaps Hangouts On Air is the most tricky part, and here’s a short tutorial video. You can also refer to common questions page.

Technical Tips

To ensure the success of your Hangout, treat it like any on air shows. You should screen and prepare your participants, and take technical problems into consideration. A blog post from Tow Center For Digital Journalism compiled a very helpful technical checklist:

1. Each participant must have a Google Plus account.
2. Wear headphones to avoid audio feedback.
3. Make sure you have a fast enough connection so as to avoid lag, which, in a six-person conversation, can be a real drag. For a more reliable connection, connect your computer to your modem with an ethernet cable.
4. Frame your face and make sure you’re not backlit. An easy fix to being backlit: place a lamp to the left or right side of your face.
5. Plug in your computer.

Also, as a reminder, a maximum of ten people can now be invited into a single Google Hangout.

If you have good ideas about using Google Hangouts for your reporting, please let us know and we’ll do our best to help you! Also, please share your experiences below so that we can all learn from one another.

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