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How journalists can use Foursquare for reporting

How journalists can use Foursquare for reporting

Maite Fernandez | November 01, 2011

Knowing where people are gathering has always been important for journalists. From protests to breaking news events that draw bystanders to a trendy new restaurant, reporters need to follow crowds to get the story.

Enter Foursquare, a location-based social network that allows reporters to get a birds-eye view of where people are without leaving the office.

Foursquare, which people use to "check in" to public locations with their smartphones, is becoming an increasingly popular geo-location tool that can be very useful to reporters.

Foursquare uses your mobile phone location - estimated by combining GPS, Wi-Fi and cell tower triangulation - and associates it with places and users that are near you, as the company explains.

IJNet attended a recent workshop about Foursquare led by Beth Shankle, research director and social media trainer at the National Press Club in Washington and came away with these tips.

With over 10 million users worldwide, the start-up launched in 2009 is currently the king of check-in apps. (Competitor Gowalla has 2 million users.)

To harness Foursquare for reporting, you need to first download the free app and install it on your smartphone. When covering a story, you'll find that Foursquare can be useful to:

-Track possible breaking news events and crowdsourcing

Check which places nearby are “hot” right now using Foursquare’s “trending” feature, under “explore.” For example, if a lot of people are checking in at the White House, a protest might be happening there.

Foursquare can also be used for crowdsourcing. By checking user comments, you can track whether people are having problems with public transportation or if a street is blocked.

-Find sources

Foursquare can help find sources when covering an event. For example, Occupy Wall Street has registered more than 6,000 check-ins. (One of Foursquare’s most popular events was The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, with over 30,000 check-ins.)

You can also see some of the people who checked in at a given place or event and find the “mayor” of the venue -the person who checked in the most in the last 60 days.

Users in Foursquare usually provide links to their Facebook or Twitter accounts, a good way to contact them for more information.

However, keep in mind that people’s locations are approximate, due to inaccurate GPS signals, and it is possible to check in to nearby places without actually being there.

Foursquare wants to make it harder for “cheaters” by allowing them to check in but witholding points if the location they say they are doesn’t seem to be right. You can also try what the Washington Post did when covering the Occupy movement by searching for users with several check-ins who also uploaded photos.

-Find photos of a news event

You can also search for photos of breaking news events: Foursquare allows users to upload photos of the places they check in.

Shankle points out a few caveats: Foursquare users are a self-selected group, not everyone has a smartphone and not all Foursquare members are regular users.

But with smartphones becoming increasingly popular and Foursquare being currently the most popular geo-location app of its kind, it's worth keeping an eye on.

@maits