Foursquare can be a useful journalism tool

By ALEX BRYANT

To many, it may sound like just one more social media site that allows a person to reveal way too much information about themselves, but Foursquare can actually be a good journalistic tool if the time is taken to understand how the site works.

The premise of Foursquare is that a user sets up an account and then, using their phone (either SMS texting or a smart phone), lets the site know where they are. This person’s profile then shows up letting everyone that follows them where they are at the time and maybe even who they are with.

With this technology, there is the obvious advantage of figuring out where a source is at a particular time in case a journalist is trying to hunt them down or tracking where a source has been in case it becomes relevant during a later interview.  However, there are some other uses of Foursquare that make the site a handy little tool.

If a journalist builds up a nice-sized network of friends and followers, they can take a look at trends of where a nice chunk of these people are logging in from.  This can be beneficial if they want to write a story about a local spot that is becoming extremely popular and investigate exactly what is causing the change in traffic. Maybe places pop up on Foursquare that a food critic has never heard of, giving them new places to check out and review. There are a few keys though before Foursquare becomes a top source for every journalist looking for a hot tip:

  1. Make sure that the network is built tactfully. It wouldn’t be wise for a journalist to add a ton of random people in the area, just to see where they might be going. This kind of action could scare some people and might cause you to get reported to the site.
  2. Make sure that the sources are trustworthy. There are rewards for users checking in as many times as possible from a certain location, so they might be stopping by just to build up the Foursquare points.
  3. Realize that the site is young and that many people are still coming around to the tweeting phenomenon, so a Foursquare network might take even more time to grow.

With those three tips in mind, journalists should be able to understand Foursquare to the point that it becomes another tool in the arsenal to help produce the best story possible.

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