Crowdsourcing Tool Of The Day: Banjo

It is a scene familiar to many reporters: There’s a news story breaking, but you can’t get on location and no one’s giving any official comments because the situation is still developing. How are you suppose to find and access sources?

Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of smartphone apps, newsrooms now have an entirely new toolbox available to them in breaking news situations. And here’s another one to add to the kit: Banjo

Banjo is an app that describes itself as “a social discovery service.” Available for iPhone and Android users, the app collects social media updates from a variety of networks in real-time and posts them according to geo-tag. You don’t have to “check in” or even be part of a network to see other people’s updates, which are shown on a map.

Banjo from Banjo Inc on Vimeo.

In January, Andy Stettler used Banjo to clarify a breaking news situation. Stettler, an assistant online editor with the Lansdale Reporter, a Pennsylvania newspaper, heard reports about a possible “bomb device” at the King of Prussia Mall. His first thought was to check social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Then he remembered to log into Banjo, which he had installed just days before.

“The local news industry is very competitive in Philadelphia and one of the few ways to get a scoop on other outlets is to use digital tools that the other guys, most likely, aren’t using,” Stettler told me via email.

Almost immediately after logging into Banjo, Stettler noticed a bunch of people had checked in at the mall. He was able to tweet questions to some of them and quickly connected with a man on site who clarified that the entire mall was not being evacuated. Stettler got this fact first through social media — before the police or mall officials would even return a reporter’s call. His paper was able to provide crucial information — that only part of the mall was being evacuated — before their competitors were.

“We were first (that I saw) to mention that only a portion of the mall was being evacuated,” Stettler said. “Once we found out that only a portion of the mall was being evacuated we were able to provide our readers with a sense of comfort in that perhaps this wasn’t as big of an incident as initial reports had indicated.”

Now, Stettler checks into Banjo every morning to see what is going on locally. He  improves the reach of his local network by following people who are tweeting or checking in nearby.

To read more about how Stettler uses Banjo, check out his blog where he chronicled the events in more detail.

Have you used Banjo to crowdsource news? What other tools would you recommend?