Will Foursquare Badges Really Help Newspapers?

The Wall Street Journal (s nws), which has waded into a fierce battle for local New York readers with the New York Times (s nyt), has turned to the uber-hip social networking service Foursquare for some reinforcements. The Journal announced today that readers can get news and reviews about local spots in the Big Apple through a partnership with Foursquare, and can win special badges that have been created for the newspaper, including the “Urban Adventurer” and “Lunch Box” badges. It seems like an interesting extension of the Journal’s core mandate to deliver news and information, but the important question is whether it will help the paper in any tangible way.
The news and review items are tagged by the Journal with specific locations, so that when a user checks in at that spot with Foursquare, they appear as related “tips.” A recent visit to the Journal’s page on Foursquare showed that news items included one about the George Washington Bridge:

Police were told to stop and search would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi’s car in Sept. 2009 as he drove up to the bridge — but waved him across without finding two pounds of explosives hidden inside.

There was also one about a local restaurant called Aureole:

For lunch, served from noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the most popular entrees are the miso Alaskan black cod ($26) and the grilled burger with bacon and pickled ramp dressing ($19)

And local attractions such as Citi Field:

Watch out for the Mets’ power-hitting outfielder Jason Bay: He’s one of the 10 streakiest hitters in baseball, either very hot or ice cold — and, so far this season, the latter.

Interesting links, but are they relevant to users of Foursquare? That’s hard to say. The restaurant news was 12 hours old, and the George Washington Bridge item appeared to be about something that happened a year ago. There were also items about new events at the Lincoln Center, how Alex Rodriguez is the slowest runner on the New York Yankees, some info about The Mark Hotel’s financial woes and some SEC financial news tagged to the headquarters of Goldman Sachs.

This isn’t the first partnership Foursquare has formed with a news outlet; earlier this year, it signed a deal with Metro News International to provide news items related to local venues in Toronto, and more recently the location-based social networking provider did a deal with the Financial Times to offer points to students who check in at specific locations (Harvard, the London School of Economics, etc.) which can later be redeemed for access to articles behind the paper’s paywall.
The Journal’s experiment with Foursquare is worth applauding, if only because there is so little experimentation coming from some traditional media outlets. But it’s still an open question as to whether it will have tangible results for the WSJ. Are Foursquare users potential Journal subscribers? Will the paper pursue potential advertising connections with Foursquare locations in addition to offering reviews and/or news? That might be better done via Foursquare or Yelp, since they are in that space already — and so what kind of payoff does the Journal get from these partnerships apart from looking cool and hip? Perhaps that is enough for owner Rupert Murdoch.