It’s an ongoing joke that journalists are notoriously bad at math — after all, that’s probably why a lot us took up writing as a career.
Similarly, I’ve also heard quite a few journos admit to being terrible at estimating crowd sizes (I definitely am), which is kind of insane when you consider the fact that a big part of our jobs is reporting on events, often ones with people at them, and writing articles that eventually become a part of the historical record. So knowing crowd sizes is kind of important in our line of work.
Crowd size became a much talked-about subject after Trump’s inauguration when the White House grossly inflated attendance numbers and accused media of fudging the facts. A few publications clapped back with articles detailing exactly how crowd scientists came to their conclusions. Here are just a few of them:
- Independent: Crowd scientists dispute White House claims about inauguration attendance
- The New York Times: Crowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration
- Vox: A crowd scientist says Trump’s inauguration attendance was pretty average
- Fast Company: The Science And Politics Of Counting The Crowds At The Inauguration And Women’s March
- There are a lot more, trust me.
Well, now a developer from France has harnessed the power of Google Maps and created a tool that lets people easily estimate crowd sizes based on location and crowd density. It’s called MapChecking and was built by Anthony Catel. (It’s currently only in French.)
He told Poynter:
“I just did this in one hour last Thursday morning, to be honest,” Catel said. “I thought, ‘lets do something simple that journalists and readers can use to stop this bullshit.'”
There’s still a bit of guesswork involved, truth be told, but it’s a lot better than pulling numbers out of the air, and I can see it being quite useful for news organizations and journalists who want to make an initial estimate before calling up their crowd scientist sources or for fact-checking those so-called “official” crowd size estimates.
Poynter has a great little step-by-step tutorial on how to use the tool.
Image credit: MapChecking.com