Surfacing images from breaking news situations is not only a laborious process, however, but one with many uncertainties and considerations – from verifying material to getting the permission to use it and working out the best way to credit the witness.
Deutsche Welle wants to simplify the process of gathering eyewitness media by taking a more proactive approach to engagement in a new version of their app due to launch in June.
The app will include geolocated push notifications to encourage users to send in images or videos, said Björn Rosenthal, strategic product manager, speaking at the PBS Journalism Innovation Summit in London last week.
"We want to have interaction with the user not only by being able to comment on an article but also being able to send content," he told Journalism.co.uk after his talk.
But the popular approach of building a button into the app inviting users to 'upload your content' is not that effective, he added.
"We don't think that makes the user really send us content, so we thought it would be a wise idea to really have the possibilities to send a geolocation-based push notification."
He's hoping the new app will help gather footage from the scene of an international event, as Deutsche Welle's reporters "can't be everywhere".
Rosenthal said app users would already have the right tools and technology needed to take pictures and record video, and in most cases the quality would be good enough to even broadcast.
The new feature would enable Deutsche Welle to "really make a circle on the map around the area we want," and prompt users in that location to send contributions.
In his talk, he addressed concerns about using the app in conflict zones and other dangerous areas, explaining that it will be first rolled out in safe locations.
He then told Journalism.co.uk this functionality will also help Deutsche Welle cover local stories, as the outlet is publishing in some 29 languages.
"It's not always the case that we want to report about global issues, we always want to have local issues as well."
Once a user has uploaded material to the app, the editorial team will verify the content.
Deutsche Welle is part of a European initiative to create a comprehensive social media verification toolkit called Reveal, aiming to bring together all the existing tools and knowledge into one resource.
"Right now we're thinking about which workflows would work best. The future will show us and I think we will improve the service from month to month," he said.
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