Credit: By Sam Azgor on Flickr. Some rights reserved

In some parts of the world, newsgathering has become an increasingly difficult task, both for foreign correspondents and local journalists who risk jail sentences or even death to report the news.

"Meanwhile, there's also a lot of technological attacks on the ability for people in many countries around the world to get information out," said Trevor Snapp, director of programs at Nuba Reports, a start-up that documents people's lives on Sudan's frontline.

Snapp chaired a panel on "professionalising citizen journalism" at The Frontline Club in London on Tuesday, pointing out that "it's time to come up with new solutions, new ideas, new experiments, new ways of getting information out of these places".

The number of journalists working in the field is declining, whether because of safety concerns in certain areas or a general lack of funding, he said. And newsgathering is increasingly happening on social media, where eyewitnesses share images and videos from the ground.

But there's a danger of losing this channel too if journalists do not approach eyewitnesses with consideration.

"If eyewitness media is not treated properly, if the people who are creating this content are not treated properly, they will disappear behind closed doors," said John D McHugh, founder of visual news agency Verifeye, speaking on the panel.

"It's already disappearing into chat apps and a lot of that's coming from... the poor treatment of these eyewitnesses. These people are sources and we should be treating them very carefully if we want to use their content in our journalism."

As journalism has transformed from a one way lecture to a conversation, there are concerns that reporters could be shut out of these conversations, as audiences might not consider some interactions between journalists and the public ethical or appropriate in breaking news scenarios.

Bombarding eyewitnesses who could still be in dangerous situations with requests to use their photos or provide more information is one of the issues the industry is grappling with, now that user-generated content is a daily fixture in news.

John Pullman, global video of video and pictures at Reuters, told Journalism.co.uk in October the industry needs to avoid "the wolf pack mentality" when working with eyewitnesses. "Does the witness of a school shooting really want to get a hundred and fifty approaches on Twitter or Facebook saying 'give me your name and number, I'm interested in your picture'?"

As conversations are moving underground, explained Snapp, it can take longer for facts and reports from the ground to surface, as they can "go through a long pipeline of WhatsApp" before being posted on a public social network.

"As a foreign correspondent your value is your network, and you're very careful with that network, whether it's a fixer or a friend or a contact you know, you're always kind of nurturing that... You screw that, you screw yourself." But there's a tendency to move on quickly from contacts and stories on social networks, he said.

"In a conversation you have to behave in a reasonably respectful way or you get cut out," said McHugh, "and this is real danger". He highlighted how exchanges that once used to happen in public on blogs or on Twitter are now moving to private chat apps.

"We're going to miss out on incredibly valuable information and it's our own fault.

"This is happening right now and if we don't pay attention, it's going to be gone before you know it," said McHugh.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).