Many people would not think of journalism in the same breath as drones. What in the world could the two have in common?
Is this why drone journalism appeared relatively late compared to other industries?
The concept of drone journalism was first considered in 2002 at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies by Larry Larsen, who studied the ethical and practical use of UAVs for reporting and research. In 2003 he built his first drone, a quadcopter platform, to be specifically used for journalistic purposes using streaming wireless video.
It was not until 2011 that Drone Journalism Lab was founded by Matt Waite, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2013 The University of Missouri in Columbia, one of the top-ranked journalism schools in the country, was one of the first universities that offered journalism students drones as professor Bill Allen put it, “technology in the journalism tool box.”* Students were encouraged to take drone flying lessons, viewing drones as “information tools.” Students are taught how drones can assist their craft with drone photography, video and investigative information and reporting.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then drones and journalism should go hand-in-hand!
In 2016 CNN was the first major TV network to use drones. Their own aerial unit hired two small plane pilots, one of them who was a young graduate of CNN’s photojournalism school. To them, the key was to put this “tool” in the hands of the right creative person’s hands with the right technical person to execute.
Drones have the potential to monitor virtually everything and one of the things that is so attractive about drones is their maneuverability and agility. Because they are so nimble, they can provide imagery previously inaccessible at locations without risk to a journalist or pilot. Furthermore, their latest models are equipped with high definition technology which makes it possible to provide amazing footage of any scene of interest.
One of the obvious ways that drones can play an important part is in high-risk areas like war zones which can be dangerous. Drones make it possible to get close-ups that are too hazardous for journalists.
In the past, reporters took aerial footage with helicopters, which they rented and incurred very high production costs. Drone technology, on the other hand, allows journalists to cover highly vulnerable areas. These flying machines enable journalists to take footage—photos and video recording—of news events such as natural disasters, volcanic eruptions, and war-torn villages relatively safely with less effort and cost than in the past.
CBS’s “60 Minutes” covered a segment of a journalist who was able to safely use a drone to capture aerial footage of the villages around Chernobyl in Ukraine which was virtually abandoned after a nuclear plant explosion in 1986.
Social media has challenged the more traditional way journalism has operated in the past.
It now is often instantaneous with less regard for officials who are more tied to formal structures, that is, how information is packaged and disseminated.
Twitter, iphones (with their cameras) and drones worked in tandem to open up a window to what was happening during the Arab Spring. When official sources could not be relied upon what was happening in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Syria, twitter and iphones provided some of the information and drones assisted in providing a more complete picture.
Drones not only provide photography and videography, but also 3Dmodels. This means 3D reconstructions of buildings, structures, landscapes, etc. The result is virtual reality (VR) content, either through 360 video or a 3D VR environment, which gives journalists a more insightful view of the effects of natural disasters, etc.
Besides a pen, a paper, and a computer, drones are indispensable to journalists in catching scenes and action as-it-happens.