By Admir, pharmacist by profession and hobby dronist by passion. He runs a review/news website on drones –https://dronepedia.xyz. You can find him on Twitter @derAdmir.
In the space of a few short years, the media gathering capabilities of the journalistic community has been changed dramatically, and it all comes down to one thing: drones.
Ten years ago the idea of using drones for news production was a fever dream; a wouldn’t it be nice if?
But over the last five years the state of drone technology has developed with striking speed, and now drones are on the cusp of changing how we view journalism in a holistic sense.
In late 2015 while he was struggling with a federally imposed grounding of his innovative drone journalism program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Matt Waite expressed his concern that when drones were let loose into the news media, the risk that they would be over-used was enormous.
He knew that image capture ability of drones is unprecedented, and then when the media at-large got the chance to use them on a daily basis, journalism would never be the same.
Matt Waite was right.
A New Perspective
A brand new word has been created; “Dronalism”.
If you have never heard it spoken, you are probably in the majority. It has been created in response to the amazing and rapid impact that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones are having on journalism.
In 2015, if you wanted to fly a drone for any commercial purpose in the United States, journalism included, you needed to be a registered pilot. Needless to say, there were very few newsrooms that could afford such a luxury, but on August 29, 2016 all of that changed.
The ability for a reporter who has minimal piloting skills and a small budget to capture both photographs and videos with a drone is truly a game changer. Places that were inaccessible to any other kind of aerial vehicle are now fair game, and the implications are enormous.
For the small time reporter the ability to get a drone up into the air in order to better illustrate a natural disaster is invaluable.
The difference between a picture of a street that has been ripped apart by a tornado and a flying shot from a few hundred feet up is dramatic. Once people can see the scale of the damage the impact of the story is completely different. Until recently if a reporter wanted to get that high overhead shot, they were limited to using a helicopter and a gyro-stabilized camera. We are talking about some seriously expensive images. Now for the price of a good quality dSLR a reporter can have access to that same kind of image gathering capability, and so much more.
Portable, Accessible and Revolutionary
The New York Times wanted to do a story on Hart Island. For those of you that don’t know where or what that is, Hart Island is an island on the western side of Long Island Sound, and is also where the City of New York buries all of the city’s unclaimed dead, using prison labor. The NYTimes wanted to send a reporter out, and check out what was going on out there on the island, but despite numerous requests, they were rejected. Because Hart Island is a area that is controlled by the Department of Corrections, it is clearly restricted airspace. But not for dronalism.
For the NYTimes in the Hart Island situation, the only reason they could cover the story at all is because of drone technology. A helicopter could not have entered the area above Hart Island legally, but a drone made it all come together for them. In addition to making the story possible for the NYTimes, dronalism actually was superior to any other imaging technique, as they were able to poke around the island for a while and investigate areas that no one had seen before. They even uncovered a previously unknown steel hatch on the far side of the island, and were able to watch the prisoners working out in the trenches. A few years ago the city’s denial of access would have ended the story, but now that we have drones journalists have options they never could have dreamed of.
Dronalism can also make a big difference for news gathering in hostile environments, as was seen recently in documenting the destruction in Aleppo.
Between the savage battles that have raged in Aleppo over the last few years, a group of activists and journalists who call themselves The Aleppo Media Center have used drones to document the unimaginable damage to the once great city. Because drones are small and highly maneuverable, this brave group of dronalists has been able to record striking images of the ravaged city that would have been impossible to capture in any other way.
War time journalism has always been a risky profession. There have always been times during battles that any journalist would take cover, and not risk their life for a photo. Drones give reporters an amazing advantage in this regard, and with the ability to record streaming images remotely they can gather media that is truly unique.
But it’s not just war time journalism that can benefit from dronalism, many other areas of reporting can be enhanced with the use of drones to capture otherwise impossible images. During times of civil unrest it can be next to impossible to record the scale of the people as they demonstrate in the streets. But as the 2013 riots in Thailand have shown, image capture by drones can make all the difference for the news media.
When the Thai people took to the streets in late 2013 some of the news media there decided to field drones to capture the sometimes violent demonstrations from angles that would have been impossible otherwise. Not only do drones offer a reporter a new and previously impossible way to capture an event, but in the case of these riots, dronalists were not subject to nearly the same level of risk that a traditional reporter with a hand-held camera would have been.
Drones offer journalism incredible new abilities and many of them come with ethical dilemmas that we are just starting to grasp. From the perspective of versatility dronalism is a huge leap forward, but some of the capabilities that drones put into our reach are disconcerting for a variety of reasons. One of the most obvious criticisms that has been brought up is the almost certain abuse of drone technology by the paparazzi. The last thing we need is for them to get their hands on potentially anonymous flying cameras. But like with any new technology; there will be both positive and negative aspects to the continued adoption of dronalism.
Sadly it was not long after drones were introduced that celebrities began to be stalked by them, and the trend has only gotten worse. Unfortunately with the cost of drones being so low relative to what the value of the images that they can capture, paparazzi can treat the drone as a “throw away” as long as the video is recorded remotely. Another concern that dronalism raises is that of public safety, and there has already been one near-miss in South Africa where a man was almost knocked from the roof of a building by a passing drone. Luckily no one was hurt, but the dronalists were prosecuted for their reckless piloting.
Of course the argument that a news van could easily be driven irresponsibility, or that the paparazzi were an absolute menace long before drones existed is a perfectly valid point. In most cases whether a technology is a help or a hindrance comes down to how we use it, and that will be true of drones as much as it is of anything. Matt Waite brings up a more positive criticism of dronalism, and that is that with now easy access to previously expensive looking videography, news directors everywhere will be using drones for anything that they can think of. This is an extremely valid criticism, and there has already been a parallel to it in motion pictures and entertainment television, where drone photography is being used extensively for transition scenes among other things.
The market for drone technology is growing every year, and image capture is a huge driver of that growth. Between 2014 and 2017 Business Intelligence has estimated that the number of drones that has been shipped from factories has more than tripled, to nearly 200,000 units.
As the price of drones continues to fall, and their capabilities continue to rise, it is not hard to see why the same source thinks that by 2020 more than half a million drones will be shipped world-wide.
Another driver for the adoption of drones is the size and capability of digital video cameras. It is now possible to find drones that can shook 4k video for around $1500 usd, and it seems like the trend is towards more quality for less money in every aspect there is.
As the market for drones has grown so has the quality of the control software. There are safety and tracking features being added all the time, and this will only make people more likely to buy a drone.
One thing is certain; whatever the future of drones is commercially, when it comes to dronalism the world of journalism is forever changed and there is no going back.