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Drone Journalism – A bird’s-eye view

Drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which were once used solely for military purposes, are gradually becoming more commercial. But firstly, what is a drone? It is a device which can be flown in the air without requiring a human pilot onboard. It can be controlled at distance thus inhibiting any threat for human beings.

This pioneering invention has been exhaustively researched by Professor Matt Waite who established the Drone Journalism Lab at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The main area of his study was to explore the ways on how drones could be utilized for journalism purposes. Fully equipped with high-tech imaging hardware and high-definition video cameras, these pilotless aircrafts could reach highly unapproachable areas and take airborne images that no journalists on the ground could have captured.

Footage obtained from drones

From buildings in fire, to mass protests and natural disasters, a drone can safely get images without endangering any human life. Newsgathering has reached a new dimension with drones as the latter can obtain stunning shots of perilous situations. For example, following the tornado that wrecked havoc across Arkansas, drones were used to get an aerial view of the extent of the damage. Since the path of the destruction was extensive, a picture shot from the ground would not have been able to cover the whole scene. Moreover, drones were reported to have been used for footage of fires in Australia as well as disastrous floods in southern England.

Nevertheless, some might still argue that autonomous helicopters could be used instead of unmanned aircraft systems. However, drones, being relatively cheaper, are capable of reaching places even a helicopter couldn’t such as nearing a burning building or hovering right above a crowd of protesting people.

Regulatory laws for the usage of commercial drones

Matt Waite, founder of the Drone Journalism Lab, stated that the rules and regulations of drone journalism in America are more stringent than anywhere else. Commercial usage is prohibited whereas the government and hobbyists are entitled to use drones. Nonetheless, this rule didn’t hinder the practice of news reporting as drone recordings captured by a civilian amateur were used for media purposes when a Manhattan building collapsed in March.

Laws in other continents are however less rigorous. For example in the United Kingdom, commercial drones are permitted but restricted to a flight range of the unmanned aircraft system from the earthbound pilot. However, in highly dense areas such as in urban zones, getting the approval for the usage of drones is more tedious. Notwithstanding, in Australia, drone journalism is common as the laws are very permissive and cricket matches filmed by a hovering drone were broadcast on Fox network.

On the other hand, back in the American airspace, official rulings on flying unmanned aircraft systems from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected in September 2015, are highly anticipated. As Professor Waite said, “The potential applications out there for farming, for search and rescue, for infrastructure management, for environmental regulation, for all kind of things – is really just stuck until the FAA acts. And as soon as they do, you’re gonna see an industry just spring up overnight”. But for the present time, the FAA has taken actions against any use of the drones for search or rescue as well as for photography or news reporting. As for example, a fine of $10,000 was issued by the FAA to the Washington Nationals baseball team for recording an aerial video of their training session last spring by a drone.

Whilst the FAA is still trying to ban the use of commercial drones, these highly sophisticated device can be purchased online for approximately $500. Hobbyists or journalists, you can easily acquire this prized possession and enjoy a unique experience of airborne imageries which are most certainly unique and breathtaking!

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