Monthly Archives: January 2014

Drone journalism, here to stay or just a passing fad?

Drone journalism, here to stay or just a passing fad?

It’s an interesting question. One that is asked about all disruptive technologies.

And like many other disruptive technologies, here is why I hope it sticks around:

The internet and world wide web, especially the social internet have allowed the non-professional access to tools and avenues that were formerly off limits. Not long ago, only those within the publishing or newsprint industry had the ability to reach an audience. And that conversation was one-to-many. News corporations, governments, and publishing companies were the only ones allowed to say anything, and everyone else could only listen. For the first time, the internet let people publish many-to-many (read Clay Shirky).

The ubiquity of smart phones was the next step. For the first time, the average person was able to document their world. Most of the time this looks likes sunsets and selfies, but it also has had serious political implications. Protests, <a href=”″ title=”police brutality” target=”_blank”>police brutality</a>, and citizen science have been revolutionized.

Drones have the potential to usher in another chapter in that revolution. As they become more accessible and affordable, the everyday person will have the ability to take citizen journalism to the next level (up). Until now, only the military, the hyper-rich, and news agencies had the ability to conduct aerial photography, reconnaissance, and research. Drones now offer the citizen journalist the chance to go places they have never been before.

So, unless legislation completely stifles it, I think it’s here to stay.

Copy and paste link to see a drone’s eye view of ITP!

“Is Drone Journalism ‘Pi’ in the Sky?” It depends…

Yes, but not for itself. Right now, based on the examples I’ve seen, drone journalism is more focused on promoting the images captured than the unfolding story that is supposed to be covering. In other words, it’s doing “drone journalism” for the sake of it. Such perspective considers that information alone makes a public more informed or that having more data is intrinsically better, which is not necessarily true. Journalism should tell a whole story, not only present data without providing the citizens with the elements to grasp the full issue. In that sense, drone journalism will be a valuable activity if it becomes part of a bigger project, one that contextualizes data and presents a clearer picture of the world at hand.

I think that the challenge for drone journalism will be (and is) to put the data that it captures into context and make it a complete narrative that empowers the public. If drone journalism becomes part of an integral –and collaborative– effort to shed light on an issue of public concern, I’m convinced that it will be something big and relevant. By contrast, if the data gathered is not accompanied by background information, contending frames, and a broader exploration of what’s at stake, it won’t get to be really significant.

Hence, to me, drone journalism is about the opportunities it offers to news producers. So far, it doesn’t provide a point of view that is unique: news organizations have long used helicopter, plane and satellite images to narrate a story. The difference is that drone journalism is emerging in a time of increasing citizen journalism, in which technologies have helped decreased the costs of publishing and production. Relatively inexpensive drones will become part of the tools that people can use to provide a perspective that diverges from the one that mainstream news present. This is a positive outcome for journalism in general. As Jay Rosen (NYU Professor of Journalism) says, “journalism benefits from participation”. More sources make a story better and richer.

Some of the tensions we see in citizen journalism (are bloggers protected by the same laws that journalists? Who is a journalist and who isn’t? What constitutes act of journalism and what doesn’t?) will also emerge with the use of drones for journalistic purposes. There will probably be more and more complex. We should accompany this process by an open debate about our traditional understandings of spatial dimensions, ownership, privacy, and security but also about the sort of information that is deemed of public interest. In that sense, I found this code of ethics for drone journalists particularly illuminating:

Source: Home of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (PSDJ).