All posts by kbudelis

Bell Labs Project update 4/14/14

This week, Neil and Pam went back to the Bell Labs with Ben Kreimer and got awesome aerial footage, including going up and over and through the transistor monument, as well as over the main complex.

Neil transcribed the Eric Rosenthal interview, and I transcribed and starting choosing selects for the Jon Gertman interview. Fletcher has been choosing archival footage selects, and Pam has starting doing a mock-up of the site. We’re also planning to get two more interviews. Things are starting to come together!

Project(s) update

The Hart Island project is on hold; I’ve mostly (but not yet entirely) lost hope that it will work out, for reasons I’ll explain in class.

I’m still helping out with (and excited about!) the Bell Labs project. I reached out to Jon Gertner, who literally wrote the Bell Labs book, over break, who was open to an interview; we’ll be interviewing him either this or next Friday (hopefully one date to be confirmed soon). I think he’ll provide some helpful context.

I’ve also become interested in droning the Gowanus Canals, that mysterious area in the very up-and-coming neighborhood that’s recognized as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the U.S. I’m in the process of researching the canal further and establishing an angle. A former colleague who has written on the topic provided some helpful contacts, including that of Gennaro Brooks-Church, who sounds like a fascinating character; I’m envisioning profiles of him and other individuals closely connected to canal conservancy projects woven with drone imagery of the canal itself.

Drone Journalism Mission Proposal: Hart Island Investigation

“Hart Island is one of those places in New York that many won’t ever see.” 

Hart Island is a small island off of the Bronx at the western end of Long Island Sound. According to wikipedia, it has been used “as a Union Civil War prison camp, a lunatic asylum, a tuberculosis sanatorium, potter’s field, and a boys’ reformatory.” Currently, it serves as a mass grave site. The Department of Correction states that more than 850,000 people are buried on Hart Island (other estimates range from 750,000 to over a million). Riker’s Island inmates serve as the gravediggers. It’s difficult for pretty much any other living being to obtain access—including those who have family members buried there. When access is obtained, visitors are escorted to a gazebo very close to the ferry dock; they can’t walk around freely or visit the actual burial area.

Hart Island is ripe for a drone mission! For the countless people who have wanted to but been unable to visit the island and see the area in which their loved ones are buried, a drone perspective would be hugely meaningful. Others would gain visual access to a part of NYC they don’t know much about and/or haven’t seen much of.

The island has a fascinating, multifaceted history and some open information about those buried there, so there is also rich potential for accompanying interactive data visualizations.

Possible people to interview in conjunction with drone footage:

-Melinda Hunt, an artist who is fascinated with Hart Island and has published a book and produced a film about it. She also founded the Hart Island Project.
-Laurie Grant, whose stillborn daughter was buried in the Hart Island cemetery by mistake, and whose grave she has been unable to visit (one of many such stories). The log books that keep track of who is buried there were not public until 2008.
-If possible, it would be interesting (perhaps through one of the above sources) to find someone visiting Hart’s island and send them with a hidden camera to get that viewpoint of the island. (I have access to hidden cameras through surveillance documentary).
-If possible, would also be interesting to interview a former Riker’s island inmate who dug graves there to describe this process.

Read more about the island:

The future of flying robotic journalism

A few months ago, the idea of drone journalism seemed obscure and unlikely to take off (pun not intended) to me. This is partly because media attention on drones has focused on drone attacks in recent years, and partly because, I think, they are new and strange and, let’s face it, kinda ominous-looking. But after reading, researching and reflecting more on the topic in the past few weeks I’m starting to revise my option.

First of all and on a very basic level, some of the video I’ve watched taken from drones is beautiful! Aerial photography and videography from helicopters and hot air balloons have always been captivating, but the relative accessibility and low price of drone cameras suddenly makes such an aesthetic accessible (inevitably increasingly so in the coming years); for that reason alone, I think all sorts of camerapeople will seek out this method out of a sense of novelty and the ability to see things in a new way. GoPros have become incredibly popular due to their ability to capture novel and interesting perspectives (you can put it on a surfboard! or a dog!), and drone cameras share some of that same appeal.

Of course, the potential for popularity could be mitigated by legal restrictions. According to this article ( “The FAA has been saying since 2007 that commercial drone use is not allowed, but the agency never went through the official rule-making channels to make it illegal.” The seemingly large swaths of grey area and lack of precedent around drone usage makes it difficult to predict the future of drone journalism, and also makes it a fascinating time to be focusing on this area.

Whether or not drones become popular, there’s also the related but separate question of how impactful and important they will be in journalism itself– what new stories will be told with drones, and how.  I think there are obvious advantages to filming certain events or places with “eyes in the sky” (many of which we discussed in class), and one-off videos of events (whether filmed with drones or not; and there are some which indisputably can be filmed with drones but not otherwise) can be incredibly powerful and influential. 

But personally, I’m less interested in this sort of video and more interested in stories that are strive to be holistic and intimate. There are certainly cases when a wide-angle video of a crowd will make waves and pull at one’s emotions, but most often stories require context as well as personal stories to to make people care—things that drones (at least for now) are ill-equipped to capture. I can’t envision many full stories being told entirely via drones, but I think they are an exciting tool , one which will become increasingly popular and important, and which (particularly IMHO when used in conjunction with other tools) can help tell stories with purpose and poetry.