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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Technology Updates:Navigating cautiously: Tentative drone journalism


In the nine months since the FAA issued its final regulations for small drones as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, television stations around the country have started using drones to cover news. Most of them are flying DJI Phantom 4s or Inspires, which have good cameras and basic performance capabilities adequate for the job. WGN-TV in Chicago is flying a DJI Mavic. These cost in the low thousands of dollars and can stay aloft for 20 to 30 minutes. “The ability to go live is key,” says ABC Vice President for Global Newsgathering Operations Brian Kennedy, “and we’ve had better luck shooting live with these vehicles.”

The norm is for a station to have one or two drones and to solicit volunteers among its staff photographers to attend drone training and take the FAA test for remote pilot licenses. “They’re just another tool,” says Chicago CBS2’s news director Jeff Kiernan. “In our twice-daily news conference, anyone can pitch a story, explaining how a drone could enhance it. Then drones are dispatched with photographers through the usual assignment desk process.” Contract news photographer and newsdrone entrepreneur Colin Hinkle agrees. “Drones are just like a GoPro or the standard shoulder mounted camera,” he says. But stations are branding their drones so that their audience knows that they have them in their newsgathering arsenal. CBS2 in Chicago, for example, gives its "Drone 2," its own web page.

“We trust our news directors,” says Jeff Rose, Chief Drone Pilot for Sinclair Broadcast Group. “Drone pilot recruiting starts with them. They ask for volunteers among experienced photographers. We’re looking for experienced people to make good decisions about safe flight, people who already know how to tell a news story with pictures, and how to work with first responders to get their story.”

“What goes on the air is decided through the usual process,” CBS2 Kiernan says. “It’s a matter of good editing; whether drone footage goes on the air depends on how it adds to the story.” “It’s the movement, the flow, that makes drone imagery a compelling addition to storytelling,” says Rick Kramer, News Operations Manager at CBS2 in Chicago. “We have to do a different kind of editing to take advantage of it.”


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