Enter war zones safely. Explore areas of the world that are inhospitable to exploration. Be two, five, ten places at once. This is the promise of drones for journalism.
Immediately, they drew criticism. A drone cannot replace a journalist because a drone doesn’t have the heart, soul, eyes, perspective, judgment and empathy of a human being. No argument there, and let’s not ignore that there are some fairly stringent FAA rules that limit or prohibit the use of drones by J-schools for the time being. However, newsrooms fought the ideas of citizen journalism and social media for many years before recognizing their value. Drones could be the next Facebook in that respect.
Drones can go where no man should go again
Drones may have a place in the ever-shifting landscape of journalism that humans cannot fill. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications actively investigates, reports and analyzes the value of drones as media devices. The University of Missouri has a Drone Journalism Program that is a collaboration between the Missouri School of Journalism, the University of Missouri Information Technology Program and NPR member station KBIA. Already students in the University of Missouri program have flown drones over a public prairie to cover a controlled burn and over public waterways to get footage for a piece on fracking along the Missouri River. Coverage of this detail under these circumstances would have been difficult if not impossible by journalists on foot or in the air.
Drones are extreme cameras
Think of a drone as a powerful, remote-controlled camera. A journalist still needs to fly that drone, tell it where to go and what to do. And a journalist also needs to analyze and interpret the information a drone collects. Rather than replacing journalists, drones seem to be perfect partners for them so that they can gather and review more material from more locations in less time and with the assurance of greater personal safety for journalists.
Drones for everyone
Voyager 1 just left our solar system. It carries a disc filled with images and sounds from Earth with illustrated instructions to play it so that if intelligent aliens ever find it, they’ll be able to access the data. Ed Stone, the lead scientist of Voyager 1 since day one, commented that the sophistication of our mobile phones is many magnitudes more than the technology on Voyager 1. 36 years ago, when Voyager 1 launched, who could have predicted that the devices we use to phone home would be more powerful than an interstellar space drone built by NASA?
Here’s what everyone knows: The pace of innovation, especially in technology, is increasing exponentially. With this in mind, it’s not a great leap to imagine a world in which everyone, including journalists of all varieties, media outlets and anyone who cares about the collection of information (advertisers and marketers included), has a drone of their own. Seeing is believing; maybe drones can provide us with a new perspective that we’ve never been able to have until now.
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