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Are Drones The Future Of News Gathering?


Robert Picard, Director of Research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

BY MARIE ANDRUSEWICZ -- Coming soon to a news outlet near you: an unmanned aircraft that will gather data in a quiet, unobtrusive (privacy-violating?) way.

“News organizations have used aerial platforms for about 100 years for observations, live broadcasts and photography,” says Robert Picard, Director of Research for the Study of Journalism, pointing to the use of hot air balloons and helicopters.

Picard says the advantages to unmanned aircraft is that they’re cheaper than helicopters, and they can be used in places where fixed-winged aircraft or helicopters are too large or intrusive, such as tracking wildfires or floods, and observing protests.

Because drones are quieter than a helicopter, they can potentially take pictures undetected. This can be good for gathering photos, but bad for say, Jennifer Aniston on vacation or the latest Kardashian baby.

“When you’re flying a drone, you’re flying over places where people might have some expectation of privacy,” says Picard.

But there is time for civil liberties groups to explore this issue, since news organizations are likely to start using drones on a small scale.

“I think it will happen in the next year or so,” says Picard, using an example of a small town facing flooding, and a newspaper with photographers who can’t get to the damage to take pictures.

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