Friday, November 29, 2013

Drones offer new approach to rural journalism; FAA plans to OK six test sites for various uses soon

Sometimes the best vantage point for a story, such as a wildfire or storm damage, is from the air, and aerial photography can add much to many stories. Soon, journalists will be able to put cameras in the air without going up themselves and paying fees for aircraft rides. The age of drone journalism is about to arrive.

Students of University of Missouri journalism professor Bill Allen "have used drones over the Missouri River for a report about hydraulic fracturing, and over the prairie for a story about controlled burns," and the University of Nebraska has a similar program, Leslie Kaufman and Ravi Somaiya report for The New York Times. However, in August, the Federal Aviation Administration "ordered journalism schools to stop flights unless they obtained permission from the agency." A 2012 law "requires that the FAA safely integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into United States airspace by 2015," and the agency planning to authorize six test sites by Jan. 1, 2014.

Chris Anderson, a former Wired magazine editor who runs a drone company, told the Times that the devices will soon be used in journalism. "The technology is getting cheaper and better, he said. Soon it will be possible to open an application on an iPhone or iPad, click a map coordinate and have a drone fly to that point with little or no technical skill."

Drones, which the FAA calls "unmanned aerial systems," could be used more in rural areas. "Using drones around people is more problematic," the Times reports. "The aircraft are often heavy, powerful machines. In recent episodes they crashed into skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan and fell to a sidewalk, and spun out of control and into the crowd at a bull-running event in Virginia." We reported on the use of drones in agriculture here.

The FAA has a "roadmap" for integrating drones into the U.S. airspace system. They raise privacy issues, and the FAA has a few broad privacy rules for test-site operators, including law-enforcement agencies. The agency says it "believes that test sites' operators will be responsive to local stakeholders' privacy concerns and will develop privacy policies appropriate for each test site." Only "public entities" such as governments and their instrumentalities, including universities, will be allowed to test. It noted that state and local governments can impose privacy laws on their own.

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