Drones Eyed by Paparazzi, J-School Teaching Reporters How to Fly Them


Scott Pham, director of content at the University of Missouri's public radio station KBIA, described the story of a drone hobbyist flying a camera-equipped helicopter over a field in Texas near his home capturing images. When the man looked at the images later, he noticed a creek he had never seen before that was flushed red. When he looked into it, he discovered a meat processing plant that was illegaly dumping into the creek.

"That's news gathering that can happen in your backyard," Pham said. "That's where the real value is. From my perspective that's what actually expands journalism. Tools that allow us to get new information and report it, and that's what I think a drone can do."

The information captured on cameras, however, is exactly what leaves many Americans feeling unsettled when it comes to civilian drone use, Pham and Calo said. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of unmanned, tiny helicopters circling over their homes and yards, snapping photos of them.

Snapping photos also raises the specter of using drones to chase down people in the news, especially celebrities.

"I worry about drone paparazzi," Calo said. "For celebrities, obviously it's a burden they must bear for being in the public eye, but the possibility of constant surveillance and possible danger to a celebrity I think are real concerns."

Allen and Pham, along with experts at the University of Illinois and University of Nebraska who study drone use in journalism, said that they hope regulations will allow for the use of drones in journalism without invasions of privacy.

"I just hope people will not throw the baby out with the bathwater," Allen said, "the baby here is the great benefit of using drones, and the bathwater is the dirty stuff about privacy concerns."

"But part of my job is to get students ready to go into these news organizations, and to know how to fly and do a story safely, legally, ethically, and responsibly, and tell stories that way. I think there will be a demand for it, just like any technology in the journalism tool box," he said.

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