Is There a Next Thing for Drones?

By Sky Chadde | Investigate Midwest

For years, Matt Waite at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was the evangelist for drones and their usefulness in journalism. But, he said, he finds himself now at a crossroads with drones in journalism.

For one thing, the ability for drones to be flown over crowds is coming. Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration established rules for flights over people. Some of the requirements include the drone weighing 0.55 pounds or less and to have not exposed blades — essentially, if the drone fails over a person, it shouldn’t injure that person gravely.

The ability to fly over people and take photos or video has obvious implications for journalism. Imagine being able to cover a concert, a football game or, perhaps the most newsworthy, a protest from a birds-eye view. 

But, Waite asked, do people want drones over their heads? Waite himself had a bad experience where a drone operator was flying his machine near the tops of cars near him and his son. So, Waite said, just because the federal government will make flying over people’s heads legal, that does not mean journalists should do it. 

Newsrooms need to establish internal rules for how to capture stories involving drones that might put people at risk, even a small one. “There’s absolutely a reason we should fly over a protest,” Waite said. “There’s no reason we should fly a foot over a protest.”

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