If you’ve looked into implementing drones as a news gathering tool, you’ve probably seen some of the innovative ways that drone Operator can support broadcast operations. If you haven’t heard about the great results they can bring, start with these five stories from The New York Times—major journalistic features that used drones to tell spectacular stories in remote, sensitive, or inaccessible areas.
But what sets drones apart as a unique journalistic tool? After all, many aerial shots could be obtained with a helicopter, though with a much higher price tag. What stories can drones tell that are dangerous or impossible for either ground crews or helicopters to capture?
This probably comes as no surprise, but drones are ideal tools for covering natural and industrial disasters. Since drones are portable, fast to deploy, and, if necessary, quick to bring down, they can be flown in the brief breaks in a storm, long before it would be safe to fly aircraft in the area. They are able hover just feet above damaged buildings—capturing a much closer perspective than a helicopter—without requiring a camera operator enter a highly unstable area.
Many news stations are already using drones for disaster coverage. After Cyclone Debbie made landfall in Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News) was one of the first crews on the scene. They captured compelling drone footage of the damage to one neighborhood during a half-hour break in the storm—breaking news which would have been impossible to obtain from the ground or by chopper.
Similarly, NBC News used drones to cover devastating floods in Louisiana last year, depicting submerged houses, forests turned into lakes, and streets covered by mud. USA Today used a drone to broadcast the damage from earthquakes in Italy, showing the ruins of ancient structures and modern neighborhoods alike.
Drones are ideal for covering urban or industrial disasters, too. NBC News shot drone footage of a huge industrial fire engulfing a steel manufacturing plant in upstate New York, showing the plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky. Drones from the Australian ABC News shot footage of an industrial recycling plant fire that threatened to burn down a neighborhood.
Of course, drone operators must be extremely careful and remain vigilant of their surroundings, especially when covering disasters. Disasters are often the site of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), and interfering with a firefighting aircraft or other emergency operations can be a serious crime. Be sure to check a valid, updated airspace map before and during your flight, and contact the appropriate airspace coordinator during an emergency to make sure it’s safe to fly.