Should journalists use drones?

- October 13th, 2012
ENAC Blender Drone

An employee of ENAC company handles Blender drones, on September 26, 2012 in Merignac near Bordeaux, during the “UAV Show Europe”, an International Drone fair. (AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU)

Tell me, esteemed blog readers: Should journalists use drones? Governments and military, mostly in the U.S., are already using pilotless aircraft to gather information (and carry out military strikes). But should journalism organizations use drones to hover over your house, protest, or corporate meeting? Should a pilotless eye-in-the-sky, like the Blender drones above, be able to spy on you, your friends, or your enemies?

For more on how journos are thinking about using drones, check out the Drone Journalism Lab from Matt Waite, a professor at  University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Or check this presentation out from September.

I’m just learning today that some journalists in North America are seriously thinking about adopting drone technology but I wonder about the ethics. I’m looking for input from readers and viewers. Please let me know in the comments (A reminder, too, that comments are moderated by me so please bear with me till I get to your thoughts.)

Categories: Journalism

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6 comments

  1. jimbobby says:

    Similar aerial recon & photography has been done for decades when journos are catching glimpses of celebs — Kate Middleton being a recent victim.

    As I understand it, photos taken from a public location are considered fair game; e.g. standing on a sidewalk and photographing people on private property without their permission. However, is the airspace above one’s property public space? I think it would be illegal to place a ladder next to a privacy fence to get a shot of sunbathers in their own backyard, even if the ladder is on public property.

    IMO, the subject of such journalistic surveillance should have a reasonable expectation of personal privacy. Unless public safety is at risk, I would deem drone journalism as unethical.

  2. Karen Krisfalusi says:

    Oh journalism must do it. The ethical issues will be fleshed out over time.

  3. John HOB says:

    I see no serious objections.

    The concerns expressed regard privacy. However, privacy is already
    an issue. The technology itself is
    not the problem. Professional ethics are more important, however:
    drone users cannot presume they are on good ground just because theyareable to take the photo!

    So long as journos respect privacy, all is well. In fact, using drones to get mpictures in conventions, fairs, protests, and so forth strikes me as better for those being photoed. A device taking up less space would be less intrusive! A bigger concern would be the quality of camera it could carry.

  4. BoredDalek says:

    Your camera on your cell phone is just a means of fixing permanently what your eyes can already see. Your camera can’t take a picture of anything that isn’t already plainly visible. That’s why we toss out excuses used by paparazzi that they are taking pictures of plainly visible celebrities sunbathing when it turns out the paparazzi was a mile away using a telephoto lens the length of my arm. Like the telephoto lens, the drone is transporting *you* to a vantage point that you could not possibly occupy, and potentially to a vantage point that would be considered trespassing if you were actually there. Those photos of the Duchess of Cambridge put the viewer 15 feet away from the sunbathing couple, thanks to the magic of telephoto lenses. Had they actually been sunbathing 15 feet from milling crowds, then fine. They were not. If someone builds a platform 75 feet straight up in the air over their beach and opens it to the public, fine. Hovering your drone 75 feet over the beach doesn’t let you say “It’s fine. I could see it all as plain as day.” And let’s be honest. Drones would be used first and foremost to take salacious photos of celebrities, preferably of celebrities behaving badly.

  5. Mike Barnard says:

    I’ve added this as a question on Quora.com as well. Interesting people there with strong backgrounds and a decent UAV sub-interest group.

    http://www.quora.com/Unmanned-Aerial-Vehicles-UAV/What-ethical-issues-surround-drones-being-used-by-journalists

  6. Susan says:

    I worry about privacy issues, but I worry about keeping tabs on the government even more. Journalists have to keep up with government; celebrities I really don’t care about one way or another. So, yes, I think if government is using it, then journos need to use it too.

Comments are closed.