The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released rules about commercial use of drones. According to these new guidelines drones can now be used by journalists.
In 2013, Matt Waite, a journalist and educator, was given $50,000 from the government to start a drone program named the “Drone Journalism Lab.” That Summer Waite received a note from the FAA informing him that he can’t use drones for journalism. At the time, it was only okay to fly a drone for commercial purposes if one had a pilot’s license, which Waite later obtained. However, it was hard for many people to obtain a pilot’s license while they already had busy jobs as journalists.
The new rules state that one no longer needs a pilot’s license to use drones for commercial purposes. But one does need to pass a 40-question multiple choice quiz, understand English and be at least 16 years old.
The new rules for flying drones include no flying over 400 feet and keep the highest flying drone 100 feet from the lowest-flying aircraft. Furthermore, flight in restricted airspace requires Air Traffic Control permission, which includes flight within five miles of an airport tower. There can be no flight over people, and no “reckless flying,” according to the FAA.
What do these new regulations mean for the future of journalism? Journalists will now be able to take pictures and videos from a bird’s-eye view. They will also be able to put sensors on drones, like those used to monitor pollutants in the air. Additionally, they can now survey events, such as protests, from above; however, when monitoring protests – due to the rule about no flying above people – a journalist would need to rope off an area to keep people out, stay in that area, and document their actions.
A concern about drones used for this purpose is that some may stalk other with drones. In fact, the ability of paparazzi to use drones was recently limited by the state of California. Another concern, one shared by Waite, is that journalists might over-use drone pictures and footage, seeking novelty, rather than news.
These regulations give reporters new tools to tell their stories, and good or bad, there is a chance these changes could usher in a new era of journalism.