Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guidelines and Advice for Independent Drone Journalists

Phoenix, AZ—This geographical area is considered a medium size TV market.  Not every TV station here can afford a helicopter at $1,500.00 plus per hour.   Still they need plenty of quality video and of course that means aerial coverage of newsworthy events. 
Smaller TV markets have smaller budgets and no choice but to use drones if they want aerial video. 
As a former cop, long time licensed private investigator and investigative TV news producer I have advice to offer about drone journalism.
The video-capturing drone is still a relatively new but very exciting technology.  It’s perfectly suited for use in Phoenix, AZ.  Now there is suddenly a new job to fill in the news industry, the drone, multimedia journalist. 
To do this job you need four skills, operating the drone, photography, video editing and writing news stories.  Nobody said it was easy!    
Police officials initially may be hostile over the fact that we can quietly and easily observe and record them as they perform their duties.  They are simply going to have to accept the reality.  Are the camera-armed drones really any different than helicopters being used now? 
There is one significant difference and that is that the little drones have never been involved in a fatal accident or even caused a remarkable injury.
Our tiny cameras have their limitations and the altitudes we operate the best in are usually below 250 feet.  Rather than fly higher adjust your camera for wide angle.  This will help avoid possible contact with other aircraft.
I use a GoPro3+ Black Edition camera.  During daytime I set the camera at 1080P and 60 FPS.  At night I drop the setting to 24 FPS for better light gathering.  On bright sunny days use of a neutral density filter is advised. 
Breaking news brings helicopters in from different sources.  Medical evacuation, police and news choppers routinely show up at these events.  My advice here is when they do it’s time to discontinue flying until they leave. 
Police and medical choppers can be counted upon to fly at very low altitudes and must even land at these scenes.   Common sense dictates that you always yield to them.
The various general aviation helicopters are in radio communication with each other and the nearest airport control tower.  Drone operators are not and that means they may not be aware of your drone and potential collisions are possible.
Try to control your drone from an area of concealment.  There will be far fewer distractions from nearby people.  In other words, don’t fly from the edge of police yellow tape or across the street from the incident.  Go around the corner and get your video from there. 
Should you have to park your drone, work on gathering information and locating witnesses for those needed interviews.
Always record the actual addresses of these incidents and license plate numbers of involved vehicles. 
You really need to capture your video and quickly get it to the TV news ENG department.  You can physically deliver it to your TV news live truck, the news department or send the video files over the Internet. 
Because of the FAA regulation confusion TV stations are understandably afraid of becoming embroiled in some investigation.  That means for now you should never tell them the method you use to get aerial video. 
You could have used a traditional aircraft, kite or a balloon on a string to get the video.  Why put some news director in the middle with too much information?
I suspect that the FAA will never succeed in preventing drone journalism because the right we all have to gather news.  There is no significant history of safety issues to bring legitimate prohibitions.   
None of us want to see our drone damaged because of carelessness or inattention.   That in and of itself provides plenty of motivation us to be careful! 
Public relations with your community are essential for drone journalists.  Please spread the word that they are GPS connected and that they will hover in place by simply letting go of the controls.  Our unblemished safety record is a huge selling point.
As for privacy invasion let the public know that current laws adequately protect them including the laws prohibiting stalking. 
We must learn to coexist with our neighbors and conventional aircraft.

1 comment:

Alpha 1 Legal Services said...

Hi, we think drones are an excellent idea for the private investigator. This 'tech' is fairly new to the PI industry in the UK but we can see it (excuse the pun) 'taking off' in a very big way!