Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ethics for Newsdronies? What New Rules Should We Establish?

Los Angeles, CA—Before I share my thoughts I want you to see what a seemingly thoughtful journalist, Matt Waite has to say about the use of drones for Electronic News Gathering or ENG.  It’s important that you first watch his video presentation. My response is below the video.
Okay, Waite made a really melodramatic example of anecdote from his reporting past to make a point.  It was a really unfair and simplistic overstatement of a highly unusual situation he once encountered. 
Waite’s dramatic example is one we all can resolve by simply keeping enough distance between the drone and the grieving woman that Waite described. Only the most soulless bastard would dare to bring a buzzing drone into that poor woman’s face! 
Additionally, Waite unleashed his little drone inside the theater where he’s speaking and the natural acoustics there exaggerated the multi-rotor drone’s noise substantially.   
At 40 or 50 feet outdoors that noise is barely noticeable.  Animals will hear it much better than humans.  Actually is it substantially quieter that any typical news helicopter.  We need to first consider the current ethics of a news helicopter ENG crew for comparison.   
Helicopters make much more noise and everyone knows they are probably using very expensive high definition telephoto cameras because they are!
The little drones are much less intrusive or noisy than helicopters unless and until you begin to invade someone’s personal space. Frankly doing that would interfere with obtaining video that you’re there to capture. 
I must of course, beg the question, would invading the personal space of a rapist, murder or armed robber with a drone causing the termination of a horrific act be somehow unethical?
It may not be the job of journalists to interfere with crime but we must remember that we all have a much higher duty when human life is at stake.   Or is it somehow more virtuous or ethical to give our content viewers a voyeuristic view of a horrible crime we may have easily thwarted?
News directors and journalism professors will be struggling these drone issues just like they did when the first helicopters were utilized for ENG decades ago.
The job of the ENG Newsdronies will be to get the images.  Most of the important “ethical” decisions will be made inside TV control rooms and editing bays.  
Live shots are different and everyone involved in newsgathering and broadcasting must consider the safety of hostages and cops.  A ten-second delay solves many problems inherent or pulling out for a wider shot may be what’s called for.  Simple common sense must be applied.
Actually drone propeller noise can be greatly reduced by using special, balanced carbon fiber propellers instead of the plastic ones that come with most mini-drones.
How close to the news-making event is too close for an ENG drone?  Obviously bringing a drone within 20 feet of people will change their behavior.  If someone were being viciously attacked would that drone distraction slow or stop the crime?  Could it also give a victim a chance to flee and survive? Is that somehow a bad thing?
I can’t help but think about the TV news helicopter video shot during the Rodney King Riot in L.A.   That image gathering provided a solid identification of the person trying to kill truck driver Reginald Denny in that shockingly savage attack.  As a result of the images gathered the offender was quickly captured by police and removed from our streets.  
Those people involved in news reporting really don’t need new drone ethics.  They simply need to apply the old ones to the current technology. 
The drones belong in ENG more than the helicopters we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at newsworthy events.   Technology now has provided a gift that will give us better news video at a fraction of the cost or danger of utilizing conventional helicopters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A video of some thug retreating from an attack because a drone got in his face would be a really hot property for any news organization! Can you imagine the number of hits generated by that kind of a video?