The Future of Journalism: J-Drones

The news business is getting ready to take the next bold step into the future.  No, we’re not quite ready for cybernetic cameramen, but apparently we are close to having robotic drones.  Students at the University of Missouri’s journalism school are learning how to fly drones for newsgathering purposes.

The US military has made extensive use of drones like the Predator drone in the War on Terror.  Smaller quad-copter drones seem to be turning into a popular hobby for some people.  A few years ago, there was even an effort to use drones as a taco delivery service.

Journalistic drones (or J-drones, as some people are calling them) give journalists a lot of new advantages.  They can get a bird’s eye view of a scene without the high cost of sending a news-chopper.  They can be sent to dangerous places without putting anyone’s lives at risk.  They provide an entirely new way to gather information, freeing journalists from the typical sound bites and allowing them to independently verify facts.

Let’s say for example that some big corporation has closed off a large plot of land to the media, perhaps threatening reporters with arrest if they dare to even approach the area (a situation like this recently happened in Arkansas).  Company officials say, “There’s nothing to worry about.  You can trust us, right?”  A news organization can then send up a drone to find out what’s really going on.

However, the use of J-drones is a legitimate cause for concern.  I’ve worked in the news business for a number of years, so I’m the last person to decry the evil, monolithic media.  The media serves a valuable function in society.  It keeps the public informed about what’s going on in our communities.  But I’ve been around long enough to know that some reporters are less ethical than others, and J-drones create a new opportunity to invade the privacy of anyone who might be considered newsworthy.

It’s important to note that the law doesn’t have much to say about these issues.  Most areas of the US don’t have laws about drones at all, and the FAA hasn’t yet decided how it wants to regulate commercial drones in US airspace.  So what do you think?  Will J-drones be a benefit to society, or will they cause more harm than good?

P.S.: I’m really kicking myself that I never thought to include flying robot cameramen in any of the Tomorrow News Network stories thus far.  Don’t be surprised if they turn up in some future TNN adventure.

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