It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a news drone

On at least a couple of occasions during last year’s historic protests in Madison, I spotted TV news helicopters overhead. When fuel and pilot pay are factored in, putting a chopper in the air can be a pretty expensive proposition. But news helicopters are looking to go the way of the zeppelin, because of drone technology.

This from Vincent Duffy, chair of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA):

Scott Pham is in charge of the website for KBIA, the public radio station at the University of Missouri. He recently received a $25,000 technology grant from the school to develop and explore the journalistic uses of drones. 

Pham says the drones can get visuals from places reporters can’t go or reach. For example, he says he wished he had a drone when KBIA was covered the intentional break of the Birds Point Levee in 2011 to save Cairo, Illinois from flooding, and to cover the repairs as well from the air. 

“I’ve wanted a drone for some time,” Pham told me over the phone, “but it was mostly a joke until the IT program at the university expressed some interest.” 

Pham says the school believes it can build a custom drone for about $4,000 and the University of Missouri has created a graduate class for next spring to investigate the possibilities and ethics around drone journalism. 

Other schools are also looking at the possibilities. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is using a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to study the use of drones in its Drone Journalism Lab.

Seriously, $4,000? At that price, it’s easy to imagine every television station (not to mention law enforcement agencies) in the nation having a drone within the decade.    

And yes, Nebraska does indeed have a Drone Journalism Lab, and they’re pretty far along, development-wise.

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