Many more eyes in the sky

“Drones going mainstream has serious implications both for the future of journalism and for researchers of journalism.”

As drone journalism goes mainstream, the effect could be as significant as the arrival of the 35mm camera in the 1920s.

After the 1929 financial crash, photojournalism reinvigorated American print culture. Luis Marden pioneered the use of cameras in natural environments and underwater. Marden gave readers an initiation to marine life and photographic technology. News organizations such as Life magazine made their living out of the new possibilities of photography.

valerie-belair-gagnonIn 2015, robots will take on a larger role in crisis journalism, changing coverage of natural disasters, protests, and armed conflicts. This will affect what crises are covered and how.

Drone use in 2015 will build on several years of steady growth in their use as journalistic tools. In 2011 at Occupy Wall Street, Tim Pool owned and used a Parrot AR drone named the “Occucopter” to stream live videos online as the action unfolded. In December 2013, drones were in the air during the civil conflicts in Thailand, seeing civil unrest as well as tear gas, water cannons, and lumps of concrete thrown at the protesters. In early 2014, drones recorded the protests against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Drones have also helped journalists to cover floods in England and fires in the Australian bush.

News organizations such as the BBC and journalism schools will develop more drone units. Already, the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab and the University of Missouri’s Missouri Drone Journalism Program have integrated drone research into their educational mandates.

Life magazine could be reinvented to take advantage of the new possibilities of drones, in much the same way as it pioneered photojournalism and showed readers the world in visual, rather than textual, form. Robots will permeate our understanding of the world through crisis news. Drones going mainstream has serious implications both for the future of journalism and for researchers of journalism.

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon is executive director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.