After a short hiatus in which we concentrated on indoor teaching and international field reporting with drones, we are pleased to resume our posts on this website.
We will start with stories about our activities and courses over the past two-plus years since the Federal Aviation Administration instructed us to stop flying anywhere in U.S. airspace. We’ll also have news and information on developments in our program, which has recently expanded to include more partners.
Our focus will remain what it always has been:
- On exploring new approaches to information-gathering and storytelling that this rapidly evolving technology promises.
- On preparing students to be leaders in pursuit of innovative, engaging, ethical and responsible public-service journalism anywhere in the world–using drones as on of their many tools.
–Bill Allen and Rick Shaw
A somewhat mystifying article appeared in the Associated Press today, about how the University of Missouri School of Journalism plans to seek approval from the FAA to fly drone aircraft.
Clearly this is true, but it bears some clarification. The article linked above says that the application will allow us to “resume the use of news-gathering drones”, which is technically accurate, but the issue is far more complicated than that. A Certificate of Authorization comes with it a huge set of regulations that will make “drone journalism,” as we’ve come to know it, all but impossible. Flight will occur only within a predetermined, relatively small, contiguous space. Our ability to travel and respond to events (key attributes of field reporting) will be entirely curtailed. Call it a quibble, but I’m not sure everyone knows these details.
The second thing I’d like to clarify is less quibble and more mystery. As one can see from the blog post below, all of this information is old news. Over a month old. Some news outlets ran with this story last month, and I expect that some who missed it the first time around will run the “new” one as well. I’m available for quotes (email in the sidebar) but please be aware of the timeline and context around this issue.
The Missouri Drone Journalism Program has been aware of HB 46 since it was introduced by Rep. Casey Guernsey early this year. Today, a version of the bill has gained first round approval from the Missouri House and now the Associated Press is inaccurately reporting that it prevents journalists from using drones.
The bill explicitly calls out journalists, but the text of the bill actually allows for the use of drones over land where the property owner has given permission:
3. No person, group of persons, entity, or organization, including, but not limited to, journalists, reporters, or news organizations, shall use a drone or other unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance of any individual or property owned by an individual or business without the consent of that individual or property owner.
We have been operating under similar restrictions since the Program began and we do not believe this bill will shut us down or prevent us from pursuing more stories.
We are, however, deeply concerned with the bill and its implications for journalism as a whole.
This past Friday afternoon, some of the journalism students working on the project traveled over to the Prairie Fork Conservation Area near Williamsburg, Missouri to follow up on a possible story idea. Prairie Fork is an example of one of the few existing prairie lands in Missouri, and is part of an ongoing project by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to convert and maintain these lands back to their natural prairie state. The purpose of the visit was to follow up on a story idea that focused on the MDC’s use of controlled fires to preserve and maintain the prairie lands. Usually referred to as an “prairie burn,” this process involves igniting man-made fires to help clear the land as well as provide nutrients, encourages biodiversity and seed development and reduces shrubbery growth.
This is where the Missouri Drone Journalism Program comes in.
In an attempt to use drones in new and emerging ways, the program is hoping to use several drones to capture aerial video footage of the prairie burn while it is in progress and utilize that footage as part of a multimedia story about prairie burns in mid-Missouri. The hope is to capture this prairie burn from angles that wouldn’t be possible using traditional methods, and to eventually have the story published on KBIA.
Below is a short clip of Jeff Demand, wildlife management biologist from the MDC, explaining how a prairie burns work, and how members of the MDC plan to direct the prairie burn.
Drones are proving to be a polarizing topic with their growth in the public eye.
The rise of these flying, video-capturing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAV’s) has excited some with the promise of overhead landscape views never before possible.
The domestic use of such vehicles has also been met with criticism and claims of privacy invasion, prompting several states to propose legislation to halt their use.
Missouri has joined the list, as State Rep. Casey Guernsey introduced and defended his proposed Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act at a House Agri-Business Committee hearing on Feb. 5.
The bill, which has yet to gain another hearing date, “prohibits the use of a drone or other unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or other information with specified exceptions.”
Click play for State Rep. Casey Guernsey’s introduction and explanation of his proposed bill (3:03)
Click play for full questioning by the House Agri-Business Committee and supporting testimony from Steve Carroll of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (16:08)