Filmmaking and photography have had a boost in the past decade due to drones. These automated machines keep changing and reshaping the way we do things.

Journalistic practices have been constant for years together until recently. The news and reporting agencies are entirely based on photographic media. Drone journalism is the capture of still images and video by remotely operated or autonomous drones (more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV) to record events for the report by news agencies and citizen media.

Using drones in coverage of events and incidents helps in gathering photographic information from a distance or altitude. This way the drone can survey subjects that could not otherwise be monitored because of heights, angles and other environmental factors. Some of the advantages which greatly enhance its capabilities as a digital journalist are a small size, the ability to fly high and tolerate harsh environments. These advantages enable the drone to go where a person may find difficult to reach. Places like volcanoes and war-zones can easily be broadcasted using drones. They help in covering stories which go unreported due to the involvement of risks of injury to reporters.

The only disadvantage is that if the drone is damaged or lost, it may not be possible to recover the drone. Another problem which would arise is of legal concern, as flying a drone at high altitudes and restricted areas for news coverage would require essential permissions from the aviation division.  

Drone journalism also offers cost effectiveness against the existing methods. Typically helicopters are used to cover a similar footage from an altitude but bringing in drones could entirely change the price tag involved in covering and broadcasting incidents from a height. It has the potential to cover some of the extremes of man-made or natural disasters by clearly showcasing the gravity of the situation. Their visuals can also be used to create maps of disaster-affected areas. Drones can offer distinct visuals of any scene without any human control.

Some examples of the usage of drones in journalism:

  • 2013: In October 2013, a BBC news crew used a drone for the first time.
  • 2014: The Daily Dot used a Phantom drone for first-hand footage of a building that collapsed in Harlem on March 2014.
  • 2015: In June 2015, the Manchester Evening News used a drone to create an interactive virtual tour of Heaton Park, Manchester for the Parklife music festival.

Recently, in August 2018, a devastating flood hit the state of Kerala in India causing hundreds of deaths and total loss of property. The horrific disaster was covered via drones. Drones were used to locate victims stuck in the flooded areas and to drop medical supplies to them.

Watch the footage of the flood-affected Kerala shot by a drone. This gives a glimpse into the potential of drone journalism. The visuals make it clear that drones can be game-changers in covering such kind of incidents: