Journalist explains using drones to hold factory farms accountable

Oivind Hovland/Wired

Oivind Hovland/Wired

When I first got interested in drones, it was through journalism.  Journalists keep governments, corporations and people accountable through public records, connecting facts, talking to people and gathering stories and images. With a drone, you can easily gather aerial images — which is why this man’s account of using drones to hold factory farms accountable is so crucial. The following is an excerpt from Will Potter’s story in Wired:

The agriculture industry is waging an international campaign to create a media blackout. In response to a series of investigations by animal-welfare groups that has resulted in criminal prosecutions and consumer outrage, the industry is promoting new “ag-gag” laws that make it illegal to photograph factory farms and slaughterhouses. About half a dozen US states currently have these laws, and now this censorship model is being adopted internationally.

So how should journalists respond to investigative methods and sources being criminalised? Just as the best response to governments banning books is to encourage reading them, the best response to banning photographs is to encourage more photography. It’s time for journalists to send in the drones.

As a reporter, I always want to see what’s hidden. When government documents are redacted, it naturally makes them more intriguing. And when factory farms introduce new laws to prohibit media exposure, it makes me want to see what it is that they are hiding.

That’s why, for my next investigation, I will be using aerial drone photography to investigate factory farms, particularly in states where these “ag-gag” laws are being debated. I’m not the only one who is curious: my Kickstarter to finance the project was funded by nearly 500 supporters in just five days, and the response was so overwhelming that the project has been expanded.

“Drones are cheap, simple and potential game changers for newsrooms,” the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted in a cover story. In the hands of journalists, drones are already being used to document mass protests, wildlife, oil spills, war-torn landscapes and natural disasters.

Read more here.

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