Category Archives: News

My story: why I believe drones can assist with journalism

Photo of Sally French, aka "Drone Girl" by Stuart Palley
Photo of Sally French, aka “Drone Girl” by Stuart Palley

The post below is an excerpt of a piece I freelanced for Investigative Reporters and Editors on Drone Journalism. You can read the piece in its entirety for free online here.

When I told my parents I was using my graduation money to buy a drone, they thought I was crazy.

“Why don’t you buy some camera gear instead?” they told me.

After all, graduating in May with a photojournalism degree means I’d no longer have access to the fancy Missouri j-school equipment locker I’d been spoiled by for the past few years.

But what my parents didn’t understand is that a drone is the ultimate in camera gear.

Imagine airing video about weather patterns impacting geese migration. The live-shot could actually take the viewer flying among the birds. Or how about reporting on a prairie fire? An overhead shot could reveal the path of the fire.

I’ve already done both of those myself through theMissouri School of Journalism’s drone journalism program. I was a member of the program in its first year. The laws and regulations are unclear, and none of us were very technical when it came to maintenance, so most of a time we didn’t know what we were doing. But that’s a good thing. The cool thing about pioneering something like a drone research program in a university setting is we could learn about this stunning new technology, yet we didn’t have the pressure of deadlines or financial limitations that a traditional media outlet would have.

And we thought what we were doing was legal, since we weren’t making a profit from it. Turns out, the FAA thought otherwise, as it recently sent a letter requiring the program to cease outdoor flight. I’m sure the FAA has the best intentions – after all, a drone recently fell into a crowd at a bull run, and another drone hit a groom during a wedding photography session. There certainly is a need for regulation.

But drones are here to stay, and people will continue flying — regulated or not.

Read the rest of this post over at the Investigative Reporters and Editors blog.

CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use

Freelance photojournalist and former CNN producer in 2012  with a prototype of drone he developed called the Swarm Drone. The drone is designed to go into tornadoes as a safer alternative for storm chasers.
Freelance photojournalist and former CNN producer in 2012 with a prototype of drone he developed called the Swarm Drone. The drone is designed to go into tornadoes as a safer alternative for storm chasers. Photo courtesy of Aaron Brodie

In 2010, an IT employee at CNN went to the mall and bought his son a Parrot AR.Drone as a Christmas present.

That drone, a piece of equipment that’s more toy than tool, would become the first drone to air footage for a major national news network.

The pilot? Aaron Brodie, a producer with CNN.com at the time, and now a freelance photojournalist and founder of Extreme Journalist, a multimedia storytelling startup

At the time, Brodie didn’t think much of the drone during his conversation with the IT guy. He was too inundated with other work to think about it.

But then the Tuscaloosa tornado happened.

A massive tornado cut a 5.9-mile path of destruction, damaging more than 5,700 structures. As the weather geek in the newsroom (every newsroom has one), Brodie was sent to cover the disaster for a few days.

A few days later, Brodie’s boss sent him back. This time, he was armed with the drone that belonged to their coworker’s son.

“It was a challenge to fly at first, and I didn’t read the instruction manual,” he said. “I started flying it around the newsroom and scared everybody to death flying it inside. I went back to Tuscaloosa and learned to fly in a park there.

Since that model of the Parrot didn’t allow video recording, Brodie “borrowed” (without asking) a GoPro from another department, hurried to Target to buy double-faced tape, stripped the drone down and took the foam protector off so it could carry the weight of the GoPro. Continue reading CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use

Drone footage shows empty Crystal Cove cottages

CrystalCove17 empty, faded, rickety cottages sit on the beach. They’re situated at a prime real estate location, but renovating them would be starting over from scratch.

Neighbors had lived in the cottages since the 1920s and 30s, but after a series of state purchases, plans to build a resort and costly restoration bills, the cottages have remained empty since the residents were evicted in 2001.

This photo, as captured by my drone, shows the state of the cottages today.  The cottages could cost $20 million to repair.

Reporter Nicole Shine at the OC Register outlines the future of Crystal Cove here.

Scientist uses drones to count whales

Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.
Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.

Wayne Perryman has spent the past decade developing aerial photographic techniques to count marine mammals. About four years ago, Perryman pick up a new technology – a drone — to better execute his work.

These days, it’s not just video he’s gathering, but whale snot.

“We’re going to build a hexacopter, attach a vacuum to it and fly it over a whale,” he said. “In the breath of a whale are little bits of cells and hormones, and we can look at that composition of air to see what it’s eating, if it’s male or female, or if it’s pregnant.”

With the vacuum bottle, Perryman will be able to remotely send a signal to open up the cover of the bottle when the whale blows up air and close it up again to collect the snot.

I got the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Perryman on his project – a different sort of whale watching. Enjoy!

Drone Girl: How does unmanned aircraft technology benefit your work?
Wayne Perryman: You just can’t get manned aircraft everywhere in the world, and planes are just too expensive. These are really just flying cameras, and they’re amazingly stable.

DG: Why are you using this aircraft to count animals?
WP: You photograph them from the air because humans are lousy at estimating them in groups. From our photos, you can measure their size and shape to get a feeling of their condition. Continue reading Scientist uses drones to count whales