Top three things when flying drones for news

Though 2016 was supposed to be the year of the news drone, 2017 may actually bring a little more progress. Thanks to a partnership involving the Poynter Institutethe Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, National Press Photographers Association and DJI, journalists can take part in a series of drone journalism camps across the U.S.

Upcoming workshops include:

  • Syracuse University (April 21–23)
  • University of Wisconsin Madison (June 16–18)
  • University of Oregon (August 18–20)

But newsrooms and journalism educators are already experimenting with drones for newsgathering.  At the University of Mississippi, instructor Ji Hoon Heo is a Part 107 Remote Pilot.  He’s helping students develop story ideas that lend themselves to the use of drones.  For example, this piece, about a workers’ protest in Jackson, Mississippi that brought Sen. Bernie Sanders to the state, cried out for drone footage.

In working with the students over the past few weeks, Heo has developed three essentials for using drones for news.

Planning is key. Heo now requires reporters to have a shot description or a storyboard of the shots they think they will need for their stories.  He created a video to demonstrate the different types of shots they might consider.

Use the team approach. Heo says it helps to have a drone operator, an observer and a journalist.  The drone operator has the technical know-how, the observer makes sure that the drone is safe, and that allows the journalist to focus on covering the story.  (If three people are out of the question, Heo says it can be done with the two.)

Shoot more than you think you’ll need.  The young journalists Heo works with typically stop recording too early.  Every shot should be at least :10 long and more is better.

Whether it’s a hard news piece about a protest or a feature about the prettiest college campus, Heo focuses on using drone footage when there’s a reason for it, rather than using it as a gimmick.