The use of drones is ubiquitous in contemporary media and news industry. Journalists have been using drones to add wider contexts to news gathering. It has been heralded as a “game changer,” particularly in news production. But critics warn that drones could be a passing fad with a short-lived “wow” factor.
Catherine Adams, a faculty member of the Communication and Society department at the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, investigated how important the drone footage is to the news items; how its use affects the journalistic quality of the piece; and whether it results in changes to journalistic norms or challenges the traditional role of journalism, including its relationship with the audience.
The author analyzed the content and effect of drone shots in five edited video news items from the USA, Kenya, South Africa, Syria, and the Philippines.
Results showed that drone journalism has produced at least 11 new perspectives, or ways of seeing the news, using angles or movement. Among them: adding meaning or insight, providing drama with camera movement; creating an aesthetically pleasing aspect; and distorting the story, thus producing bias.
The author says drone journalism “is creating new players, rather than changing the game.” Drone is acting as “tinker” (commercializing the news), “tailor” (crafting new images), “soldier” (evoking military and super-hero fantasies), “thief” (of journalistic integrity) and even “spy” (uncovering and exposing secrets and legitimizing surveillance).
The findings also indicate that some use of drones undermines quality journalism. It makes story-telling more engaging by using drama, novelty or beauty, but it also does the opposite by simply providing padding without new information. Drones also enhance objectivity, making a global connection or scientific perspective, but they are also adept at providing subjective, potentially biased views, coloring the story with glossy or aesthetically pleasing images or an unrealistic sense of enlightenment or omnipotence.
The study suggests that drones bring benefits to TV news but also disturb the balance between engagement and objectivity. They are potentially compromising quality journalism.
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Adams, C. (2018). Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Thief: An Investigation into the Role of Drones in Journalism. Digital Journalism, 1-20.