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by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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Is a Drone in your future?
June 19, 2013
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Drone journalism is becoming a hot topic of conversation as this report by Nieman Lab indicates. Huh? you might respond. Drones are quite clearly--for good and ill--the future of conflict, but they will soon play a very signficant role in people telling stories and providing reports about major events going on right now. A bridge collapse? No more helicopters overhead--too expensive. Send in the drones. An earthquake, oil spill, no question. How about searching for a bombing suspect? No doubt the FAA "no-fly zones" will affect drone traffic to some degree, but I suspect a lively debate on this.

The fact that the journalism community is showing great interest in the story telling capability of drones is indicated by a Google search on the topic. There's even a Professional Society of Drone Journalists (PSDJ of course) with a website and membership. Ball State University is offering a course on drone journalism in fall, 2013. How's about that for a university recruitment scheme: come play with our drones!

To be perfectly honest, my interest in this was stimulated by my own interest in RC airplanes. Getting into this a little I was absolutely stunned by the huge variety, remarkably low cost and incredible capability of all kinds of radio controlled flying machines. Most intriguing was the discovery of FPV, or First Person View of these vehicles. You rig a small camera (or even the HD GoPro camera) onto almost any of these flying machines, put on a pair of goggles or hitch it to a big screen and you can fly your plane, quad copter or whatever from your den, your van or out in the field--all the while watching the scene from the cockpit point of view. Amazing. I'm going to do that--after I learn to stop crashing. Our son in the video production sees a necessity of building this capability for aerial shoots at much less cost than normal. 

This might seem just entertainment for some old, bored fighter pilot buff (like me), or you can see it for what I think it will be: your future.

As a communicator, hopefully by now you realize your job is not to feed the journalists and broadcaster but to be a journalist and broadcaster. Social media, now used by almost 70% of emergency management agencies, helped more than anything to get the idea across that we have to tell our story fast and to those who want to listen--reporters or average Joes. That means the tools and techniques used by journalists are your tools and techniques too. Certainly monitoring social media has become the PRIMARY means of reporting (don't believe me? Read this), and that means you are the story teller, the reporter, the broadcaster. If the story is best told by a drone--or in hobby terms, an FPV camera-equipped el cheapo RC plane--then you will likely be required to tell the story that way.

As for me, I'm teaching my grandkids to fly my RC planes. They'll have a great future in journalism that way.

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