AOPA published an interesting article discussing how once the exclusive domain of large-market television stations with pockets deep enough to hire helicopters, consumer quadcopters have democratized aerial journalism with affordable access to previously unseen perspectives on disasters, major crimes, and much more.
Sometimes the aerial perspective has obvious value. Think about the barricaded suspect surrounded by SWAT officers; the raging factory fire; or widespread, devastating floods, wildfires, or tornado strikes. Journalists call this “spot” or “breaking news,” and these are the kinds of stories most likely to have helicopters assigned.
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In some respects, the drone has become just another tool in a visual journalist’s kit, a lens with a 400-foot extension ladder attached. With proper mission planning, drones create unique ways of looking at familiar subjects. They can fly to the perfect vantage point to tell stories about construction, land use, Christmas tree recycling, freak snowfalls, events, and more. This storytelling-from-a-new-perspective potential is nearly endless in the hands of a careful, well-trained, and imaginative photographer or videographer. In fact, some have found that even with no rotors spinning, the drone can function as a capable steadicam as the photographer “walks” the drone around subjects in nonflyable environments.
Outside of huge stories, newspapers did not historically have much appetite (or budget) for helicopter rental.
Justifying the expenditure of hundreds or thousands of dollars required compiling an aerial wish list, inviting editors around the newsrooms to pencil in assignments, and wait until the list got long enough to justify a photo flight. Some might split rental costs with another news organization. (Television stations also came to do this routinely—have you seen the news helicopters with one station’s livery painted on one side, and another station on the other?) Continue reading about the new era of aerial storytelling.