Drone Journalism: Old stories, new perspectives

Posted By dickens on Apr 6, 2014 | 0 comments


That new technologies are changing journalism is no longer news. However, the disruption being caused by these technologies have left media businesses and journalists grappling to make sense of the ongoing change and trying to make themselves both profitable

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and relevant in this new age. News consumers, who are now more connected than ever before, thanks to the internet, are also exerting pressure on media businesses to reform and add value in reporting stories and infuse new perspectives in their coverage.

Lake Victoria aerial shot

Lake Victoria aerial shot

The African News Innovation Challenge, an initiative of the African Media Initiative, provides a platform and funding for African media and journalists to discuss and seek answers to these emerging challenges. In the inaugural competition in 2012, some 20 winners submitted projects which varied from setting up

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fact-checking platforms, social media newswire and news monetising models. My pitch, AfricanSkyCAM, also a winner, was to use unmanned aerial vehicles and camera-equipped balloons to give journalists an ‘eye in the sky’ while covering fast moving stories and or negotiating difficult terrain — to give an added perspective in storytelling.

World’s leading media stations like American’s CNN, UK’s BBC and Australia’s ABC have integrated the use of civilian drones in covering stories. AfricanSkyCAM is a pioneer in the continent, using proof of concept projects to make a strong case for using low-cost drone technology in storytelling.

Machakos People's park aerial shot

Machakos People’s park aerial shot

Last month, in partnership with Ben Kreimer from the Drone Journalism Lab University Nebraska, we set out to tell stories using a DJI phantom quadcopter — this equipment is shipped as a toy. We covered the KCB rally at the beautiful Machakos People’s Park. The quality of the footage we got from

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an elevated angle accentuated the beauty of the park and provided a broader spectrum of the coverage of the rally event.

KCB Machakos Rally 2014

KCB Machakos Rally 2014

Civilian use of drone technology is not limited to journalism. We also visited Stuart Barden, proprietor of AusQuest farm in Athi River. Stuart farms just over 1,000 acres. He uses modern machinery and technology in farming including GPS precision farming and UAVs fitted with near infrared cameras which produces data that give information on plant health.

Stuart Barden farm in Athi River.

Stuart Barden farm in Athi River.

Tech giants Facebook and Google are currently developing exciting projects of using civilian drones and balloons to provide internet to isolated areas around the world. In Kenya, La Fondation Bundi, a Swiss non-profit initiative has received 35 applications internationally to partner with Kenya’s tech community to develop unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying load for some distance. The project’s

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aim is to have the first commercial ‘flying donkeys’ in Africa around 2020, which will carry 20 kilos of cargo over 50 kilometres in less than one hour along an established network. The project mirrors online shopping giant Amazon’s futuristic plans to use UAVs to deliver parcels to American homes.

Low-cost drone technology provides Africa with a tool to explore its rich diversity in flora and fauna, stories which have mostly been told by foreigners. Before we produced a promotional video for the beautiful Paradise Lost recreation park in Kiambu County, we tried to find a video that told the history of this beautiful park which has been visited for decades and was used by the Mau Mau freedom fighters — but there was nothing.

Paradise Lost recreational park, Kiambu County

Paradise Lost recreational park, Kiambu County

AfricanSkyCAM is successfully making a strong case for the use of UAVs as a tool that allows journalists to tell

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‘old stories’ in a new way. We also partnered with CCTV Africa in a wildlife project at the Ol Pejeta conservancy to demonstrate the amazing use case of a UAV. Our aim was to give a different perspective on Kenya’s wild spaces and wild animals which we achieved with remarkable results.

A family of elephants at the Ol Pejeta conservancy

A family of elephants at the Ol Pejeta conservancy

Africa is a massive continent, with vast numbers of its one billion people still living in isolated rural

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areas. Few, if any African media, own their own helicopters, and only a handful can afford to hire helicopters to cover major stories. Journalistic drones have the potential to revolutionise media access to frontline events, as well as strengthen journalistic independence for these kinds of stories.

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AfricanSkyCAM’s next step is to reach out to like-minded media across the continent to share knowledge, experience and help in kickstarting the adoption of low-cost drone technology in strorytelling.

Landscape of the Ol Pejeta conservancy

Landscape of the Ol Pejeta conservancy