Drones: A unique view on storytelling

By Laura Imregi

Drones are increasingly becoming part of the newsgathering process, allowing media organizations to capture different perspectives of events and providing them access to new locations.

At the recent News Xchange conference in Berlin, we challenged attendees to have a go at flying a drone. Turns out it is no simple feat — but the challenge was about more than having fun.

We sat down with our head of U.S. video and radio news, Denise Vance, to discuss the impact drones are having on the news industry.

At the start of 2015, we announced we were joining a coalition of 10 media organizations and partnering with Virginia Tech for the testing of drones in newsgathering.

“As a coalition, you represent many with one voice, putting us in a stronger position to make a difference,” Vance said. “Along with our coalition partners, we see the use of drones as a new form of newsgathering and storytelling.”

The partnership was created to conduct controlled safety testing of scenarios where the media could use small drones to gather news. Virginia Tech leads one of the six test sites set up by Congress to collect data on the use of drones and to formulate regulations to integrate them into the national airspace. The coalition is providing feedback and suggestions to the FAA as it considers which rules to implement around usage.

“As a news agency, we are experimenting with drones across videos and photos, but not yet on a regular basis,” Vance said. “We have trained a number of video journalists to be licensed drone pilots, but we are selective as to when we deploy one — the primary purpose is to tell a story in a new way that you could not do previously.”

Amy Selwyn, managing director of News Xchange, center, navigates a drone during AP’s “fly your way to Rio” challenge during the News Xchange conference in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. Also pictured are AP’s brand ambassadors, Rob Dudley, left, and Carolin Wilkening. (Photo by Antoine Vessaud)

This year, we decided to deploy our own drone when a major earthquake hit Nepal in April. We were the first media organization to send clean, self-shot material from Kathmandu after the natural disaster and our lone cameraman continued to provide extensive coverage throughout the day. A team of AP video journalists and producers was then deployed to the area to deliver up-to-date coverage, but the use of a drone enabled us to also deliver an expansive overview of the destruction in the capital.

“Drones will allow us to tell stories in unique ways,” Vance said. “We are used to viewing things at eye level, but they allow you to go up high while still capturing great detail. They give you the scale of a problem close up and allow you to get to locations you can’t always reach on foot. Filming aerials from a drone is also more immersive than from a helicopter — it is part of the scene rather than just an observer above the scene.”

Vance thinks drones will be especially vital in breaking news.

“They are light in weight and give you mobility and flexibility,” she said. “It is a newsgathering tool that allows you to stand back from a potentially dangerous situation and yet capture strong, high-definition video from afar. You can fly them over high elevations, over water or underground and, at some stage, they will also be able to transmit a live stream, taking this type of newsgathering to a near real-time experience.”

Laura Imregi

Laura was the international communications manager for The Associated Press, focusing on generating compelling content and messaging for a variety of platforms to support AP’s strategic objectives.

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