Cut the Chopper, Cue the Drones?

A few weeks ago, I had a great conversation with my friend and former co-worker, Matt Grant, now a reporter in Fort Myers, FL.  We were marveling over the latest push in newsrooms towards iPhone or laptop live shots.  Matt and I both spent our last few years in small markets where this sort of thing would have been a game-changer, not just for our stations but for our careers.  Small-market reporters are lucky to get a photog once a week, much less a live truck.  (I can just hear the pained laughter of all my MMJ friends out there.)  Now, you need neither.  Just a smartphone with Ustream or Skype, point it at yourself, and you’re set to go live from anywhere with WiFi or a 3G cell signal.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this article about a CNN reporter who bought a basic consumer grade drone, equipped it with a cheap HD camcorder, and sent it to get a birds’ eye view of the storm damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  For less than $600, he completed a task that would usually take a helicopter, pilot, and photographer to accomplish.  The reporter achieved a new, distinctive look; and his shots captured the state of the up-close destruction better than the sky views we usually see.  (Here is a generic chopper shot, managing to make chaos and destruction look boring.  Yawn.)

I’m not suggesting that helicopters can be totally replaced (case in point), but I am saying that a lot of their functions could be done with a drone cam.  Imagine tighter overhead shots with better control.  Aerial closeups for natural disaster sites, fires, and events with massive crowds.  All controlled by a photog or reporter’s iPad.  We’ve already sacrificed a bit of quality for iPhone live hits, so why not?  The sky’s the limit! 😉


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