Technology v. Journalism
Technology is undoubtedly growing and affecting everything. Fast food restaurants are installing self-order menus, you can pay all your bills online, people can navigate their way anywhere in the world by using a mobile app, and the public doesn’t have to touch a print copy of the newspaper to obtain their news anymore. With the internet becoming so accessible, just about anyone can share information with a click of a button. The dilemma is technology can be a friend and a foe to the journalism field. Some might think sharing news and photos online and using new technology like drones are great for journalists. However, journalists are struggling to adapt to the rapidly growing internet community and are becoming overwhelmed. Major stakeholders like photojournalists, newsrooms, drone manufactures, and the public are feeling the major shift although each tier is affected quite differently, they all affect one another.
Photojournalists stake in the rise in technology
For decades, photojournalists have competed against one another to create the most visually interesting photos to be published in their newspaper. Even today, photojournalists are searching for new ways and ideas to compel their images stand out to viewers. As technology improves, journalists grapple with adapting and over-coming triumphs like switching from film to DSLRs, using new editing software, and sharing images across the internet. Now, journalists are competing against iPhone photography, citizen journalism, and learning how to use drones. “Photojournalists no longer have exclusive control of news images” (Garcia, & Palomo, 2015, p. 33). When a newsworthy event, or any event for that matter, happens, there is no doubt the public has already shot and uploaded the images directly to the internet, tagging a location and adding hashtags to attract more viewers. The internet allows for everyone to be an amateur reporter. Hadland and colleagues (2016) stated, “The digital revolution has witnessed the transformation of the audience into producers and with technology growing in power and shrinking in cost, a new generation of amateur and citizen image-makers has emerged” (p. 820). This isn’t only causing more competition for photographers, but it’s causing layoffs in the department as well.
Cutbacks in newsrooms have always threatened photographers’ jobs, but now technology is improving so rapidly, they’re more vulnerable to being replaced. Major publications like CNN and Sports Illustrated have even sacrificed many of their photojournalists in recent years due to layoffs. In May 2013 the Chicago Sun-Times fired their entire photo department, replacing them with writers who would be trained in iPhone photography (Garcia, & Palomo, 2015, p.35). Although Apple is tirelessly continuing to upgrade the cameras in the iPhones, the quality difference between a mobile devices and DSLRs can be spotted. For example, when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune both published celebration photos on the front pages of their paper the next day, the quality didn’t go unnoticed. “Perhaps due to these differing views on photography, photo industry pundits immediately began pointing out the differences in the front-page photos immediately after they left the presses” (Zhang, 2016).
The Chicago Tribunes’ front-page photo was taken with a DSLR by one of their photojournalists, Brian Casella, and gained more positive recognition after it was published compared to the Chicago Sun-Times’. But iPhone photography is becoming more acceptable in today’s society because we are becoming used to it, thus making visual journalists feel the pressure of layoffs. Journalists are having to jump through hoops to secure their employment by becoming even more flexible, including knowing how to use new equipment. Drones are becoming more popular in media, and photojournalists are trying to obtain the rights and abilities to use them more frequently for their work in the newsrooms. The problem is convincing more newsrooms to adopt them.
Technology and the newsroom
Although drones could be beneficial factors for reporting, newsrooms are facing ethical and legal limitations when trying to use them. Louise Roug (2014) wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review discussing the positive influence drones can have on the newsroom. Roug talks about Pedro Rivera, a former reporter for his local CBS affiliate in Connecticut and his negative experience with using a drone for reporting. Rivera left his home on his day off to attend a fatal crash a few miles from his home. Rivera parked a block away and took to the sky to capture the crash when he was approached by police officers and immediately asked if he worked for the media. Answering yes, he was then told to land the drone and leave, so Rivera did as they said and went home. At work the next Monday, Rivera was pulled into his supervisors’ office and questioned about the incident and was ordered to go home. A few days later Rivera noticed his work email was cut off, and the television station released a statement saying they do not own or condone the use of drones in their newsroom. This story goes to show the rules are not changing as fast as technology is, and although valuable equipment is available, it’s not permitted to be used. Roug states, “Photography is photography, a protected right that shouldn’t be revoked because new technology came along” (p. 31). That was four years ago. Today, bigger newsrooms such as The New York Times and BBC are using drones for reporting, but drones are still not overwhelmingly popular.
Using drones can allow visual journalists to produce images to help the viewer understand the scope of the scene. New York Times photojournalist, Josh Hanner said in a May 2018 interview with the paper, “I was able to get an aerial angle of the giant moai statues on Easter Island showing their proximity to an eroding coastline, which would not have been possible any other way.” Newsrooms can gain more viewers by producing images unlike others have seen before. During the 2018 ASNE – APME – APPM News Leadership conference in Austin, Texas, Austin-American Statesman photojournalist, Jay Janner said, “It’s such a valuable tool for certain spot news events because it can get you places that you could never get before.” Janner became a certified FAA Part 107 commercial drone pilot in 2017 and has used his drone to cover spot news events like Hurricane Harvey, and the Austin bomber. Janner uses the drone to capture images his competitors don’t have access too.
Although aerial photographs are not unheard of, using drones rather than renting a helicopter is significantly cheaper for the newsroom. Drones are also more immediate, can move into the air faster, and can be maneuvered more easily. Lewis Whyld, a British photographer told The New York Times in 2013, “The newspaper was for still images, but the internet is for this [drones]. Whyld documented the destruction from Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines with his drone. Visual journalists are creating some visually pleasing images, attracting much attention and creating more revenue for them.
Drone manufactures take a stake
As technology grows, the desire for drones will too, thus creating a better market for the manufactures. Once the media seizes the initiative to use them, drone manufactures will pretty much aquire free, unspoken endorsement. When the public sees the images created with drones, there’s a chance they will feel the impulse of buying one for their own recreational use. for Drones are not free, and newspapers will have to purchase them, just like everyone else, but this is great news for the manufactures.
During the 2017-2018 school year, Ball State University rebranded, creating a new slogan and a new “We Fly” commercial. Within the commercial, there is a scene shows students flying drones into the air and a scene shot using a drone. Shortly after the commercial was released, Ball State updated their website and made policies regarding the usages of drones on campus (UAS drone policy, 2018). “Drones are playing and increasingly important role in the advertising industry as they provide new and creative opportunities to capture the attention of brand audiences” (PwC, 2018). A new visual perspective was created for those watching Ball State’s commercial. By intentionally showing students engaging with the drones, Ball State was hoping to attract perspective students.
“As development and usage is encouraged through clearer legislation, demand for drone manufacture will increase, bringing huge financial rewards for those designing and building such vehicles” (Forshaw, 2016). As the popularity of drone’s increase, the sales will increase, making the manufacturers develop more drones to sell. To the manufactures, this can be a win-win situation. Sales increase, making them more money, while people enjoy drones and visual journalists create new compelling images.
Developers keep all parties in mind. Manufactures and designers test for weight and shapes best suitable for the drones. They also find appropriate weather conditions, tracking systems, cyber protection, and recovery systems while creating and updating designs (Forshaw, 2016). Manufactures also keep issues of public liability, nuisances, and privacy in mind when creating because these are their consumer’s worries. The rules of photography being captured from DSLRs are commonly understood, but some rules change when using drones, especially those involving privacy.
Public’s eye view on drones
Even today, when people hear a cameras shutter or they notice they’re being recorded, they tend to avoid the camera, become uncomfortable, and feel invaded. Although taking pictures in public is not against the law, some people act like it is or it should be. This is still true when the cameras are flying. The Pew Research Center conducted a voluntary survey between May 1 – 15 in 2017, asking adult Americans their opinions and knowledge about drones and their usages. According to the Pew Research Center (2017), “8% of Americans say they own a drone, while more than half have seen one in operation.”
One of the graphs showed how respondents explained how they would feel if they saw a drone flying close to where they live. With these results, Hilton concluded “About one-in-ten Americans would be angry or scared if they saw a drone near home.” Respondents in this graph answered more positively than negatively. One of the questions asked from the survey was how the respondent felt about drones being in certain geographical locations, and if they think they should be allowed, not allowed or if it depended on a reason the respondent elaborated on. The results varied with every question, but it was noted, “older Americans often have substantially more negative – and less permissive – attitudes toward drones than do younger adults” (Hiltin, 2017).
In 2016 the UK Department for Transport (DfT) conducted surveys and workshops regarding drones and the public opinion, in five different locations across the UK. The studies found the awareness of drones across the general public to be low, as most of the participants in the study answered having no or low awareness of the commercial uses of drones. However, after the survey was conducted, the DfT said, “Research shows that exposure to the technology tends to lead to a more positive perception. Exposure enables people to gain more awareness of the potential for beneficial uses… participants in the DfT consultation were overall more positive about drones after the workshops than at the start” (Duffy, 2018).
Exposing the public to drones and educating them on the benefits may overpower the fears and concerns drones bring to someone’s mind. Drones must be accepted by the public for them to be used to their full extent, no matter the mission of the drone.
The use of drones and growing technology is inevitable. The only option is to join forces with the rapidly growing technology and use it to its full potential. We cannot let the fears of some stop us from creating. We must help those who are unfamiliar with or feel uneasy about the growing technology become educated and more comfortable with the new tools. As photojournalists, it’s important to pocket the growing technology as a blessing instead of a curse. Newsrooms should become more accepting of the use of these tools and help raise awareness of the technology as well. Manufactures can help by advertising, holding workshops and helping the general public become more comfortable with the technology.
Once the public can understand drones are another tool for journalists to use to serve the public, then hopefully the ball will begin to roll in the right direction, allowing visual journalists to report and execute packages of information to distribute in the news. This process is currently being maneuvered through a chain link fence and needs everyone to be on the same page for new ideas and creations to take flight.
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