Posts Tagged ‘drones’


Ethics Week: Drone Details

Flickr Creative Commons

Flickr Creative Commons

Using drones  to report the news has its advantages, but those advantages come with the added burden of some ethical issues specific to the unmanned aircrafts.

As of right now, the scope of newsgathering by drone – known as drone journalism or aerojournalism – is severely limited by the Federal Aviation Administration, which largely bans the commercial use of drones. The federal agency is expected to announce rules for commercial use later this year, however.

While journalists wait for the rules to be announced, it’s a good idea to start thinking about the potential uses and limitations of the technology while there is time to do so.

For example, just like any other form of journalism, journalists want to make sure they’re not unnecessarily violating people’s privacy with drones. The technology provides unprecedented access.

With a drone, one has the ability to fly over homes, see into backyards and possibly get views inside homes through windows. While TV cameras could get some footage like this, drones make it easier to obtain. As suggested by the Society’s Code of Ethics, just because journalists can obtain information doesn’t mean they should publish or broadcast that information.

Journalists can identify situations needing extra caution by asking themselves some questions:

  • Is the information newsworthy?
  • Is what you’re seeing from your drone what you could see from the sidewalk if you were just walking by?
  • Does the individual(s) you are capturing on video know you are there? Can they see you?
  • Do the people likely have an expectation of privacy in that location?

In addition to privacy concerns, journalists using drones should consider the public’s safety.

  • Is the drone interfering with an active police or fire response?
  • Is the drone’s use putting any members of the public in harms way? Is it distracting to drivers?
  • Is the drone in an area that may disrupt public utilities, like power lines?
  • Are weather conditions safe for the use of drones?

Since most professional journalists can’t use drones for newsgathering at this moment, they’ll likely first encounter footage from amateur drone operators. Like any piece of journalism submitted by a member of the public, journalists should approach with caution and be inquisitive about its origins.

For more information on the responsible use of drones in journalism, the Professional Society of Drone Journalism has some information on its website: http://www.dronejournalism.org/learn/


Lynn Walsh is president-elect for SPJ and also serves on the ethics and FOI committees. She works in San Diego for NBC 7 Investigates where she is the executive producer for the investigative unit. You can follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

Ethics Week 2016: New Tech, New Problems

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Every few years brings a surprising number of new technologies to newsrooms around the world. News organizations are now investing heavily into virtual reality, automated reporting systems and new partnerships with social media platforms.

While those technologies expand the number of ways journalists can tell stories and reach people, they also increase the number of ethical questions and problems needing to be addressed.

For this entire week, the Society of Professional Journalists will be focusing on how journalists can ethically navigate new technologies. Each day a new blog post will explore ethical situations spanning from drones to virtual reality.

On top of the first-hand tips and suggestions from people within the Society, each post will point to resources around the Internet. For example, the resources may include newly released guidelines from the Online News Association about newsgathering from social media.

In addition to the blog posts, we also hope you’ll continue the conversation online through the Society’s Facebook page or on Twitter with the hashtag #SPJethicstech.

Of course, please use the comment section of these blogs to add your own opinion or suggest additional resources!


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society’s ethics committee. He’s also a journalist in New York City.

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