UAVs have proved most valuable in providing film footage or photography of things that are difficult to reach, like wildlife or geographic formations. “What drones give you is anywhere, anytime access to the sky,” said Chris Anderson, a former editor of Wired magazine who runs a drone company. “That perspective is something a journalist just wouldn’t have unless he waited for officials, or hired a plane.”
Journalism programs, including those at the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska, and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, have started drone journalism courses. Columbia does not teach hands-on skills, but students at Missouri have used drones over the Missouri River for a report about hydraulic fracturing and over the prairie for a story about controlled burns.
Earthflight, a 2011 BBC documentary about birds, offers one vivid example of the technology. A drone with especially small and quiet rotors took astonishing shots of a flock of two million flamingos. Whereas a helicopter would have spooked the skittish birds, the narrator explains, “the drone hardly ruffles a feather as it captures a view of the greatest gathering of flamingos seen for 20 years.”