Monday, April 8, 2013

On engaging the public on privacy, journalism, and drones.

Journalists might be familiar with the quote by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who once wrote "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."

Journalists seeking to use unmanned aircraft would be wise not to just apply that concept of uncovering the truth about others, but also to make the public aware of how they intend to use "drones."

While the response journalists get from the public might be unexpected, the answer is not to become defensive or rely on ad-hominem arguments. Whatever your station in journalism, you are as much a servant to the public as any of the officials you interview.

The following is copied from the post I wrote for

Preparing a quadrotor for "show-and-tell" on WILL AM580.
If last week’s FAA “online public engagement” session was any indication, you can never quite tell what people are going to say about unmanned aircraft and drones.

Obviously there are major concerns, some of them justified, about unmanned aircraft and privacy. The answer is not to hide from these questions, or avoid interviews.

Thursday, I was joined by Chris Anderson of 3DRobotics (a company which provides aerial robotics components, some of which I use for drone journalism and STEM education), and Nancy Cooke, Science Director of the Cognitive Engineering Research Institute in Mesa, Arizona, for a call-in radio program about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on the NPR affiliate WILL.

We covered a wide range of topics, from the basics of “what is a drone?,” to the many applications for UAS, including STEM education, cargo transport, and journalism. Most of the questions from our callers involved privacy, so a lot of discussion happened around laws and regulations.

WILL’s website includes an MP3 of that radio program, along with a video interview that producer Lindsey Moon put together. The video includes an introduction to the AR.Drone 2.0 quadcopter, which I flew around WILL studios to demonstrate how it hovers and records video.