Drone journalism (part 1): What license do you need?


You've seen the stunning imagery – smoke billowing above a raging fire, the aftermath of an incredible highway pileup, or neighborhoods devastated by flooding.

Drone video is suddenly everywhere.

The video above, which aired at a former TV employer of mine during a major industrial fire in Buffalo, N.Y., is a perfect example of drone footage that can help add details words simply can't provide.

The reason drone footage is becoming more prevalent is simple – drones are more accessible and cheaper.

But before you send a photographer out to buy one with an expectation that game-changing images will soon follow, understand there are a host of regulations on newsrooms (and all other commercial entities, for that matter).

Here's the good news – before Aug. 29, all commercial drone use, including for journalistic purposes, was banned unless you had a pilot's license. That essentially knocked most newsrooms out of the skies when it came to newsgathering.

But since that date, the path to getting your drone in the air is easier. Not simple, but easier.

During a recent installment of the GateHouse Professional Development Series, attorneys Charles Tobin and Christine Walz from Holland & Knight, LLP, explained the process for newsrooms to get their drones flying.

Christine Walz, left, and Charles Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP. (Photos courtesy of hklaw.com)Christine Walz, left, and Charles Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP. (Photos courtesy of hklaw.com)

By taking the Aeronautical Knowledge Exam, you can now be fully certified to fly a drone for commercial purposes.

So what does it take to get this new license?

According to Walz:

• You must be over 16 years old.

• You must be vetted by the TSA (security).

• You must be able to read, speak and understand English to take the exam.

• You must certify that you are in physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone.

For a list of test sites, click here.

The test costs $150 to take, and isn't easy, according to those who have taken it. Here's a link to a practice test and some tips on studying for the exam.

(Side note: Newsrooms can accept drone video from outside contributors, as long as the newsrooms were not part of the planning process for the drone video capture.)

Once you've passed the test and you've purchased your drone, where exactly can you fly? That will be the second part of our series, coming soon to GateHouseNewsroom.com.

Tim Schmitt, project manager with GateHouse Media, has spent decades in various newsrooms – some print and some broadcast. He was a sports reporter, news reporter and then managing editor of his hometown paper, the Tonawanda (N.Y.) News, where he led an award-winning editorial page. He's worked as an editor, staffer or longtime contributor with the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, the Mesa Tribune, the Arizona Republic, the alt-weekly Buffalo Current and the Niagara Falls Gazette, where he was executive sports editor over four dailies – spearheading coverage of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. He also worked as a weekend anchor and reporter at Buffalo's ABC-TV affiliate, WKBW, and was the news director of WLVL-AM in the Buffalo market, where he hosted a daily two-hour talk show covering local politics and current events. He moved to Austin to join GateHouse in early 2015.

drones, GateHouse


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