CNN Launches Drone Journalism Department – CNN Air

Might be time to get used to reporter drones

In the latest expansion of drone journalism, CNN has officially launched a team dedicated to flying drones, which consists of two full-time unmanned aerial systems (UAS) pilots.

“CNN’s cutting-edge development of technology to enhance the way we tell stories is a part of our DNA,” said Terence Burke, senior vice president of National News at CNN, in a news release. “We are proud to continue the tradition with CNN AIR, and to establish a unit that will expand our technological capabilities for newsgathering.”

On the air and in the air

The CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN Air) team will capture aerial photo and video content for all CNN networks and platforms and Turner Broadcasting (TBS), including its parent company Time Warner.

CNN Air is currently using tethered and free-flight multirotors, however, the company is also looking into small fixed-wing systems. Greg Agvent, senior director of news operations at CNN, says a drone needs to suit the reporting assignment — fixed-wings for long, sustained flight, or small quadcopters for maneuverability and ease of launch.

“For the most part, we are operating with ‘off the shelf’ equipment ― but broadcast, particularly live broadcast, has unique technical requirements ― we are working with several manufacturers to spec the perfect broadcast drone.”

Various manufacturers, including drone company Aerobo, are working to create UAS tailored specifically to the journalism market — but only time will tell which drones become mainstream in the industry.

Finding a path together

The news network is no stranger to drones. As shown in the video above, CNN has covered various news stories using drones since at least 2015. Anderson Cooper also provided coverage on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina using UAS.
CNN works closely with the FAA through the government agency’s Pathfinder program, wherein CNN has conducted visual line-of-sight flights in densely populated areas — which is currently not allowed for other recreational or commercial drone operators.

“While others were casting stones at the FAA, we chose to work closely with them,” Agvent says. “We felt it was important to engage productively ― to provide leadership and be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”

He also says that it took him some time to come around to a reality that much of the sUAS industry continually grapples with — that drones are aircraft, not toys.

“We are in aviation,” he says. “We need to meet the highest standards of safety ― the standards that make the US airspace the safest in the world. While we have had our ups and downs, the leadership from day one has been focused on the safe integration of UAS.”

The network has also benefited from a partnership with Georgia Tech and the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) to help establish industry baselines for drone tech.

“I hope that we have played some small part in helping to create the foundation for the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace,“ Agvent says.

Why should using drones for reporting matter to the average viewer? Well, to Agvent, the answer is simple — creating more immersive storytelling through context and understanding.

Karen Smetana, technical consultant at CNN Air, agrees. She believes the most impressive thing about CNN’s progress is its collaboration and commitment to a revolutionary technology. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still work yet to be done.

“There is still a lot to be learned, and a lot of effort is required to find out, to remain curious, and CNN Air is serving as a thought leader in the space, sharing progress, sharing their stories,” Smetana says.

Drones for every newsroom?

CNN’s close collaboration with the FAA was vital to getting the news organization to where it is today with drone journalism, but for other, smaller organizations, things may now be a little easier.

Part 107, the FAA’s new set of commercial drone rules, goes into effect on Aug. 29. These rules make it drastically more accessible for people and companies, including news organizations, to utilize drones in for non-hobby use.

With that in mind, does Agvent think that other news groups might follow in CNN’s footsteps to establish drone journalism departments?

“Yes,” he says. “I expect others to follow.”

Grab a copy of Drone360 ‘s July/August issue for a more in-depth look at how drones are being used in journalism.

BY LAUREN SIGFUSSON , LEAH FROATS