Why print news types should never get drones

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

I read the other day that journalists are itching to get their hands on drones as a news gathering tool. The disadvantages would also be enormous.

As long as only TV stations operate them, I think we’d be O.K., since they have had a lot of experience with flying helicopters. That would save them a lot of money. Those helicopters are very expensive to fly.

But drones should never be put under the auspices of print news organizations. It would be like giving a baby a loaded gun.

Newspaper reporters are not exactly experts at much of anything other than gathering information and then relaying it by writing it down. Operating a drone on any level would be way beyond their capabilities.

Just switching from typewriters to computers was emotionally stressful to many writers back in the days when the news wire teletype machines still clicked in the newsrooms. 

The New York Times was late to the game switching from the bulky and expensive hot-type presses to cold-type that use aluminum sheets.

Many big market dailies missed the train as it pulled out of the Internet station. Then, when they finally caught it, they misused it by giving their news away on-line, while still charging for it in print.

Then they could not figure out why print sales were declining.

They started crying about how the Internet is killing them rather than realizing that they have had to compete against radio and television for decades, and the Internet was not that different.

Instead of putting more money in content and Internet development, they began to cut newsroom staff, which reduced the possibility that we would read something different in our morning paper than what Yahoo already headlined at noon yesterday.

So, these same people should be trusted with drones flying all over the city?

Here is a little secret. Print news people are driven by egos and ambition, but they do not know how to operate drones. They barely can turn their computers on to type their stories. Some are probably are still reaching for the carriage return bar.

I know that they can hire experts to run those things, but with newsroom budgets being cut, what’s the chance of that happening?

When we got our first computers at the Houston Chronicle, they just told us to pick them up and start filing on them by Monday. The tech guys (two for the entire paper) didn’t want to mess with us. On Monday, most of us were still filing on the old machines.

It took a while to figure out that fancy new PC with a 20 Megabyte hard drive. We used it solely as a typewriter with a screen. I didn’t realize what else it could do until I stuck a chess game program floppy disk in it and saw that this bulky type writer could actually do other things. Then came the Monopoly program.

Maybe there was a reason why we were not told anything about them.

But, I am veering off my main subject (which is quite normal for me).

So, I can just imagine these drones being distributed to writers on Friday, and being told to start using them by Monday. They’d be crashing into everything. It would be a big mess.

I would use my drone to fly to the beach and report back whether it’s nice and sunny. No need to drive all that distance if the weather is not ideal.

When in the 1980s the Chronicle gave us cell phones (those big Motorola brick phones) the first call most of us placed on them was to a spouse or friend to brag that we had cell phones.

There was a glitch in those early day phones, though. They never got a signal on Friday afternoons.
But, I am veering off again.

My point is that there is an abundance of history that explains why print reporters and editors should not be put in control of drones.

We are word smiths, not techs. We worry about where the comma goes, run on sentences and dangling participles. We don’t know how to maneuver drones around a news event.

With my luck, my drone would become the news event.

The TV news station drones would be covering my drone as it crashes on a busy highway during rush hour and ties up traffic for miles.

That is another reason why I would use my drone solely to fly to the beach and back.