Inside the Beltway: Drones for journalists

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Here comes the fly-by media. Preliminary use of diminutive drones is under way among those who see the potential of drones in news gathering, not to mention invasive “gotcha”-style journalism. Deadline Detroit — “a homegrown media revolution” manned by former veteran journalists — has already used footage made by “Tretch5000,” an anonymous hobbyist who used a camera-mounted drone to peek inside abandoned housing and old civic buildings, producing a telling video vignette.

“There’s a part of me that finds this kind of creepy and fraught with ‘big brother is watching’ issues. While we might trust public radio journalists and academics, there were rumors earlier this week that TMZ had purchased a drone to assist in its paparazzi-style coverage of celebrities,” says Vince Duffy, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association.

“But why wouldn’t they get one? Could websites that cover celebrities resist the urge to fly drones over celebrity weddings, outdoor red carpets, and beaches where starlets might be caught topless?” Mr. Duffy asks.

The University of Missouri has awarded a $25,000 grant to public radio station KBIA to explore drone journalism in places “reporters can’t go or reach,” while the University of Nebraska has won $50,000 from the Knight Foundation for a new Drone Journalism Lab. Mr. Duffy points out that the Federal Aviation Administration requires unmanned aircraft systems to be within the operator’s line of sight, cruise below 400 feet during daylight hours and avoid airports, among other things.

“Journalism organizations would certainly have many reasons to fly drones far from the person controlling it, or on some type of preprogrammed autopilot course,” Mr. Duffy says. “The FAA is looking into how it can regulate the coming ‘drone age’ safely. They expect to have new rules by 2015. The ethical issues for using drones for journalism will probably be up in the air much after that.”

BUH-BYE, REPUBLICANS?

Sentiment is fierce regarding the “fiscal cliff” and the political posturing, brinksmanship and sword rattling that accompanies it. “Should Republicans walk away from fiscal cliff negotiations?” asks a new National Review online poll of some 12,500 readers. The number: 85 percent said, yeah, go right ahead.

FOWL WEATHER

“The community of Chicken once again reported the coldest official temperature in the U.S. this morning with a low temperature of 56 degrees below zero. This morning marks the 3rd day in a row that the NWS observer in Chicken has reported temperatures colder than 50 below zero,” notes the National Weather Service in a dispatch Sunday. Chicken, population 17, is now officially the coldest spot in the nation for the time being.

Local resident Douglas DeVore reports that the wee spot is located in the northeast interior of Alaska and was originally founded as “Ptarmigan” in 1886. Since no one could agree on the spelling, the town was renamed for the barnyard fowl. Chicken, though it has no electricity or water system, is a warm place, however, welcoming visitors as one of the few original “gold mining towns” on the map.

TEA’S BREWING

Embattled founder of American for Tax Reform Grover Norquist predicts a “second wave” of grass-roots tea party activism is at hand. Here comes a first volley, perhaps. Set for Wednesday: a “Just Say No to Obamacare” rally staged at the state capital building in Nashville, Tenn.

“Heavy pressure from the Obama administration is focused on convincing states to establish their own health insurance exchange under the law in order to gain some measure of state control,” advises the local Sumner County Tea Party. “The idea of states having any control over the operation of these exchanges is a fiction, adroitly peddled by those in line to gain handsomely from the exchanges themselves.”

They hope to get Gov. Bill Haslam’s attention; he has until Dec. 14 to notify the Department of Health and Human Services if he will opt for the exchange.

“The fight over Obamacare as a law ended when Chief Justice John Roberts engaged in mental gymnastics to uphold the law under Congress’ taxing authority, and then again when Obama’s re-election removed any possibility of complete repeal,” says William Jacobson, a Cornell University Law School associate professor and founder of “Legal Insurrection,” a feisty blog.

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