The idea for a Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence had a fairly inauspicious start. It came to me in a parking lot, on a chilly November Saturday morning. I was with a colleague of mine - another Seneca journalism prof who is a genius with a camera and in high demand as a camera operator. Together, we were headed to a university and college drone fair, to interview people for a series of educational videos about safe drone use operation for hobby and commercial operators. IATA had commissioned the videos as part of a global educational campaign it has been running for several years now.
We made small talk on the way in, as you do, and he mentioned that another media organisation had recently offered to hire him to get drone shots for journalism purposes. They offered to pay him handsomely, but he turned them down. He didn’t have expertise operating drones, he didn’t have suitable liability insurance and he was also uncertain of the regulations. The media organisation didn’t seem to know that these things mattered, but my colleague did!
That got me thinking.
Why didn’t they know?
Why didn’t they know a journalist can’t simply send up a drone anywhere and anytime they want?
After all, civilian operated drones aren’t a rarity any longer. Transport Canada estimates that, as of the end of 2018, nearly six hundred thousand remotely piloted aircraft systems (or RPAS) will be in use in Canada. Besides hobby use, drones play important roles in a growing number of industries including agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and law enforcement. And increasingly, they are a critical part of any journalist’s toolkit.
So why the knowledge gap?
It struck me that it was time to centralise Canadian expertise in one place. And there is a great deal of Canadian drone journalism expertise. Many Canadian journalism schools do offer some level of drone training - from an hour in one class to an entire semester (we did the research, and we’re going to post it for you here). Many Canadian media organisations use drone pilots, and plan on expanding their drone journalism operations. And finally, many people in Canada have expertise in using drones - from officials at Transport Canada to IATA, to organisations like Unmanned Systems Canada. Why not create an organisation to pull all this expertise together to address that knowledge gap? Other countries have similar efforts. Why can’t we do this in Canada?
And so the Seneca College-based Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence was born.
Our first task was to survey all Canadian journalism schools to find out what they offer, in terms of teaching students to use drones.
Our second task was to convene Canada’s first-ever national drone journalism symposium. On May 2, 2019 we brought together journalism faculty from across Canada; regulatory officials from Transport Canada; aviation industry experts from IATA; drone manufacturing representatives from DJI; journalism students; and CBC, CNN and Bell Media to talk, network and address some common challenges. The symposium was a huge success - so many people wanted to attend we had to start a wait list! If you were unable to attend you’ll find the video of that symposium on this website.
Our third task was to create a website - what you are reading now! The site is a work in progress so please be patient with us as we intend to add further sections as we grow, including training webinars. We want the website to function as an online portal to reach a national and international audience. If you are looking for Canadian drone journalism expertise - this is the place. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a look around the CDJE website, and let us know if you like what you see.
Professor of Journalism
Seneca College School of Media