Friday, June 19, 2015

'Old stories, new perspectives': Drone journalism in Africa

African SkyCAM founder Dickens Olewe explains how drones can safeguard journalistic independence when reporting on issues and disasters
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Credit: By JacobEnos on Flickr.Some rights reserved.

Less than two miles from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the Dandora Dump is both a blessing and a curse to the communities which surround it.

Up to 10,000 people make their living from the 850 tonnes of rubbish that arrives at the dump daily, sorting through it for anything which might be useful to sell or keep, and risking their health – and their lives – in the process.

The dump, established as a temporary waste site in the 1970s and officially declared full in 2001, has been covered many times by journalists.

However, a team of journalists in Africa decided the story needed to be told from a different angle: with drones.

"When it comes to drone journalism I always talk about all old stories, new perspectives," explained Dickens Olewe, founder of African SkyCAM, at the World News Media Congress in Washington DC.

"This story has been told all the time, but people have just never brought this kind of shot of 'OK, what are we actually talking about? What are the challenges that these people face?'"

Together with journalism technologist Ben Kreimer, Olewe visited Nairobi in November 2014 and flew a video drone over the Dandora Dump to show an aerial perspective of the site.

The pair also used the footage to produce a 3D model of the dump to offer audiences "a massive experience" of its 30-acre scale, as well as its proximity to schools and houses.

"I thought it was really important to inspire the imagination of not just our readers, but also the government, who I knew at some point would want to regulate this space," said Olewe.

SkyCAM was one of 20 projects awarded funding by the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge in 2012, which invited African journalists to come up with digital solutions to address hurdles faced by media across the world's second-largest continent.

At the time, Kenya was under siege from flash floods and landslides caused by heavy rain, killing more than 80 people and displacing around 30,000.

Olewe was concerned about the "threat to editorial independence" of state-organised helicopter tours offered to the members of the media, who were simultaneously attempting to assess how the government was responding to the disaster.

Journalists travelling to unsafe flooded areas – often via local fishing boats – were also risking their lives, not to mention their expensive equipment.

In addition, the story was widely being reported using traditional, standard formats – what Olewe described as "template journalism" – something he did not feel fully conveyed the sheer scale and impact of the floods.

His solution was to use drones, using "local technology as an alternative to helicopters".

Since then, SkyCAM has filmed everything from political rallies to conservation pieces.

A Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, Olewe is now working on a best practice manual to encourage responsible and safe use of drones in journalism.

Referring to the legal framework which governs where, when and how drones can be used, he said journalists "need to be at the table when these regulations are being made".

Culled from

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