Drone journalism gets off the ground at Seneca
Student, professors now certified drone pilots
Oct. 24, 2019
Anita Tai used to fly one of those toy drones you can buy at an electronics store.
“I’d fly it to harass people,” she said, chuckling.
Jokes aside, the second-year Journalism student at Seneca is a newly certified drone pilot for advanced operations. She is the only student chosen from the diploma program to be certified alongside a group of professors who are at the helm of steering drone journalism to new heights at Seneca.
“Until recently, I didn’t even know drones were being used in journalism,” Tai said. “Now I think it’ll really offer a different perspective to a story and that will get people thinking differently about an issue.”
Tai’s first exposure to drone journalism was at a symposium organized by the School of Media earlier this year at Newnham Campus. The event, which launched the Seneca-based Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence, was attended by journalists from CNN, CBC and Bell Media as well as officials from Transport Canada, the International Air Transport Association and aviation and journalism educators from across Canada.
Professor Lynda Calvert, a former CBC national reporter, is the co-ordinator of the Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence. She is one of the School of Media professors who recently obtained her advanced drone pilot certification at AlteX Academy, a drone flight school in Markham.
“Drone journalism is rapidly developing and media around the world are building their drone programs,” Calvert said. “Not only do we want to make sure we keep up with market demand, but also that Seneca has the capacity to take the lead on this.”
The Canadian Centre for Drone Journalism Excellence offers information such as drone ethics, how to become a drone pilot and curriculum ideas.
“We intend to be the leaders in this area and it’s really exciting,” Calvert said. “We want to widen the drone journalism conversation worldwide.”
For Professor Bill Hutchison, becoming a certified drone pilot is something he has looked forward to in his professional career.
A former CTV news anchor, Hutchison first saw a drone used about six years ago on W5, the network’s weekly magazine series.
“It was a spectacular shot and it really got my attention,” he recalled. “Now every television station is investing in drones. CTV, CBC and Global — they all have drones. They cost about $4,000 to $5,000 each, which is a lot cheaper than a helicopter.”
The rate to hire a helicopter for aerial shots can run anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 an hour.
“Cost-efficiency is one reason to use drones. The other reason is how usable and feasible drones are,” Hutchison said.
And they don’t just come in handy for covering natural disasters such as the flooding in Muskoka in the spring.
“It’s another tool for journalists, especially in long-form journalism,” said Hutchison, who recently developed a fourth-semester course called New Technology.
The mandatory course, which covers both drones and 360-degree cameras, was taught for the first time earlier this year with 100 per cent attendance in every class.
“The students were really into this,” Hutchison said. “They learned to fly the drones and about regulations and how drones can be used in journalism. They also learned how to tell stories in virtual reality.”
Seneca recently purchased two dozen small drones and students have been able to fly them in the gym at Seneca@York Campus. Come January, Hutchison’s New Technology course will include a component on basic drone certification.
“The drone is a tool that won’t change the story,” he said. “But it might help you tell the story.”