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WCPO-TV's New Drone Next News Battlefield?

Courtesy WCPO-TV

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a …. drone!

WCPO-TV was the first with Chopper 9. Now it's the first with Sky 9, a drone which debuted this week.  And more are coming.

Technically Channel 9's "quadcopter" with a "4k ultra high-definition camera" is an unmanned aircraft system strictly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Jeff Brogan, Channel 9 general manager, said the station had been working on getting the drone for two years.

"We can take live pictures from Sky 9," Brogan says. "Last month the Scripps station in Tampa (WFTS) used (a quadcopter) when covering Hurricane Matthew. We’re excited because Sky 9 gives us the opportunity to tell stories with a unique perspective," Brogan says.

The Enquirer "will be deploying our own drone journalism platform in the very near future," says Michael McCarter, senior news director. "We are working with our corporate partners to ensure that our personnel are properly trained and certified by the FAA."

Steve Hyvonen, WXIX-TV news/content director, also tells me today that "Fox19 Now will be using a drone.  I can’t get into details, but proper training and safety are our biggest priorities."

WLWT-TV has "used drone video in our storytelling in the past, and will continue to do so in the future," says Jeff C. Benscoter, Channel 5 news director. "We have a drone pilot on staff to provide video and also use other sources for our aerial coverage.  Thanks for asking."

Says Jon Lawhead, Sinclair Broadcast Group manager for WKRC-TV (Channel 12): "We have no immediate plans to acquire a drone.  But, as you know in this business, things can change quickly."

Drones can help tell a story -- but they won't be much help covering breaking news, like the Chopper 9 helicopter.

The drone must be operated within new Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for commercial use: The station must get a remote pilot certificate; obtain permission to fly over a property from the owner; file a flight plan with the FAA; fly only in daylight hours; and not exceed a maximum height of 400 feet.

The FAA also requires the station to use three people to operate the drone: a pilot to fly the aircraft; a photographer to control the camera; and a third person watching out for obstacles.

And they can be expensive. Filmmakers Bob and Chris Gerding's Skylark Aerials LLC  own a $25,000 eight-propeller drone they've used to film movie scenesfor Bruce Willis' "Marauders," Arnold Schwarzenegger's "478" and the independent "Curvature." 

Channel 9 has used the drone for an aerial view of Middletown's Weatherwax Golf Course, which is closing, and to show recent Northern Kentucky storm damage.

Brogan says that Doug Houston, Channel 9 engineering director and a pilot, "represented Scripps with the news media coalition that works closely with the FAA in developing the standards and practices. Other media organizations in the coalition include the New York Times, the Washington Post, Sinclair and Tegna, to name a few.  The group worked with the FAA on a number of topics including the use of air space and safety."

I don't think drones will be the game changer equal to a helicopter – which all the TV stations and some radio stations have used in the past (and eliminated in budget cuts). But drones can give us a unique view to help tell certain stories.

"We will look for the right opportunities to incorporate that technology in our news gathering and storytelling processes," says the Enquirer's McCarter.

Expect to see more of them. Stay tuned.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.