Author Archives: John Jarvis

Red tape snarls drone deployment for journalists

At first blush, journalists using drones to gather information for high-risk or investigative news stories sounds like a good idea.

After all, such unmanned aircraft systems can be sent into dangerous (or geographically challenging) news situations where life and limb might be at risk. An added bonus is that drones are much cheaper to operate than either an airplane or a helicopter, both of which require a pilot, fuel, insurance, regular maintenance and hangar space.

So what’s holding back this new era of journalism? Red tape, in the form of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, as well as state legislatures and local municipalities weighing in on the subject of operating drones in U.S. airspace.

In February 2015, the FAA unveiled a set of proposed rules that classified unmanned aircraft systems as devices weighing more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. These same rules restrict the operation of drones to a maximum height of 500 feet off the ground, at a speed of less than 100 mph.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx at the time.

In December, the FAA began requiring operators of unregistered drones to register their devices. Information on its website noted that “effective Dec. 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft of a certain weight must register with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they fly outdoors.”

The deadline for these owners to bring their unregistered drones into compliance with the FAA (and pay the $5 registration fee) was Feb. 19. The Hill’s Keith Laing, in a story posted online Feb. 22, reported that 368,472 drones were registered by midnight Feb. 19, “surpassing the number of airplanes that are on record with the federal government.” Laing’s story can be found online at http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/270297-drone-users-face-fines-jail-time-for-not-registering-devices.

Penalties for flying unregistered drones are steep. The agency’s website notes that “failure to register an aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.”

But just getting the FAA’s approval may not be enough. Cecilia Kang, a technology regulation reporter for the New York Times, posted a story online Dec. 27 that noted how the FAA’s new regulations are conflicting with even tougher drone laws that have been passed in more than 20 states so far. Kang’s story noted that many of the state-level regulations have placed “tough restrictions on areas to fly and (are) clamping down on the use of drones to snoop on neighbors.” In addition, city councils across the country, including those in the major metropolitan areas of Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, have approved their own drone laws. Kang’s story can be found online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/28/technology/faa-drone-laws-start-to-clash-with-stricter-local-rules.html.

In a post from Jan. 24 on the New York Times’ technology blog “Bits,” Kang also provided additional insight on the tug-of-war raging on Capitol Hill to sway lawmakers as legislation wends its way through the halls of Congress. Kang wrote that “lobbyists have scrambled for meetings with officials at the FAA, the White House and a division of NASA that is proposing a drone traffic management system.” Kang’s blog post can be found online at http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/drone-lobbying-turns-to-captiol-hill.

The main problem is that the features making drone usage so attractive to journalists are precisely the ones raising red flags with lawmakers and their constituents.

In an editorial posted online Jan. 9, the editorial board of the New York Times highlighted the American public’s wish for easy-to-understand rules while also adding that “policy makers should not make it so difficult to use drones that they end up limiting the First Amendment rights of filmmakers, activists and journalists.” The editorial, titled “Drone Regulations Should Focus on Safety and Privacy,” noted the double-edged aspect of drone usage this way: “These machines can obviously be put to good use – say, inspecting cellphone towers, shooting movies or compiling multidimensional real estate portfolios. They can also be used to snoop on people and harass them. And they can threaten other aircraft.” The editorial can be found online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/drone-regulations-should-focus-on-safety-and-privacy.html.

Despite the legislative hurdles and privacy concerns, there have been some inroads into drone usage by news organizations. Laing noted in a Dec. 14 story for The Hill that CNN has been tapped by the FAA to be a pioneer of sorts in the deployment of drones to gather information for news stories. The federal agency approved an application from CNN to operate drones “to conduct aerial photography, aerial videography, and closed-set motion picture and television filming.” Laing’s story can be found online at http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/263103-feds-approve-cnn-for-drone-flights.

A couple of final thoughts about the deployment of drones into the ranks of the media come from a story written by Benjamin Mullin, the managing editor of Poynter.org.

Mullin’s story strikes a hopeful note that 2016 could be the year drone reporting finally takes off in this country. He wrote that “it will be a watershed development for American photojournalism writ large, one that will put relatively inexpensive aerial photography, videography and airborne sensors in play for journalists across the United States.”

On the flip side of that optimism, though, Mullin’s story details the trials and tribulations that Matt Waite has endured since founding the “Drone Journalism Lab” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln more than three years ago. Waite, a professor of practice at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the university, received a cease-and-desist notice from the FAA soon after founding the lab, and the federal agency also shut down a similar operation at the University of Missouri. Those two drone programs, as well as others across the country, have been grounded ever since.

But Mullin noted that, in addition to CNN’s green light to use drones in its newsgathering efforts, “television stations in Cox Media Group, including Atlanta’s WSB, Boston’s WFXT and Orlando’s WFTV have also incorporated drones into their coverage, using them to report on news, weather conditions and feature stories.”

Despite the progress, Waite struck a note of ethical caution regarding drone use by journalists.

“If you wouldn’t do it on the ground, what about a drone makes you think it’s OK?” Waite asked. “And is it the manner in which we violate people’s privacy important, or the fact that it’s been done the important part?”

Mullin’s story can be found online at http://www.poynter.org/2016/why-2016-could-be-a-breakout-year-for-drone-journalism/390386.

FAA’s missed deadline on drone regulations puts journalists in limbo

The headline on the story written by Keith Wagstaff and posted online Oct. 1 at the website www.nbcnews.com couldn’t be any clearer: “FAA Misses Deadline for Creating Drone Regulations.”

With all the intricacies of the drone debate swirling through the media, this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed this issue. But the news poses a serious obstacle for student journalists and media professionals who want to incorporate this new technology into modern newsgathering.

In 2012, Congress issued an edict to the Federal Aviation Administration to incorporate unmanned aircraft systems, also known by the acronym UAS, into the national airspace. The FAA had a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015 to get that done, but that deadline has flown past with no definite date to replace it.

On the day of the original FAA deadline, a coalition of 29 different organizations sent a letter to Michael Huerta, the FAA’s administrator, urging the agency “to use all available means to finalize the small UAS rules immediately without any further delays and move ahead with the nest regulatory steps on the path for integrating all UAS into the NAS (National Airspace System).”

Wagstaff noted in his story that an unnamed FAA spokesman told NBC News “our main, overriding goal is safety,” and that final rules for drone operators should be in place by “late next spring.”

In a related development, the FAA convened a four-day “UAS Registration Task Force” beginning Nov. 3 to focus on the following questions regarding the registration of drones weighing less than 55 pounds:

  • How do we make registration as easy as possible for consumers while providing accountability?
  • What products should we exclude from registration based on weight, speed, altitude and flying time?
  • What information should we collect during the registration process, and what should we do with the data?
  • Should every unmanned aircraft sold have its own serial number, or another way to tie particular aircraft to a particular user?
  • Should the process include a formal education component before an aircraft can be registered?
  • Should registration be retroactive and apply to unmanned aircraft that are now in the system?
  • Should there be an age requirement for registration?

In his opening statement to the task force members, Huerta noted that “we’re working on a tight timetable – Secretary Fox (U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox) has set a deadline of Nov. 20 for the task force to complete its recommendations. This reflects the urgency of the task at hand.”

Meanwhile, some institutions of higher learning are doing their best to educate student journalists and other media professionals about the regulatory dos and don’ts regarding drones.

In a memo distributed Oct. 30, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s interim vice chancellor for research, Jim Garvey, addressed the topic of “Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” In the memo, Garvey wrote that “the use of any Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), often called drones, by public entities such as SIUC is strictly prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) without the proper FAA approvals.” That means that employees and students of the university can’t operate drones on SIU Carbondale property, nor can they fly them “while serving as a representative of SIUC off campus.”

Garvey noted that drones will still be allowed to operate on campus “in indoor spaces under some circumstances. However, this will require coordination with University Risk Management.” He added that the university “will pursue the appropriate approvals with the FAA as quickly as possible and develop a process by which SIUC students and employees may use UASs with the proper training and within the compliance metrics set by the university to meet FAA rules. We anticipate that this process will be in place by spring 2016.”

At the University of Missouri, a story written by Scott Pham and posted online Aug. 21 noted that the Missouri Drone Journalism Program would be spending the fall semester “researching and applying for a COA” (certificate of authorization) after receiving a letter from the FAA ordering the program to cease all outdoor flight until it obtained one.

As Pham noted, “We intend to apply for a COA and we have no reason to think we will be denied. But it will significantly change the way we act as a program.”

At Rend Lake College, a two-year institution located in Ina, Illinois, that is part of the Illinois Community College System, plans are in place to offer courses that will help students obtain a UAS operators certificate.

In a press release issued Oct. 27 by the college (www.rlc.edu/pressroom/all-news-articles/5786-unmanned-aircraft-systems-certificate-coming-spring-2016), UAS instructor Chris Edwards said that the certificate program “should give students who pass the exam the ability to work with the UAS in the national airspace for profit.”

The release notes that “to become a certified UAS instructor, students must pass a criminal background check, be 17 years of age, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.”

“This is going to be the next big thing in technology,” Edwards said. “The possibilities are almost endless. I see this becoming a field with high growth potential.”

Information found on the website of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (www.auvsi.org) agrees with Edwards. It notes that the drone industry could lead to the creation of 100,000 jobs by the year 2025, with an estimated economic impact of $82 billion.

But that economic impact is not what concerns the FAA bigwigs. In his Nov. 3 remarks to the FAA task force members, Huerta noted that “by some estimates, 700,000 new aircraft could be in the homes of consumers by the end of the year. This means unmanned aircraft could soon far outnumber manned aircraft operating in our nation’s airspace. … Integrating unmanned aircraft into our nation’s airspace is a big job, and it’s one the FAA is determined to get right.”

GJR book review: Language evolution slays once-sacred cows in AP Stylebook

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law                                                                                      

Editors: Darrell Christian, Paula Froke, Sally Jacobsen and David Minthorn                                                          

Publisher: The Associated Press, New York, 2014                                                                                                 

Paperback: $20.95, 514 pages

Broadcast and print journalists who buy new Associated Press Stylebooks every year to keep up with ever-changing grammar rules in their chosen profession probably have grumbled at one time or another about unlearning what once seemed carved into stone.

But for the 2014 spiral-bound edition, published in late spring, the AP editors handed down style decisions that turned otherwise normal grumbling into full-throated outrage.

Consider the following five new rules:

  • For longtime AP Stylebook owners, a decision announced March 20 to eliminate the distinction between “over” and “more than” in stories was not unlike waving a red flag at a charging bull – and the news was received just about as warmly. Before that news broke, “over” had been relegated to spatial relationships (“The plane flew over the city,” for example), while “more than” was used to denote amounts of things.
  • Almost as angst-ridden was the reaction to the April 8 decision that “underway” is now one word in all uses. Previous stylebooks had told us that it was “two words in virtually all uses.” The 1987 version of the AP Stylebook went so far as to say that it is “one word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla [italics in original].
  • Remember the practice of abbreviating state names in stories? That rule has been cast aside in this year’s stylebook, too. The AP wire noted on April 23, that “effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories,” while “datelines will continue to use abbreviations.” The reason given was thus: “The change is being made to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories.”
  • On April 2, the Associated Press changed the “illegal immigrant” entry. In a blog post that same day, Paul Colford, the AP’s director of media relations, detailed how the AP stylebook “no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” Colford’s source for his information was Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor. Carroll, he said, added that “also, we had in other areas been ridding the stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example. And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again. We concluded that, to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have.”
  • On April 17, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon took note of the new AP approach to the word “hopefully,” writing this: “Hopefully, copy editors will find another spike on which to impale sentences. Says an update to the AP Stylebook: ‘The traditional meaning is in a hopeful manner. Also acceptable is the modern usage: it’s hoped, we hope [italics in original]. Correct: “You’re leaving soon?” she asked hopefully [italics in original]. The old rule: ‘It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope.’ ”

One of the co-editors of the AP Stylebook is David Minthorn, who also serves as AP’s deputy standards editor. In a 2010 interview with the American Copy Editors Society, he had this to say about the ever-changing nature of the reference work, which he and fellow co-editors Darrell Christian and Sally Jacobsen update yearly: “There has to be an evolution in the language or a clear need for adding or amending terms.”

Anyone who has owned different AP Stylebook versions over the past decade or so has witnessed this evolution. The term “email,” for example, originally had a hyphen after the “e” when that term took root in the early days of the World Wide Web. (In fact, the 2000 edition was the first time the Associated Press included a dedicated Internet style guide in its stylebook.)

But even with all those previous changes in mind, it should be noted that over one journalist has uttered this line about the new 2014 stylebook rules: “More than my dead body!” As the transition to all these new rules gets underway, GJR subscribers can hopefully remember that these are not illegal changes. In fact, according to the AP editors, these sentences are (almost) entirely correct.

At least for now.

John Jarvis is a former managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review. The 27-year print journalist is a publications editor for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Communications group.

Magazine’s headline has Texans fighting mad

In almost three decades as a print journalist, I never called out a fellow headline writer for something he or she crafted to introduce a story.

Until now.

What I never did was write a headline so egregiously bad that readers threatened to yank their subscriptions over what I wrote.

Someone at Texas Monthly Magazine did, however. Here’s the headline:

“Blue Bellghazi Continues: Total Recall Issued for All Products Everywhere.”

The powers that be at Texas Monthly, which “has chronicled life in contemporary Texas since 1973,” according to its website, should never have allowed that headline to run. (As of April 22, it was still displayed on the magazine’s website. The Web link is www.texasmonthly.com/daily-post/blue-bellghazi-continues-total-recall-issued-all-products-everywhere)

There is no comparison between the recent bacterial contamination of Blue Bell’s products and the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Texans (and I count myself as one, having been born and raised in the Lone Star State) knew and loved Blue Bell ice cream long before the Brenham, Texas-based company developed a national brand. On April 20, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all of its products after contamination by the sometimes-deadly bacteria listeria killed three people in Kansas and made several others sick in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Here’s a sampling of reader comments on Texas Monthly’s Facebook page about the headline:

  • “How dare you equate ice cream recall to Benghazi! Very poor taste.”
  • “That cute play on words is extremely disrespectful.”
  • “What a ghastly choice of words Texas Monthly chose. They should be ashamed.”
  • “You all stepped in it TM, didn’t you? Either poor taste or a Troll for an editor. Going after BBQ, High School Football, or the Texas Flag next? Morons.”
  • “Bellghazi? Up yours, worthless rag.”

Here’s my response: “That is, without a doubt, one of the worst headlines I have ever had the displeasure of reading in my 28-year career as a print journalist. There are some lines you just don’t cross – and your cutesy headline writer jumped WAY over it. That employee (I won’t honor that person with the title ‘journalist’) needs to be canned or resign in disgrace. Immediately.”

While that may sound harsh, it pales in comparison to what one of my old managing editors in Wichita Falls, Texas, would have said to me had I turned in that headline. I have no doubt that this will cost the magazine subscribers – and probably advertisers as well. Both are unforgivable sins for a headline that really wasn’t that good to begin with.

The bottom line is that I understand how important it is to “hook” readers so they’ll read the stories. I’ve worked on newspaper copy desks in Arizona, Indiana and Texas, and because of that experience I am intimately familiar with the “read all about it” pressure that headline writers face. I’ve also written countless dozens of headlines when I was managing editor for Gateway Journalism Review. Writers get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of words to tell their stories. My job as a headline writer was to tell readers what the story is about in 10 words or less – and make it interesting enough to make them read it.

Sometimes I knocked it out of the park with my clever wordplay. Other nights my work was best suited to wrap fish. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re working on deadline.

This one isn’t even fit for that.

Texas Monthly readers deserve better.

With drone technology, potential pitfalls are worth the risk

Articles such as Ravi Somaiya’s Jan. 15 story in the New York Times, titled “Times and Other News Organizations to Test Use of Drones,” should come as a surprise to no one who’s been paying attention to the technology behind these unmanned aerial vehicles.

After all, what makes drones so appealing to journalists is that they give reporters access to the sky. That’s something that was not so readily accessible before these machines made their presence known. To get aerial shots used to require a helicopter, a hot-air balloon or an airplane, all of which usually are dependent on others to operate – and cost money to use, too.

But using aerial technology take pictures of the world around us is not new at all. In a May 3, 2013, Slate article titled “Privacy Concerns Shouldn’t Ground Journalism Drones,” New York media lawyer Nabiha Syed detailed how, in 1906, a commercial photographer named George R. Lawrence hoisted a 46-pound camera into the air above San Francisco (with the help of 17 kites and steel wire, no less) to take panoramic shots of the earthquake and fire devastation in that city. Syed then fast-forwarded five decades later, to 1958, to tell how television news reporter John Silva altered the media landscape even further through his use of the KTLA “Telecopter” in Los Angeles – ushering in the modern reality of live traffic updates, car chases and other aerial broadcasts to the city’s residents.

Journalists the world over always have embraced new technologies to relate the newsworthy events in our world. What’s a little perplexing for me, though, is how many Americans think drones are a sudden intrusion on their Fourth Amendment privacy rights that need to be severely restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

So why do drones get such a bad rap in our society? U.S. citizens have not voiced the same level of concern – or outrage – about security cameras in department stores, banks or even public streets, so is the real impetus for all this new drone legislation spurred by a fear of potential abuse by journalists and the government?

Part of the resistance to widespread drone use appears to stem from the surreptitious nature in which they can be deployed. Think about it: A person sunbathing in his or her back yard can be filmed by a cameraman flying aloft in a helicopter just as easily as by a drone – and with the exception that the aircraft cannot be less than 500 feet off the ground, where private property protection ends, there is nothing illegal about that cameraman being up in the sky. (The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1946 case United States v. Causby, ruled 5-2 that the ancient common law doctrine that land ownership extended to the space above the earth “has no place in the modern world.” Justice William O. Douglas’ opinion noted that, if the doctrine were valid, “every transcontinental flight would subject the operator to countless trespass suits. Common sense revolts at the idea.”) Of course, one downside to using any aerial device – manned or unmanned – for journalism is that it has the potential to come crashing down on the very citizens it was sent up to look down on.

Consider, too, that the use of drones by journalists already is a fait accompli – something that has already been done and cannot be undone. Reporters overseas already have produced tantalizing glimpses of the future of drone-enhanced journalism. For example, a video on CNN’s website, shot from a drone and narrated by reporter Karl Penhaul 10 days after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines in early November 2013, showed what the people of the community of Tacloban, Philippines, had to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. The video in which Penhaul appears, titled “A bird’s eye view of Haiyan devastation,” could be considered a peek into the future of journalism here in the United States.

Whether we Americans are ready for them or not, drones already are being deployed within the borders of the United States. They’ve been in use both by the Customs & Border Protection agency along the U.S.-Mexico border and by law enforcement personnel, bringing us closer to what the American Civil Liberties Union has termed a “surveillance society” government. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration, under the aegis of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed by Congress, has been tasked with integrating commercial drones into U.S. airspace by the end of this year. The FAA estimates that 7,500 commercial drones could be flying in national airspace in just a few years, and agency officials have reported that the number of domestic drones could rise to 30,000 by the year 2030. The FAA is not constrained by the act to address privacy concerns related to the use of commercial drones, and FAA officials said the agency does not have the authority to make or enforce any rules related to privacy concerns.

While the FAA may avoid delving into the ethical aspect of drone use, a group with a focus on the future of drone journalism has made this its core mission. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists, which formed in 2011, bills itself on its website as “the first international organization dedicated to establishing the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism.” The organization’s founder is Matthew Schroyer, a drone expert who works for a National Science Foundation grant at the University of Illinois. In a July 2013 interview posted on the website of International Human Press, Schroyer said he has developed a preliminary code of conduct for drone journalism. His hope is that the code will be interactive at some point, so members of the society can alter the code to keep up with developments in the drone journalism field.

The code lays out the additional responsibilities that drone journalists take on when controlling these unmanned vehicles, and it also emphasizes the potential risks of operating these devices in populated urban areas as the speed, range and size of these machines undergo further development. Being able to take aerial photographs when reporting on a story makes a drone a valuable resource, but in this regard the code also warns that the chance for abuse – especially when it comes to matters of privacy and safety – also is increased.

But despite the potential pitfalls associated with this technology, what the drone movement has going for it is historical record: Many of the technological advances in cars and planes that Americans enjoyed after World War II can be directly traced to advances made in the war effort against Germany and Japan. In this same way, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped fuel the advances in the unmanned aircraft industry. Armed drones still are being used for to eliminate terrorists overseas, but the unarmed civilian versions of these machines are now available to any hobbyist (or journalist) with the money to spend on them.

The way I see it, we can’t un-ring this bell. Drones already are part of the future of journalism, and today’s students studying to be tomorrow’s reporters will have to learn how to do their jobs with this new piece of technology. I echo the sentiments of Rose Mooney, the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech, who told Somaiya that she hopes drones “can provide this industry a safe, efficient, timely and affordable way to gather and disseminate information and keep journalists out of harm’s way.”

Young journalists grasp meaning of First Amendment

My 26-year journalism career has led to a collection of Facebook friends who either have been, or still are, in the same line of work. Because of this, I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook page a few days ago that grabbed my attention – and the attention of some of my former co-workers, too.

My friend’s post noted that the student newspaper at Oklahoma University, the Oklahoma Daily, ran an editorial Oct. 3 titled “KKK rallies shouldn’t be allowed.” The lead paragraph reads: “A Maryland-based Ku Klux Klan group planned to rally at Gettysburg National Military Park on October 5. It’s mind-boggling that KKK groups still have the audacity and will to exist in today’s society, but what’s more surprising is the fact that they were granted a special permit to hold an event there.” The editorial goes on to say that “the KKK should not be allowed to hold rallies for a number of reasons,” including the KKK’s history of hate crimes against blacks and certain religious groups.

The editorial ends this way: “The ‘freedom of speech’ line is so abused sometimes, and it’s a poor excuse to allow this type of public behavior. The rallies are unnecessary and do no good for the community. If anything, it’s only ignominious and poorly represents our country.”

While that’s a noble sentiment, considering the odious history of the Ku Klux Klan, it’s also precisely the wrong thing these future First Amendment freedom fighters should be committing to paper and broadcasting to the world. It was that stunning lack of comprehension of what freedoms the First Amendment protects that left me flabbergasted, as it did my Oklahoma-dwelling friend and our colleagues who posted their comments about that editorial to his Facebook page.

Thankfully, the Oklahoma Daily editorial board members saw the error of their ways. On Oct. 6, three days after the original post, they penned a follow-up editorial titled “The Daily supports everyone’s right to the First Amendment” that begins thusly: “We want to apologize for Friday’s editorial. We’re sorry. The views expressed were not that of the Daily’s editorial board as a whole, and what was written strayed from what we intended the message to be. Of course we believe in the First Amendment’s power. As a news organization, we have to believe in that power. On any given day, we will defend anyone’s right to express his or her opinion, even if we do not agree with what he or she has to say. Friday was not that day. We failed to be a leader in the OU community.”

I do not have to defend what the KKK stands for, but as a journalist I have a duty to defend the right of that group’s members to assemble and speak. I’m glad to see the members of that editorial board understand that, too.

John Jarvis is the managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review.  He has worked as a writer, copy editor and editor for newspapers in Texas, Indiana and Arizona.  He is a M.S. student at SIU Carbondale.

Droning on: Unmanned aerial vehicles raise privacy concerns

Civil unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have left the realm of science fiction and are making their way into use by businessmen, law enforcement officials and newsgathering organizations in the United States. This drone use is stirring up privacy concerns at the state level, but because these drones are being operated in public, there’s little in the way of American privacy laws that prevents their use. Constitutionally, the Fourth Amendment provides the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” But is that enough in the face of this technological advancement?

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a story posted online March 6 (and updated June 21) by strategist Allie Bohm, reported that legislation to regulate drone use had been proposed in 42 states, enacted in six states and is still active in 28 states.. Part of the problem, however, is that the definition of “drone” has not been established uniformly. These aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, and some can stay aloft for long periods of time. Some can hover like a helicopter, while others fly like airplanes.

But even as the battle to define the term “drone” continues, tens of thousands of these small, unmanned vehicles are zipping through U.S. airspace. A story posted March 3 on the Reuters news site and written by Chris Francescani begins with, “They hover over Hollywood film sets and professional sports events. They track wildfires in Colorado, survey Kansas farm crops and vineyards in California. They inspect miles of industrial pipeline and monitor wildlife, river temperatures and volcanic activity. They also locate marijuana fields, reconstruct crime scenes and spot illegal immigrants breaching U.S. borders.” Franscescani reports that these drones are “armed with streaming video, swivel cameras and infrared sensors,” and it is the use of this cutting-edge technology that has raised privacy concerns in this country.

Greg McNeal, a law professor at Pepperdine University, addressed the privacy concerns regarding drone use in a story written Aug. 13, 2012, for Forbes magazine. He contends that “the unmanned systems industry is not prepared for the upcoming fight with privacy groups.” To bolster his argument, McNeal provided an example of an effort to streamline the airport security process in place since the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The Department of Homeland Security came up with a plan in 2003 to use “data already in the hands of airlines, voluntarily provided by passengers,” to verify airline passengers’ security status ahead of time. He notes, “DHS was fought tooth and nail by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and other privacy groups. … We’re talking about reservation data here. This was a tool that could have stopped 9/11. It could have stopped the Christmas Day Bomber. And it was opposed by the privacy lobby. Are unmanned systems more compelling?”

Americans’ perspectives about drones remain divided. Slate’s Ryan Gallagher writes in an April 3 story posted online that the American public holds split opinions regarding drones. Gallagher’s story, titled “Privacy Risk or Future of Aviation? Five Perspectives on Domestic Drones,” lists the five prevailing views that emerged from those who participated in a Federal Aviation Administration call-in “engagement session” April 3:

  • “Drones are a safety hazard.” – The callers who voiced this concern indicated that they believed unmanned drones could interfere with flight operations involving manned aircraft, or that a drone could crash in a populated area. Both scenarios could result in a loss of life. Another risk mentioned was that an unmanned drone could be “hacked” and have its controls taken over by another operator.
  • “Drones are the future of aviation.” – These individuals do not see drone use as a threat to the U.S. population. In fact, they believe the United States should continue to advance drone technology, or it could be left eating the dust of other countries who do it instead.
  • “Drones pose an unprecedented privacy risk.” – This group of respondents fear the intrusion of drones on the privacy rights of the American public. To counter this, they suggested such things as banning all drone use in the United States; regulations on drone use that includes the use of search warrants for law enforcement personnel to use drones for surveillance and evidence gathering; and a public database, accessible via a website, that would record who is using a drone, and when and where it was used.
  • “Americans have the right to own a drone.” – Gallagher noted that one forceful caller, who said he was from Missouri, voiced this opinion. Gallagher added that “this position appeared rooted in an anti-Big Government stance strongly opposed to the introduction of any new laws and regulations that would govern how private citizens could and could not use drones.”
  • “What about mission creep?” – Shades of George Orwell’s novel “1984” abound in this expression of concern by some callers. Gallagher wrote that “some contributors said they were worried the introduction of drones into domestic airspace would lead to a sort of incremental militarization, with increasingly advanced forms of the technology being use[d] as part of draconian policing operations.”

Gallagher notes that “the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has been given until September 2015 to integrate drones into the national airspace system, and it is currently working to develop six unmanned aircraft research and testing sites across the United States.”

Once the new rules take effect, “the FAA predicts there will be between 7,500 to 15,000 commercial drones flying in American skies in just five years,” according to a story by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that was posted on the website Mashable.com on April 24.

He added: “This unforeseen expansion means that the drone business has large potential to grow, which is why 37 states are vying to host one of these six test sites.”

John Villasenor, a professor of electrical engineering and public policy at UCLA and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., uses the language of the Fourth Amendment in an article written for Forbes magazine Sept. 20 to argue that this constitutional protection “has served us well across more than two centuries of technology advances, and there is no reason to expect it will suddenly lose its protective powers when domestic use of unmanned aircraft becomes common.”

In his article, Villasenor noted “three 1980s-era Supreme Court decisions that found no Fourth Amendment violation in warrantless observations from manned government aircraft” to argue that “government investigators will sometimes be able to use UAVs without a warrant.” Not always, he wrote, but sometimes. The protection provided by the Fourth Amendment has continued through decisions handed down by the high court as recently as 2012, and Villasenor wrote that “in the aggregate, these rulings provide cause for optimism that, with respect to government UAV observations, the Fourth Amendment will be reasonably protective. Whether it will be sufficiently protective is a different question, and well worth attention.”

Drone manufacturers are aware of the privacy concerns circulating among the American public and members of Congress. Forbes staff member Kashmir Hill wrote an article July 6, 2012, detailing how a drone trade organization called the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has unveiled a code of conduct “to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to being ‘safe and responsible.’ ” As Hill notes, however, a code of conduct “is voluntary and not legally enforceable in any way.”

The ultimate enforcement of any drone operation may boil down to the local level, McNeal argues. In a Jan. 22 radio interview with North Country Public Radio’s David Sommerstein, he says, “If you’re concerned about what your local police department is doing, don’t turn to your congressperson in D.C. Turn to your city council.”

Subtle but distinct differences in Pendleton shooting coverage

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2013 print issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

Before the nation heard of Hadiya Pendleton, the grim realities of Chicago’s gun violence had been largely overlooked by United States media outlets.

Not anymore.

The 15-year-old’s tragic shooting death in Chicago Jan. 29 highlighted the impact gangs and gun violence have had on the nation’s third-largest city. News coverage revealed that Pendleton, a high school honors student and majorette, had performed with her school’s band in the parade at President Obama’s inauguration just a week earlier. With that angle, the story immediately gained prominence over other similar incidents involving innocent teens being caught in gang members’ crosshairs.

The subsequent news coverage of one mainstream daily newspaper and an ethnic weekly in the Windy City framed the event differently. The differences were subtle but distinct.

The Chicago Tribune had 10 stories listed on its website from Jan. 30 through Feb. 21 that dealt with the events surrounding Pendleton’s death, with multiple writers’ bylines appearing on the articles. The historically African-American weekly newspaper the Chicago Defender, which was founded in 1905, had a half-dozen staff-written reports (the majority by managing editor Rhonda Gillespie, with others by Kalia Abiade) combined with more articles from the Associated Press that covered the story as it developed.

The Defender’s staff and wire coverage mixture makes sense in the context of recent staff cuts. “State of the News Media 2013,” an annual report on journalism in the United States recently released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, said the Defender had cut its staff to four, laying off two editors  “because of reduced advertising.”

The difference between the two publications was in how information was presented to their respective audiences. For the Tribune, that meant including a national angle to its stories, while the Defender’s coverage focused much more on its surrounding community.

When news first broke about Pendleton’s death, the Tribune surveyed the developing story with an eye on the national furor over her senseless death. A story posted Jan. 31 on the Tribune’s website and written by Jennifer Delgado, Bridget Doyle and Jeremy Gorner noted that outrage over the King College Prep sophomore’s death was spreading “from City Hall to the White House.” The report, headlined “Teen girl’s killing ignites widespread outrage: ‘Why did it have to be her’,” contained quotes from President Obama and his spokesman, Jay Carney, as well as from Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy and the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel. All of these officials are instantly recognizable by Chicago residents, and all but McCarthy are well-known to citizens across the country. The story noted that McCarthy “stressed that neither Hadiya nor anyone in the group she was with were involved with gangs. But it appears the gunman mistook the students for members of a rival gang.”

The Defender’s Feb. 6-12 weekly edition, meanwhile, used its cover page to feature photographs of five black Chicago youths who had been killed in similar fashion, with Pendleton’s photo prominent in the center of the page. The focus for the Defender was the impact that each of these youths’ deaths – and the gun- and gang-related violence that accompanied them – has had on the African-American community within Chicago. The cover was a lead-in to an editorial on page 10 that carried the headline “Gang members have no turf.” The editorial took issue with some people who said that Pendleton was in the wrong place at the wrong time, noting that she was “in a city park decompressing after a day of final exams at school. It’s what the park is for, recreation and temporary retreat.” The same issue also contained a story, written by staff writer Rhonda Gillespie, headlined “Teen’s death a call for action.” In it, Gillespie wrote of other mothers who have lost children to gang violence, and noted that Pendleton’s death “locally reignited many calls that law enforcement, faith and community leaders, and other victims’ families have been making for gun violence to stop and for Obama to come to Chicago and speak out on the issue.”

Another story by Gillespie, posted online Feb. 9, noted that “a who’s who of Chicago notables attended the (visitation) service, the first in a two-day final farewell to the teen. Among the attendees were City Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Rev. Jesse Jackson.” Both Neely and Jackson are prominent members of the city’s African-American community.

Over the course of the next few weeks, both newspapers continued to follow developments in the story, including a $40,000 reward on information on who had done the shooting followed by the arrest of two suspects in Pendleton’s shooting death. In a Feb. 12 story posted online under the headline “2 charged with murder in Hadiya Pendleton slaying,” the Tribune’s Jason Meisner and Gorner reported that “two reputed gang members were out for revenge from a previous shooting when they opened fire on a group of students in a South Side park last month, killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in a heartbreaking case that has brought national attention to Chicago’s rampant gun violence, police said.”

The Defender and the Tribune next reported on the news of first lady Michelle Obama attending Pendleton’s funeral. The Defender’s Gillespie quoted Pendleton’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, in a Feb. 7 story as saying: “I feel supported. When (Michelle Obama) gets finished with being the first lady, she’s still a parent.”

Both publications also noted that the slain teen’s parents were the guests of the president and first lady in Washington during President Obama’s State of the Union speech, in which he said: “Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”

On March 7, a story written by Tribune reporter Kim Geiger and posted on the paper’s website carried the headline “Gun trafficking bill carrying Hadiya Pendleton’s name clears Senate panel.” The story noted that the bill was “co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois,” and that it “contains a section named for Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard, a teenage victim of gun violence in New York.” (Pryear-Yard was a 17-year-old Catholic honors student who was shot and killed in January while dancing at a Brooklyn teen club.)

The Defender’s coverage on March 8, meanwhile, focused instead on U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois’ 1st Congressional District, and his introduction of “the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 to limit straw purchases or firearms and reduce illegal trafficking of firearms across state lines.” Rush, who is African-American, gained national notoriety in 2012 when he wore a gray hoodie and sunglasses on the House floor as he gave a speech urging a full investigation into the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

“Hadiya’s death will not be in vain,” the Defender story quoted Rush as saying Feb. 9 outside the church where her funeral took place.

In an interview conducted by the Tribune’s Dahleen Glanton, with Pendleton’s parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton said that “my life has been forever changed of what someone else did. I’m not going to be extremely political, but if I can help someone else not go through what we’ve gone through, then I have to do what I can. These are the cards we have been dealt. If these are the shoes I need to walk in, I don’t mind walking in them.”