The Berkshire Eagle Introduces Drone to its News Coverage

Aerial Drone Shot_2_r2_web
Aerial drone shots show The Mount in Lenox, Mass, the former home of author Edith Wharton, who built the estate in 1902.

A great idea means very little without execution.

However, if early results produced by the Berkshire Eagle’s new drone are any indication of what’s to come, the paper may soon find itself serving as a blueprint for success with the emerging technology.

“Not only are we here in the newsroom excited by our drone we call ‘The Eagle,’ but our readers are as well,” said Kevin Moran, editor of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass. “So far, they’ve been fascinated by our initial forays and their response has been positive and appreciative, too. The drone offers readers a level of perspective we haven’t been able to provide them before.”

The first flights made by the drone, a DJI Phantom 3 professional quadcopter, took place at several nearby locations that featured both interesting terrain and an open landscape to practice. These sites included Holiday Brook farm in Dalton, Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield and Hancock Shaker Village, where it captured an overhead of the historic Round Stone Barn.

Hans Morris, one of four partners who purchased the paper last April, inspired the news team to engage in obtaining all of the steps necessary to operate a fully licensed drone to help cover the news.

“It offers an opportunity to have much more dramatic images,” Morris said. “We also have large audiences here in the Berkshires during the summer, so I could envision some incredible shots of the crowd at Tanglewood on the lawn, or Wilco performing at MASS MoCA with the mountains as a backdrop.”

Moran tasked photo editor and photographer Ben Garver with conducting research and helping put the proposal together for a process that took about four months to complete from idea to first flight. In order to operate the drone, Garver was required to study for weeks and successfully pass the FAA knowledge test for his pilot’s license for unmanned aircraft.

“This is an amazing photographic tool, but it is also a powerful aircraft,” Garver said. “We want to use it with authority, and that means learning the law and finding ways to use the drone safely while adding to our photo report. We are early in the game right now, but I think it will be ideal for showing context in spot news and the scale of events.”

Garver emphasized that despite the positive reaction of the initial images captured by The Eagle, he’ll continue to take a slow but steady approach with how he handles their new gadget.

“In agreement with the leadership, we are starting with pretty safe subjects and moving to others as my skill level increases,” Garver said. “Breaking news coverage is on the horizon, but we’ll experiment safely and within the law. We’ll expand use with skills.”

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5 thoughts on “The Berkshire Eagle Introduces Drone to its News Coverage

  • March 8, 2017 at 4:44 am

    How do u handle issues of liability? One drone operator was jailed for his drone hitting a woman. How does coverage work? Biggest concern for any company.

  • March 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    This is great but I do have a question: How do you get insurance to fly the drone and how much does it cost?

  • March 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Do not think drones are allowed by the press, at least not in Wisconsin. We thought it was a great idea until we researched it further. Has the law changed?

  • March 9, 2017 at 6:33 am

    Seems like an economical, commonsense way to get the aerial footage that formerly would have required renting a plane or a helicopter. Some privacy issues may arise, however. Are you going to send your drone over Tanglewood to photograph concert crowds, and possibly spoil a symphony with noise? Will celebrities be fair game for drone spying whenever they venture outdoors? Would the owner of an estate, or even an ordinary dairy farmer, be entitled to shoot down a drone that ventures into his airspace?

  • July 6, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    These are good questions. The Berkshire Eagle does have insurance for the drone, but I do not know the cost. Most of the training for the drone use is based on safety. We are prudent in its use and plan carefully.

    Drones are allowed by the press, and they are allowed to be used to photograph people. You can’t fly directly over people, but you can photograph them from off to the side. We use the same standard for privacy with the drone that we would use with any camera. This camera can legally fly over private property. We talk to people about our flights, seek permission and trust, so far there have been no surprises.

    The drone is not a spy tool. It actually would be a pretty bad tool for that kind of use, it has a very wide angle lens. It is loud. The camera is best for showing scale and landscapes.

    And finally, it is not legal to shoot a drone out of the sky.


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