Can drones be used to help our understanding of war zones and conflict areas?

If you asked today’s guest, she would offer a resounding YES! Gail Orenstein has been a global photojournalist and documentary photographer for 25 years. She’s originally from Mystic, Connecticut but has lived in London for 20 years now. Her work has taken her to over 71 countries, some of them are the most conflicted regions in the world including Syria, Iraq, Eastern Ukraine, Central Africa and Central America. Her photos have been published extensively around the world. In 2016, Gail started using drones in covering stories of conflict areas. She quickly learned the power of drones to capture and tell compelling stories and she made the full transition from a photojournalist to dronealist (drone journalism). In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Gail talks about her 25 year history as a photojournalist, how she began using drones and how the technology has opened a new passion for telling stories.

In This Episode

  • Introduction. Gail Orenstein is a photo journalist with more than 25 years’ experience.  She began her career in Chicago and soon after headed to Central America to cover stories of the prison culture. In the early 1980’s, she moved to Europe and eventually to London, where she now lives. She got her start covering conflict areas in Haiti. One of her most rewarding experiences was covering the monsoons in Bangladesh. She believes that photo journalists should help people in dire situations, not just poke their cameras in their lives for an image and story.
  • From Photojournalist to Dronealist. In 2016, after seeing drone footage on a CNN story, Gail knew she had to have a drone. With a drone she could the world differently, especially much more of the destruction. Today, she can’t imagine going without a drone now, as it gives a drone journalist a much larger view of what survey, where opposition forces might be held up and how to navigate the terrain. Gail uses drones to augment her use of traditional DSL cameras.
  • Challenges of Flying a Drone In a Conflict Area. Gail describes having one of her drones impounded. There are checkpoints everywhere and she advises other dronealists to make sure they let everyone see their drones. Don’t hide it and run the risk of it being impounded. And make sure you have the proper paperwork for the country you’re entering.
  • Value of Drones in Conflict Areas. Gail describes how drones give her the ability to see a broader view of the human toll of a crisis. On the ground, she see’s individuals close up, but with a drone, she’s able to see the full magnitude of the impact. Whether its throngs of people trying to get food, acres of tent cities, or miles of devastation, the drone provides a contextual view of the crisis. Drones also provide a way to survey the landscape, so that journalists can find the safest spot and plan their routes to avoid obstacles, downed wires or potential hostile threats. Additionally, a drone gives a journalist the option of seeing the immediate crisis from a different vantage point. Drone technology is a great tool for conflict journalist, but one must take care not to rely so much on it that you miss the on-the-ground emotional stories.
  • Drone Journalism. Although one could argue that journalism is still journalism, regardless that a drone is being used, Gail looks at dronealism as being completely different. For Gail, drone journalism is more than just getting a story. It’s an opportunity to help those in crisis. For example, drones can be used to drop food or medicine to people that need it.
  • Personal Satisfaction. Gail most enjoys seeing what she’s missed for so many years of on-the-ground photography. Drones have ignited her passion once again.
  • Women In Drone Journalism. Gail talks about the opportunities and the hopes for young women to become drone journalists and cover conflict areas. Many victims in conflict areas are women and children, and Gail believes women journalist can provide a very distinct perspective in covering these stories.
  • Lessons Learned. Gail’s advice to anyone wanting to cover conflict areas with a drone is to always know the drone rules and regulations and have your paperwork and press credentials ready. In conflict areas, it’s better to take several smaller, less expensive drones in case of mishaps or they being shot down. People in conflict areas have never seen a drone do something good. Drone journalists should continually inform and educate local populations on how drones can be used to cover stories. The opportunity to teach and show that drones are not 100% destructive is critical in conflict areas. Over the past 25 years, Gail has met some incredible and interesting people while covering conflict areas. It’s been a tremendously rewarding career, at times, a little lonely due to the amount of time in the field.
  • Closing. Gail feels especially lucky to be able to add drones to her coverage of conflict areas. They have given her a new perspective and ignited a new passion for her career.

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