A drone is still a drone by any other name

We’re always on the look out for innovative stories and reporting techniques at Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

In a couple weeks we’ll launch a series on civilian applications of drones for gathering information about the environment. I teach a course encompassing remote sensing, including the use of drones, as newsgathering tools.

So a story in the print edition of the New York Times, Drones Offer Journalists a Wider View, caught my eye at Monday’s breakfast table. It’s an interesting enough piece about a controversial technology. But what startled me was this sentence:

“Drones, or ‘unstaffed aerial systems,’ as many of their handlers prefer to call them, are meant to fly automatically, without skilled pilots.”


I’ve been looking at drones and journalism for about a year. And I never heard anyone refer to these craft as “unstaffed aerial systems.”

Even more puzzling is that a colleague sent me a link to the online version of the story that referred to them as “unmanned aerial systems.” That is a fairly common phrase in the world of drones. People fighting the military connotations that “drone” conjures favor it as they push for peaceful applications.

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