The idea of using drones for news gathering came to Olewe in 2012 when he realised that journalists covering floods in Kenya at that time were putting themselves at risk by riding the flood waters.
While Western countries were bogged down in legal wrangling over the use of drones for journalism, Kenya surged ahead in getting the first licensed news-gathering drones airborne when Dickens Olewe’s project, African skyCAM, was one of 20 winners of the 2012 African News Innovation Challenge.
The project has seen Olewe, a 33-year-old news junkie with a Bachelor's degree in communications from Daystar University, appointed a journalism Fellow at Stanford University in the US to research responsible drone journalism in Africa.
The idea of using drones for news gathering came to Olewe in 2012 when he realised that journalists covering floods in Kenya at that time were putting themselves at risk by riding the flood waters in hired boats, and were totally reliant for aerial footage on begging rides on police helicopters.
“So I made a case for the use of UAVs as a least-cost alternative to helicopters, and also to help maintain editorial independence,” Olewe says. “The technology is now within the reach of your average newsroom. My mantra is ‘old stories; new perspectives’.”
African skyCAM has a team of five under Olewe, all broadcast journalists from the Radio Africa group except for lead drone operator Ben Kreimer, a journalism technologist from the US. Using the award money from the Flying Donkey Challenge, the team purchased an off-the-shelf DJI Phantom 2 drone with a GoPro video camera, and shared its footage on The Star newspaper’s social page.
“When we started operating we limited our operation to capturing aerial images,” Olewe says. “We covered a political rally, a marathon, a conservation piece, a car rally and many more, but we’ve since scaled up to produce 3D images and are looking at how to produce more content like this. We are also excited about live streaming, virtual reality and developing crowd-counting apps.”
Although the current suspension of drone flights in Kenya has put the project on ice, Olewe expects the ban to be temporary and is looking forward to experimenting with different types of drones in future. African skyCAM’s work can be seen on its YouTube channel.