Statehouse media coverage declines


According to a recent Pew Research Center report, the number of reporters covering their statehouses has dropped 35% over the past decade. The study found a loss of 164 full-time statehouse reporters across the nation and more than two-thirds of U.S. newspapers without a statehouse reporter at all. Given the media’s role as watchdog for the government, this should be cause for public concern.

With fewer full-time journalists devoted to covering legislative matters at the state level, many journalists, legislative leaders, and industry observers fear that the public will not be kept informed of important policy decisions that will affect their daily lives. Part-time coverage, while valuable, may result in journalists missing critical stories or context that comes from being stationed at statehouses full-time. This could impact their ability to hold state politicians accountable.

Non-traditional outlets and state officials have attempted to fill the “reduction in coverage.” However, it does not make up for the numbers of jobs lost or alleviate concerns about the inherent bias of a state covering its own activities.

Daily Tar Heel reporter, Amanda Albright, sees the shrinking statehouse press corps as a call to action. In her article titled “A silver lining in Pew’s statehouse press report,” she encourages college journalists to step up and provide valuable oversight of state government. According to the Pew report, college students already make up 14 percent of all state capitol reporters.

Looking at Pew’s state-by-state data, N.C. has 47 statehouse reporters, 18 of which are full-time. While this is far from the lowest numbers in the country (South Dakota only has 2 full-time state house reporters), N.C. could still use more “watchdogs” based on the state’s population, the length of its legislative sessions, and arguably the average number of bills introduced at the statehouse.

The North Carolina General Assembly has taken action on over 400 bills this short session and will continue to tackle important issues such as the state budget until they adjourn. Their decisions will affect the lives of nearly 10 million North Carolinians. It is critical that the public be informed.


Drone Used to Film Fireworks

fireworksIf you grew up in a state that banned fireworks, you might have at some point picked up some out of state products to make sure your celebration had a bang. Skirting the law with fireworks is something of a national pastime, but one drone user might have the most spectacular use yet.

Joe Stiglingh flew his drone over a firework demonstration this past May in West Palm Beach, and the result is incredible. With the Fourth of July and the American love of fireworks, the video very recently became viral. As Forbes notes, most large celebrations over water involve Coast Guard restrictions, so it is possible Stiglingh was violating the law, though we don’t know for certain.

This is not necessarily a commercial drone use, as it is very difficult to tell if his video will actually make money through its massive viewing audience on YouTube. At the very least, the video provides another idea about the ways in which drones could be used in the future.


FAA Releases Notice Concerning Model Airplane Rule

DronesBackyard flying is more complex than Snoopy battling the Red Baron, and you might be surprised at how much debate goes into just what is and what isn’t a model airplane. The FAA this week released a “Notice of Interpretation” in an effort to clarify the model airplane exception of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which said that devices considered to be model airplanes could operate without FAA approval or regulation.

The notice and accompanying press release say that the original law that applies to model airplanes does not apply to model airplanes that are being used for commercial purposes or flown in an unsafe manner. It also gives examples, as this picture shows, of what aircraft uses will and won’t be allowed. This notice might address one of the legal issues in the Pirker case currently going through the appeals process.

While the FAA’s efforts might be for clarification, they are being met with some resistance and skepticism. The Academy of Model Aeronautics released a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed and troubled.” One author said this notice just added to the confusion.

The notice is published in the Federal Register and takes effect immediately, but the FAA will take public comment for 30 days.


New Media Law PhDs

UNCThe UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication will welcome three new media law students to its Ph.D. program this fall.  All of them have expressed interest in working in the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy.  Welcome, law dawgs!

These are the students and a brief description of each student’s background and research interests:

Nicholas Gross.  Coming to Carolina from San Jose, Calif., Nicholas earned a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from the University of California, Davis. Currently Nicholas is a legal research attorney for The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. He also has been a staff attorney with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, GaHis research interests include freedom of expression, internet policy and governance, advertising, intellectual property law, privacy and security law, and telecommunications regulation.

Taeho Lee.  A native of Korea, Taeho earned a J.D. from Emory University and a bachelors in communication from Seoul National University in Korea. He has practiced law in Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and he has advised Fox Television Stations Inc. in Atlanta on diverse legal matters, including state shield laws. He also has assisted lawyers in drafting copyright license agreements between cable networks in Atlanta. He is interested in studying the relationship between protection of privacy, freedom of expression, and potential harm from offensive speech (e.g., violent, indecent, and racially discriminative speech).

Kristen Patrow is coming to Carolina from Minneapolis, Minn. She earned a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s in journalism from Bethel University. She has been a teaching assistant for several journalism courses at the University of Minnesota and guest lectured in classes. Her professional experience includes being an events coordinator and social media associate for Christians for Biblical Equity. She organized conferences and wrote articles for newsletters and magazines. She is planning to study media law, especially the First Amendment and how low-value speech, such as pornography, contributes value to a community.


FAA Approves First Commercial Drone Flight Over US Land


Picture of the Puma AE

In the words of famed, fictitious race car driver Ricky Bobby: “if you ain’t first, your last.” Future commercial drone users might prefer to come in second, but first place belongs to BP, as they received the first ever FAA clearance to fly a drone over domestic land for commercial purposes. While ConocoPhillips was approved for a drone flight towards the end of last year, that flight was only approved over water.

Don’t think this is going to cause widespread changes just yet. As the article points out, BP had to comply with very strict standards and policies in order to get approval. Still, they received FAA approval and their Puma AE drone and its 9.2 foot wingspan was up and flying on June 8. Strict guidelines or not, this approval is definitely a big development in the future of commercial drone use.

(Picture directly from Aerovironment website (the company that produces the Puma AE))

(h/t to my father, Roger Hannah, for alerting me to this story)