Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Drone Journalism as Visual Aggregation: Toward a Critical History

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Abstract:  The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs—commonly referred to as drones) in journalism has emerged only recently, and has grown significantly. This article explores what makes drone imagery as an instance of what scholars of visual culture call an aerial view so compelling for major news organizations as to warrant such attention and investment. To do this, the concept ‘visual aggregation’ is introduced to theorize the authority of drone imagery in conventional journalistic practice. Imagery produced through drone journalism is a visual analogy to statistical summary and, more recently, of what is referred to as data journalism. Just as these combine an aggregate of cases to produce an understanding of an overall trend, drone imagery aggregates space visually, its broad visual field revealing large-scale spatial patterns in ways analogous to the statistical capture/analysis of large bodies of data. The article then employs a cultural and historical approach to identify key points in the emergence of visual aggregation as authoritative truth. The aerial view as a claim to truth is manifest in a wide range of antecedent social formations, devices and practices prior to their amalgamation in what has today become drone journalism. This analysis aids understanding of how drone journalism is a response to the institutional crises of journalism today.

Keywords:  aerial view; drones; journalism; photography; unmanned aerial vehicles; visual aggregation; visual culture



© James F. Hamilton. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.