TMZ Denies Report It's Building a Drone

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 27 2012 3:15 PM

TMZ Denies It Wants a Drone, but It's Not Crazy To Think They Will Soon Enough

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An employee of Belgian society Gatewing prepares a drone for flight on the eve of the start of the UAV Show Europe, an international drone fair

Photograph by Pierre Andrieu/AFP/GettyImages.

Hollywood B- and C-listers can rest easy for now: Celebrity gossip website TMZ says that—contrary to a published report—it has no plans to launch its own video-taking drone. Here's the relevant part of the website's statement, which its staff somewhat hilariously labeled with an "EXCLUSIVE" tag (ellipses theirs):

TMZ is NOT getting in the DRONE business ... we don't have a drone ... we don't want a drone ... we never applied for a drone ... despite a bogus report to the contrary.

For those of you who are a little confused, we'll back track a bit. The TMZ Is Getting a Drone story was officially launched this past weekend by the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an interesting but not altogether unheard of look at domestic drones and those lobbying for the FAA to cut the red tape currently limiting their use. The gossip website was given only a pair of mentions in the original article, first in passing in an early graph:

The Federal Aviation Administration has been flooded with applications from police departments, universities, private corporations and even the celebrity gossip site TMZ, all seeking to use drones that range from devices the size of a hummingbird to full-size aircraft like those used by the U.S. military to target al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and elsewhere.

And then a bit more toward the end with a few more specifics that certainly make it sound like someone at the FAA sure thought TMZ had filed the paperwork:

Privacy advocates note that not just the police, but individuals and commercial enterprises will be using the devices. TMZ's application for a permit is an illustration. Paparazzi are already using small drones on the Riviera to shoot photos of celebrities in otherwise hard-to-access areas. TMZ "does not have a permit" yet, FAA officials said last week.

As terrifying as that yet may sound to privacy advocates and tabloid haters, the TMZ angle didn't really gain traction until today, when it earned an above-the-fold Drudge headline of "TMZ WANTS DRONE."

The way things stand now, however, even if TMZ did have a drone, the site wouldn't have much use for it at home. Current FAA rules require that drones avoid populated areas, and a full set of regulations integrating the unmanned crafts into commercial airspace aren't expected to be finalized for another three years, giving George Clooney plenty of time to construct an underground bunker for himself and the entire Ocean's Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen gang.

By the time those regulations are issued, however, the idea of a news website (gossip-related or otherwise) launching a drone likely won't sound so crazy. KBIA, an NPR affiliate in Missouri, is currently using a $25,000 grant to lay the groundwork for its own news-gathering drone program, and researchers at the University of Nebraska have likewise been given a $50,000 grant to set up a Drone Journalism Lab, according to the Associated Press. Some people won't like it, but it's hard to believe that drones won't find a role in the journalism of tomorrow.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.