New Operations Manual Helps Journalists Get a Leg up on Drones

To help newsrooms get started on using drones for journalism, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Drone Journalism Lab is releasing an operations manual that covers everything from pre-flight checklists to ethical considerations.

According to UNL, the first-of-its-kind, free manual is offered as an open-source document online. Created with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the manual was produced by Matt Waite, a professor of practice in the university’s college of journalism and mass communications.

“As journalists look to become more relevant and responsive to community needs, this manual is an important step toward experimenting with new ways of gathering and presenting news and information,” says Shazna Nessa, the Knight Foundation’s director for journalism.

Last month, the college hosted a drone journalism boot camp to prepare journalists and journalism educators for the Federal Aviation Administration’s new knowledge test. Students in the boot camp were the first to see the manual and provided feedback, says UNL.

Waite and BuzzFeed Open Lab fellow and college alumnus Ben Kreimer led the three-day workshop to help journalists prepare for the test through a mix of practice tests, hands-on flight practice and discussions on the journalism ethics involved in drone use. Since that time, five journalists who attended the camp have passed the test (in addition to Waite).

“With the new regulations, newsrooms are now entering an area of professionalized aviation, and that starts with having written procedures to follow every flight to ensure safety,” notes Waite.

The manual began as an internal document in the Drone Journalism Lab to help ensure that drones were correctly used and properly maintained.

“Drones will become a commonplace tool in newsrooms,” Waite adds. “This manual can help you be among the first to take advantage of the technology under the new rules and help you do it the right way.”

According to UNL, Waite started U.S.’ first drone journalism lab back in 2011 as part of a broad digital journalism and innovation strategy.


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