HomeDrone Journalism? An HBCU Founds a Game-Changer

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HBCU(Historical Black Colleges And University) journalism programs are aiming to strike a balance between teaching legacy skills and adopting curricula that include digital innovations conducive to post-graduation employment.

At the same time, we can no longer think the latest big thing is going to be the final drop in the technological bucket. We know successful integration of emerging technologies into the classroom will likely expedite a student’s entry into the profession.

Students are realizing that a drone is not a toy – it’s a tool. A few universities – especially Matt Waite at the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab – have been studying the role of drones in journalism. This year, Waite assisted the Poynter Institute, Google News Lab, and DJI drones in a series of nationwide seminars on drone technology and trends in drone usage.

Perhaps most important, it provided insight toward integrating drones into a journalism curriculum, which is not easy given the legal implications of what amounts to flying a miniature lawn mower over a busy campus.The drone journalism is a perfect fit for Lincoln University’s journalism program.

Journalism majors often struggle to shed bad writing habits or learn the value of newswriting and AP style. But, that’s the bad news.Many are first-generation students, arriving with almost no understanding of college life.

A drone is both visual and hands-on, and as an added benefit, many introverted students are gravitating toward a media tool that removes intense human interaction — a shell-remover, of sorts.By using a cell phone on the drone’s controller, students learn the connection between navigation, piloting and producing photographic products. Because students are digital natives adept at cell phones and gaming technology, the learning curve on flying a drone seems rather flat. And let’s be honest – flying a drone is fun!

Drone journalism allows students to actually see journalism in action, to experience the link between documenting and disseminating the news. Students are realizing drone journalism may be a new path to skills and opportunities, and at least one veteran news photographer agrees.

“They need to have some familiarity with drones, but they don’t necessarily need a (pilot) license,” McCormac said during a recent phone interview. Out of 20 photographers on the KMOV staff, five have the FAA Part 107 drone license and a sixth is preparing for the test.

“If two people are competing for a job and all things being equal, the person with drone training or a license would have an advantage,” McCormac said.