CoJMC's Drone Journalism Lab launches drone operations manual

Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 11:30am

To help newsrooms get started using drones for journalism, the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is releasing the “The Drone Journalism Lab Operations Manual,” a guide that covers everything from pre-flight checklists to ethical considerations.

A first of its kind, the manual is free, Creative Commons licensed and provided as an open source document online. The Drone Journalism Lab created it with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“As journalists look to become more relevant and responsive to community needs, this manual is an important step towards experimenting with new ways of gathering and presenting news and information. It is a resource for best practices and an exciting invitation to explore a fresh, emerging area of the field,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism.

Dr. Maria Marron, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, praised Professor Matt Waite for producing the operations manual.

“Matt is a key innovator in journalism,” she said. “It was his prescience about the potential for drones in journalism that made University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Lab the leader in the field. The operations manual will be the go-to resource for anyone interested in using drones for journalistic purposes.”

Last month, the college hosted The Drone Journalism Boot Camp @ University of Nebraska–Lincoln powered by the Google News Lab 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.

The manual is part of the Drone Journalism Lab’s broad mission to help journalists use drones to report news. By being the first to offer this manual, the Drone Journalism Lab maintains its status as the preeminent source for drone journalism education.

Professor of Practice Matt 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,” Waite said.

The manual began as an internal document in the Drone Journalism Lab to help ensure the drones were correctly used and properly maintained. Many of the lessons in the document are earned, such as over-communication between pilot in command and observer. During a drone operation in Kenya, a jackal nearly knocked a University of Nebraska–Lincoln drone out of the air while the observer watched silently, curious about what the animal was doing. The surprise prompted the necessity of over-communicating.

On June 21, the FAA released new drone laws that went into effect in the United States on Monday, Aug. 29, just 60 days after they were introduced. The first step to legally fly drones is passing the FAA test, which includes questions about reading an airspace map and an aviation weather report, as well as questions on safety protocols.

“With Part 107, drones will become a commonplace tool in newsrooms across the U.S.,” Waite said. “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.”

Waite started the first Drone Journalism Lab in the country in 2011 as part of a broad digital journalism and innovation strategy. Under his direction, the lab has been on the forefront of the changing regulations for drones in the United States.

In September 2015, Waite obtained a manned-aircraft pilot’s license to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules at the time. The release of new drone laws changes the requirements, and gives the Lab an advantage in the interpretation and understanding of FAA regulations.

Kreimer became interested in drone journalism during his time as a student at the college. It was through working with Waite in the Drone Journalism Lab that Kreimer became inspired to use drones to tell a story. He has since traveled the world to tell stories with drones, including covering poaching in Africa and soccer tournaments in India.

The manual can be found here:

Matt Waite
Matt Waite