Drone journalism

MSU Denver is Elevating Backpack Journalism to the Next Level

Like most professions, journalism has evolved to meet the demands of new, ubiquitous technologies, which deliver stories and content to viewers over multiple platforms.

A drone flies above the MSU Denver Student Success Building. MSU Denver will be offering it’s first ever drone journalism class in the Fall semester. The journalism and Aerospace departments will be working together to help teach students how to pilot drones for journalistic purposes. Photos by Carl Glenn Payne

MSU Denver is launching a new course called drone journalism, created by Professor Kip Wotkyns for the 2017 fall semester.

Wotkyns first began discussing drones with Robert Amend, Chair of the Journalism and Technical Communications Department at MSU Denver, before the Federal Aviation Administration published Title 14, part 107 July, 2016. Prior to these new regulations, which require non-hobbyist drone operators to become certified according to their guidelines, any commercial use of drones in the U.S. was strictly prohibited, including field work at the university level.

“The spring of ‘17 was the very first semester where any school in the country could offer these courses,” Wotkyns said. “It’s hot.”

Wotkyns’ course in drone journalism is designed to provide the core instruction necessary to integrate yet another tool for telling stories in a journalist’s toolbox. It is one of a handful of courses offered at the university level since the new FAA rules went into effect last year.

Wotkyns’ designed his course to teach students to safely operate unmanned aircraft and prepare them for certification as a remote pilot airman. The course is rooted in the ethics of using drones to gather news in a legal and responsible manner.

Many of the ethical or legal issues concerning drones in journalism are similar to those involving cameras, phones or audio recording gear. Professional journalists understand, for example, that invading the privacy of a group or an individual on private property is unethical.

“Because of the cost advantage of drones, it is inevitable that they will be used widely as a news gathering tool.” Wotkyns said.

The class will feature a combination of traditional lectures, flight simulators, field work and the production of an editorial package using drones on location to create a portfolio story.

MSU Denver Professors Kip Wotkyns and Josh Noel discus a plan for a new drone journalism class in the Fall semester June 28, 2017. The journalism and Aerospace departments will be working together to help teach students how to pilot drones for journalistic purposes.

In the past, most reporters were specialists focusing on one area, honing their skills and reputation through writing, photography or video. Today’s media requires a journalist who can write, shoot, edit and produce stories out of a backpack, on location, quickly, as the story demands.

Equipped with high-definition cameras, drones allow a journalist to capture visual information for their stories from an aerial perspective. Drones are particularly good at taking panoramic photos and getting shots over difficult terrain, like mountains, rivers and lakes. They are ideal for creating scene setting shots that visually illustrate the space where a particular story takes place. According to Wotkyns, drones can take pictures or video from angles impossible to reproduce otherwise and at a fraction of the cost of maintaining a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.

Drones can quickly cover any environment and visually communicate disasters. With the right sensors, a drone can gather geographical information and data about a location and quickly pinpoint areas of interest to a story that might not be obvious at ground level.

With the trend toward more visual stories and data analysis in multimedia journalism, drones are positioned to enhance the toolkit of field reporters, documentarians, filmmakers and podcasters in ways we have yet to imagine.

“Are drones in journalism a fad, or is it here to stay?” Wotkyns said. “The answer is it’s here to stay.”

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