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University of Kentucky students take to the sky to learn from a birds eye view in drone journalism class


By Meg Mills
University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky journalism students are taking to the sky to learn from a bird’s eye view.

In David Stephenson’s drone journalism class, in the School of Journalism and Media within the College of Communication and Information, students are learning to use new technology for newsgathering purposes. As a photographer and filmmaker himself, Stephenson wanted to add drone experience to his arsenal and help students do the same.

In David Stephenson’s drone journalism class students are learning to use new technology for news gathering purposes (Photo from UK Now)

“In the past five years, the accessibility of drones has put aerial reporting in the hands of practically any newsroom. They no longer need to hire helicopter or airplane pilots at a rate of hundreds or thousands of dollars per flight, and drones can reach places we can’t go ourselves,” Stephenson said. “But we also should not overlook the need for proper safety training and licensing.”

The class has three components. One day a week students learn Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and safety protocols in order to take the FAA licensing exam. This includes weather, safety and air space maps. During the second component of the class, students look at examples of drone work previously done in film and journalism such as cinematography and photo technique. They use these past examples to study ethics and law as it applies, and also learn how to navigate the controls of the drones. Finally, students spend time outside, flying drones under the supervision of Stephenson.

Students can also use a flight simulator to practice without having to be monitored by a licensed pilot.

(Photo from UK Now)

“I want students to see the potential that drones can offer them as reporters and photographers who are reporting and telling stories,” said Stephenson, who stresses the importance of safety and the importance of following rules and regulations. “It will be a fantastic portfolio and resume line for our students to be experienced and licensed drone pilots.”

By the end of the class, students will be prepared to take the FAA Part 107 drone pilot licensing test and be a future expert on drones in their newsrooms. Stephenson predicts every newsroom in the future to have at least one licensed drone pilot.

Derek Lane, the interim Dean of the College of Communication and Information, is enthusiastic about the program and believes drones for journalism “provide an incredibly innovative visual storytelling tool that allow our students to break down physical barriers — especially when telling stories that are only possible when drones are deployed — such as crises and natural disasters.”


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