Drone Studies: University of Missouri Is Teaching Journalism Students How to Fly Drones

Forget mastering the Associated Press style guide; some journalism students now need to learn the fine science of flying drones.

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Correction appended: Mar. 27, 2013

Forget mastering the Associated Press style guide; some journalism students now need to learn the fine science of flying drones.

The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo. launched a class on drones in January 2013, according to Fast Company. Local NPR affiliate KBIA partnered with the school, who provided a $25,000 grant to build the drones.

(MORE: Higher Ed Embraces Unmanned Aircraft)

“I think there will be a demand for it, just like any technology in the journalism tool box,” Bill Allen, the University of Missouri professor who spearheads the course, told ABC News.

Indeed, a group of Pakistani journalists who visited the class suggested the drones could be used to report in conflict zones. Rather than risking reporters’ lives in terrorist bombings, news organizations could deploy drones as first responders.

Academics like Allen believe such technology could help journalists get up-close to a breaking news stories — like natural disasters or fires — or even usher in a new realm of investigative reporting. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has been home to the Drone Journalism Lab since 2011, teaches students how to operate unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs) and how to interpret the footage and the ethics using the military robots, as well FAA regulations.


Civilian use of drones is becoming more widespread. Last week, a Senate hearing on the implications of drone use revealed that the Federal Aviation Authority plans to allow commercial use of drones in the U.S. by 2015. Already, 81 organizations ranging from police enforcement to universities have tapped into the military technology. In fact, about 120 students at the University of North Dakota are majoring in drone studies.

But as more Americans are permitted to operate drones, lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about how to safeguard citizens’ privacy. Missouri’s state government is debating a bill prohibiting drone use. Its sponsor, state Rep. Casey Guernsey, told the Gateway Journalism Review: “If we are moving into an age of news agencies using drones to collect information on private citizens, I’m definitely concerned about that.”

However, University of Washington School of Law Professor Ryan Calo argued at last week’s Senate hearing that drones are essentially “flying smartphones” that can take pictures and track locations in the same way smartphones do, Popular Science reports: “In 2015, when the FAA is set to begin to relax its prohibition on use and integrate civilian use of drones, then I would think the first folks in the door would be media because there’s such an obvious use.”

MORE: Is the CIA Getting Out of the Drone Business?

The original version of this article incorrectly stated a group of “Pakistani students” visited Missouri’s Drone Journalism Program. A group of “Pakistani journalists” visited the program. The article also incorrectly stated the Missouri Drone Journalism Program was launched in February 2013 and was in fact launched in January 2013.