Two Drone Journalism Boot Camps Reveal Positive Interest

Two recent drone journalism boot camps, in U.S.A. and South Africa, demonstrate the positive interest in the techniques and ethics behind operating drones in journalism.


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Boot Camp

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a successful drone journalism boot camp on the 12-14th of August 2016.

On the 21st of June 2106 the FAA (the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States) released new drone guidelines that will permit any U.S. journalist to use drones and operate them even for live broadcast, provided they pass a knowledge test to obtain the so-called Part 107 certificate of flight for drone operations.

These new laws will go into effect on the 29th of Aug., just 60 days after they were introduced. As a consequence of these new laws, the sector expects a sudden boom in drone use among U.S. journalists who are untrained and looking to experiment.

The first step to legally flying 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.

But the big majority of the journalists suffer from lack of clarity on what is both allowed and ethical, and on how the certification process works.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, guided by professor Matt Waite, is one of the leading U.S. educational centers on drone journalism.

Matt Waite’s Drone Journalism Lab, established in 2011 within the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, was the first of its kind in the United States.

They organized a three-day boot camp on the 12-14th of August 2016 to provide the proper knowledge and answers to the people willing to become certified to fly drones for journalistic purposes, through a mix of practice tests, hands-on flight practice and discussions on the journalism ethics involved in drone use.

The boot camp (which was sponsored by the Google News Lab, a recent Google program designed to support and research innovation at the  intersection between technology and media) was co-led by Matt Waite and BuzzFeed’s Open Lab for Journalism fellow and college alumnus Ben Kreimer (we interviewed Ben Kreimer in our recent roundup interview with 15 leading experts on the top opportunities and challenges of drones in journalism).

The boot camp, which had a cost of $195 per person, sold-out pretty soon.

The participants included journalism educators, sports editors, local broadcasters and journalists from major international news brands. In total, over 60 journalists from across the country attended, learning about privacy, legal operation and ethical issues surrounding drone use from experts like Mickey Osterreicher (National Press Photographers Association) and Jon Resnick (DJI).

In an interview with Poynter on the drone boot camp, Matt Waite said that:

“it’s important for organizations to have safety standards, and ethical standards around this. To think about this before getting into the air.”

Matt Waite is hoping to offer more training opportunities soon, and to publish online an open-sourced operations manual (provided so far only to the boot camp’s participants) that he hopes will serve as a foundation document for how drones should be used for journalism.

Code For Africa’s First Drone Journalism Boot Camp in Cape Town, South Africa

Interestingly enough, a similar initiative took place in South Africa, 15,000 kilometers away from Nebraska, just a few weeks before.

The first South Africa’s drone journalism boot camp, organized by Code For Africa and ICFJ (International Center For Journalists) in Cape Town, South Africa on July 13-15th, showed the potential of drones in journalism to 30 journalists from 12 of South Africa’s leading media outlets, including News24.com / Media24, the Times Media Group, as well as Independent Online, Eyewitness News and the Mail & Guardian.

In a stimulating interview with IJNet (International Journalists’ Network) on this drone journalism boot-camp in South Africa, Chris Roper, the key organizer of the event, explains that the goals of this event were to teach journalists to build and fly drones, and to introduce them to laws and ethics topics related to using drones in journalism. Participants also got insights on how drones can be used for storytelling:

“We gave them a taste for the amazing things you could do with drones in terms of journalism, and provided loads of case studies and talks from people who had produced those projects.”

Among the speakers at the event, Professor Paul Egglestone (director of research at innovation at the UK’s Media Innovation Studio), one of the pioneers of drone journalism in Europe; Dickens Olewe (pioneer of drone journalism in Africa, founder of skyCAM); the aerial photographer Johnny Miller from Unequal Scenes who recently had a huge viral success with a project showing the divide between rich and poor in Cape Town from above; Buzzfeed’s Ben Kreimer; World Bank’s Edward Anderson from Tanzania and a few others.

The boot camp also offered a prize for the best drone journalism story idea coming out of the drone camp.

Interest in this drone journalism camp was so high that organizers have already begun planning a second event in Johannesburg in September. A few more events will include Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Code For Africa‘s goal through this initiative, which is supported by Hacks/Hackers – Africa, ANCIR, and Impact Africa, is to kickstart new media ventures and sustain the #DroneJournalism movement across Africa.


I expect many drone journalism training opportunities to come up in the next year in more parts of the world. I’d love to know from you if you hear of similar events, please tell me in the comments!