Schools and Colleges

Newhouse School to host drone journalism seminar

Will Carrara | Contributing Photographer

The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications will host a three-day seminar in April on drone journalism.

Syracuse University will be one of four campuses worldwide to host a program to train students to fly drones. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications will host a three-day seminar in April, the university recently announced.

The seminar will provide journalists, engineers and other students who want to know more about drones with the knowledge needed to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s new licensing test. The Part 107 Drone Pilot’s Certificate allows people to legally fly drones for commercial use.

“This is unique to Syracuse — we’re going to tap into the expertise of the area,” said Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online for The Poynter Institute.

Drones can be used to capture aerial views of natural disasters, track whales through miles of ocean, create 3-D models of buildings or send someone into a 360-degree virtual reality. Before they can use the drones freely, Tompkins said, flyers must pass a difficult test, which he said requires structured teaching.

SU students, along with drone technology, are pushing boundaries, said Dan Pacheco, the Peter A. Horvitz Endowed Chair in Journalism Innovation. As the push for drones to be used in alternative settings advances, and as laws pertaining to drones develop, SU continually tries to stay up to date with the newest technology, Pacheco said.

“My position as the chair of journalism innovation is basically to experiment with new technologies like (drones),” Pacheco said, “and figure out through experimentation what their applicability is to news gathering and reporting, as well as just storytelling in general.”

From virtual reality headsets to drones that can track people by facial recognition, the innovation center in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications embraces technological developments, said Kyle Foley, president of Skyworks Project, an on-campus drone club.

“What I’m trying to accomplish is getting a bunch of journalists in a room together with people who are interested in drones,” Foley said. “When you have that many people in one room, you’re bound to come up with something that’s awesome, and something that can change things.”

SU students can go to the Alan Gerry Center for Media Innovation, housed in Newhouse, as a haven to experiment with drones and other cutting-edge technology.

The seminar in April will focus on drone use for the sake of journalism, but this is a broader subject than people realize, said Matt Waite, a professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in an email.

“What we’re trying to do is train journalists in how they might use drones to report news,” Waite said in the email. “That sounds simple, but it involves a ton of training and thinking that isn’t a part of journalism now.”

The point of the initiative is more than just creating a community that knows how to fly drones. Tompkins, with The Poynter Institute, said they also want to teach students about the legal and ethical responsibilities of drone flying.

The Poynter Institute in partnership with Google News Lab, Drone Journalism Lab and National Press Photographers Association is bringing the seminar to the university. SU was intentionally chosen, along with three other universities, for its resources.

Host campuses were judged upon three criteria: the caliber of their journalism programs, areas suitable for drone flight and their angles and approaches to drone use.

The future of drone journalism could entail sensing pollution in water or showing 360 views of travel destinations such as Machu Picchu, Pacheco said.

“You can try to inform people all you want in journalism, but if you don’t get their attention and keep it long enough for them to understand what you’re trying to communicate, what’s the point?” Pacheco said. “So that’s engaging, and I think drone footage is really engaging.”

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