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Nebraska J-school writes the book on drone newsgathering

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For years, the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications has been the go-to source for information on newsgathering by unmanned aerial vehicle. 

Now that the Federal Aviation Authority has issued regulations clearing the commercial use--including professional newsgathering--of small drones, the lab has produced an operations manual on the proper, and legal, use of drones by journalists.

"It's likely that many hundreds of the eventual thousands of licensed drone pilots will be journalists," Matt Waite, the journalism professor who leads the lab, wrote in announcing the manual. "Many of them are climbing that first hill this week and taking the (required FAA pilot knowledge) test. The second big hill to climb is professionalizing operations in newsrooms. Doing so means having written procedures and policies."

The manual covers the requirements under the FAA regulations, piloting methods, definitions of the role of the so-called Pilot in Command, best practices and ethical considerations for drone newsgathering.

One big consideration, Waite wrote: "News managers need to be very clear on one thing: The Pilot in Command, by federal regulation, is the final authority on if the drone flies or not. The Pilot in Command holds the license, and will be the one punished by the FAA if something goes wrong. If a licensed drone-pilot reporter says no to a flight because it's not safe, that's it. End of discussion. It wouldn't be the city editor or the news director losing a license or receiving a fine: It would be the pilot."

The Drone Journalism Operations Manual is available as a PDF at www.dronejournalismlab.org/manual. The manual is also hosted on Github, which allows newsrooms to contribute ideas and experiences.

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