Drone Journalism Lab Still a Go at UNL, Even with New FAA Restriction

As I first posted late last month, drone journalism is a fascinating new method of flyover reporting that a few A-list j-schools are testing.

The most prominent experimentation is arguably taking place at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Lab. (The lab’s website features a blog-style rundown of drone journalism news and views — it alternately held my rapt attention and made me giggle with geeky journalism glee.) 

Since taking flight in November 2011, the lab has been dutifully operating under a fairly draconian set of drone restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Among them: no hovering above 400 feet and no reporting over populated areas.


More recently, in a letter to the lab, the FAA has laid out another hurdle: a formal request that must be submitted to the FAA any time the lab wants to employ a drone outdoors for storytelling purposes. The bad news, from a reporting perspective: The government agency may not respond to the request for more than two months.

As UNL j-prof and drone lab founder Matt Waite — possibly the coolest guy in journalism at the moment, let’s be honest — tells The Daily Nebraskan, “If we wanted to cover a breaking news event, to do that we’re basically going to have to predict a breaking news event is going to happen on a specific property two to three months in advance, which is impossible.”

At the same time, Waite is at least publicly remaining optimistic, seeing the new challenge as simply one more learning experience in a still untapped part of the field. As he confirms to the Lincoln Journal Star, “We’re going to have to get really familiar with aviation regulations and how they work, how they’re applied. This is our first best opportunity to do that. … We have a unique position to be able to explore this for the industry before the industry is going to be able to do it themselves.”

The lab’s most notable work so far is an October 2012 aerial view of Nebraska’s Platte River, suffering at the time from the effects of a record-shattering statewide drought. Since its YouTube premiere, the video has garnered more than 10,000 hits.

Comments are closed.