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High in the sky, a drone purchased by the Mass Communications department takes flight (Photo courtesy of Will Lee).

By Nathan Gerdts

A new class for mass communications students at Missouri Valley College is asking some hard questions about new technology and the ethical approach journalists must have in using it.

David Roberts, assistant professor in the Mass Communications department, is teaching a special class for the fall semester called “Hot Issues in Journalism.” The class will be discussing controversial issues in the journalism field and letting students voice their opinions on how the debates should be settled.

One of the early topics being discussed is the use of remote-operated drones to take pictures and capture video of events from high in the sky. A large number of states have prohibited the use of drones by newspaper publications, but Missouri has not.

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Will Lee, a senior in the class, said he was against the prohibition on drones.

“I think the outlaw of small drones is a mistake,” he said. “I believe that there should be regulations on the use of drones, large or small, but to outlaw them is to suppress American journalists.”

Despite their many potential uses, students think drones should not be taken lightly, but treated as a unique piece of equipment.

“As Peter Parker’s uncle says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’” said Ryan Canfield, a senior. “With that said, drones have a huge amount of potential with information-seeking that we can do for good, but if we completely limit them, we lose that potential.”

Felix Alvarado tries his hand at operating the new drone during a “Hot Issues in Journalism” class (Photo courtesy of Will Lee).
Roberts recently purchased a small drone for the Mass Communications department that can capture video to demonstrate the uses it can have. Students in the class are already beginning to see the possibilities drones could have in their local newspapers.

“In my hometown, there are sharks in the ocean water, so when there are shark attacks, we can use drones to take better pictures of the incident,” said Gabriel Santos, a junior.

Canfield added, “You could use drones to get shots of disaster areas and to give people a better idea of what’s going on in those disaster areas.”

The question becomes how soon drones will be available for journalists to use. According to a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, classes on operating camera drones were being taught at the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but they were shut down after pressure was put on from government officials.

Congress has recently had several bills proposed outlawing the use of drones for journalistic purposes, which some feel would be a violation of First and Third Amendment rights. Roberts sees these recent debates as clear evidence that drones will be in use for journalism very soon.

“It’s the future,” said Roberts, “and anything we can do to improve newspapers and television is productive.”
Students in the class are optimistic about when drones will become a regular part of getting stories in newspaper.

“I doubt it will be five years, but I think we will see a change if a major publication like the New York Times starts using one,” Canfield said.

Lee agreed and added, “Drones are the future of journalism and I think within five years every major news outlet will have at least one in use.”

About Nathan Gerdts

Nathan Gerdts has contributed 13 posts to The Delta.

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