Returning to campus? Read our Fall 2021 Reopening Plan.

Drone Journalism Takes Off at the Newmark J-School

  • By Amy Dunkin
Professor Travis Fox leads a workshop on using drones for journalism.
Professor Travis Fox (far left) teaches a course on using drones for journalism.

After Hurricane Michael leveled the city of Mexico Beach on the Florida panhandle, some of the most arresting reporting on the devastation was done with drones flying overhead.  

For journalists, drones are not simply gee-whiz aerial toys. They’re powerful new tools that allow us to collect data and witness things we never had access to before from the ground.

Students interested in drone journalism can get training at just one place in New York City – the Newmark J-School. In a five-week class offered in both the fall and spring semesters, they learn not only how to fly drones but how to operate them safely, legally, and ethically.

Travis Fox, a licensed drone pilot who directs the Visual Journalism Program at the Newmark J-School, said the course preps students to become FAA-certified drone operators. 

“A flying camera is a potent tool for journalists,” said Fox, who wrote about the subject recently for the Columbia Journalism Review. “We can easily capture aerials and use it as an investigative tool, but most importantly we have to do it in a safe, legal, and ethically responsible way. That’s what our drone journalism course is all about.”

Fox said drone certification gives students an advantage when they look for jobs. “Nearly every major media organization is using drones in one way or another,” he said. For example, CNN has nearly 30 licensed pilots on staff.

The head of CNN AIR was one of the industry leaders who attended the “Drone Leadership Summit” at the Newmark J-School on October 26.

Hosted by the Newmark J-School along with the National Press Photographers Association, the conference brought together journalists, media executives, and FAA and law enforcement officials to discuss best practices and the latest legal developments in drone journalism.