Undergraduate journalism students at the University of Missouri Journalism School in Columbia could someday find themselves using small, camera-equipped drone helicopters to gather footage of a crime scene or capture the advance of a raging wildfire, ABC News reported Friday.
"We have a class here of journalism students who are learning to fly J-bots, for journalism robots, or drones," journalism Professor William Allen, who developed the course, said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has held hearings on the future use of drones in America and is expected to lift the current ban on drone use in populated areas by 2015 as they consider whether to create new laws by then to govern their use.
But the Missouri students aren't waiting, Allen said.
"So they learn to fly them, and also do what reporters do: brainstorm ideas, go out and do reporting, do drone-based photography and video," he said. "We're trying to see if this is going to be useful for journalism."
Allen acknowledges the use of journalism drones will have to be balanced with concerns about invasion of privacy.
"I just hope people will not throw the baby out with the bathwater," he said, "the baby here is the great benefit of using drones, and the bathwater is the dirty stuff about privacy concerns."
"But part of my job is to get students ready to go into these new organizations, and to know how to fly and do a story safely, legally, ethically, and responsibly, and tell stories that way."