UNL tests new media technologies with Knight Foundation support

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A $200,000 grant was awarded to help create a Mobile Media Lab at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The study of two innovative areas of journalism—mobile media and drone journalism—at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications have received backing from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with grants totaling $250,000 to the University of Nebraska Foundation.

A $200,000 grant was awarded to help create a Mobile Media Lab at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Led by Professor Gary Kebbel, the center will involve cross-campus, multidisciplinary collaboration of students, faculty and research professors working to improve the communication of news and advertising on mobile devices.

The grant will be used to create demonstration projects showing the type of work and research that could be done at a Mobile Media Lab and to create projects or classes that integrate the latest mobile technology knowledge into the classroom. The grant is one of the largest the college has received to support the work of an individual faculty member.

“Knight Foundation is probably the largest funder of journalism and community news projects in the world,” Kebbel said. “Receiving a grant from this particular foundation is certainly a stamp of approval that can help one receive grants from other journalism foundations.”

“We hope these projects serve as R&D for the news and information industry, as well as present a model for 21st century journalism education,” said Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

In June 2012, the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications announced a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to explore drone journalism as a potential newsgathering tool for journalists. It involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to record images and video. While UAVs for commercial use are currently illegal in the United States, this will soon change as the Federal Aviation Administration was ordered by Congress to develop rules for legalizing them by 2015.

UNL journalism professor of practice Matthew Waite is exploring these issues. He founded the Drone Journalism Lab in 2011, which brings together faculty and students to study how journalists can safely and responsibly use UAVs for newsgathering. The lab’s goal is to study potential uses for UAVs and outline an ethical framework for drone journalism.

“We can help the journalism industry determine what are good uses and what are bad uses of drones, so when it’s time to make a decision, it’s based on findings and research instead of ignorance,” Waite said.

Waite said UNL used the funds to purchase several small unmanned vehicles and has begun experiments with them. Half of what he’s working on in the lab is flying the drones and establishing their practical implication, while the other half is determining the ethical rules for journalists.

According to Waite, UNL is currently the only journalism school in the world to have an unmanned aerial vehicle lab. “It’s giving us an opportunity to be the leaders, both in actual application and in considering the ethical consequences of using these,” he said.

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. It believes democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more information, visit knightfoundation.org.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 75 years. In 2012 donors, through their gifts to the foundation, provided the university with $165 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty and buildings. All foundation funds are donor designated. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.2 billion for the university, and concludes in 2014. For more information, visit campaignfornebraska.org.

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