Knight Foundation awards $250K to journalism duo

(From left) Gary Kebbel and Matthew Waite
(From left) Gary Kebbel and Matthew Waite

The study of two innovative areas of journalism — mobile media and drone journalism — in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications has 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. Led by Gary Kebbel, professor of journalism and mass communications, the lab 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."

Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at the Knight Foundation, said he hopes the projects serve as research and development for the news and information industry.

In June 2012, the college announced a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to explore drone journalism as a potential news-gathering 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.

Matthew Waite, professor of practice, 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. He said 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 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.

For more information on the Knight Foundation, go to

— Robb Crouch, University of Nebraska Foundation