Drones part of professors' winning border project proposal

Kyle Mittan ('14) tries out one of professor Michael McKisson's new mini-drones in the J-school hallway.

Celeste González
de Bustamante

Michael McKisson

Carol Schwalbe

Al Litzow

A project in which students will use drone videography, 360-degree virtual reality and data journalism to study border regions and security in Arizona and Canada is the winner of the University of Arizona School of Journalism’s first engagement grant competition.

Professors Celeste González de Bustamante and Michael McKisson put together the winning project, which will also compare migration, trade and culture of border areas at Nogales and 1,200 miles away at Sweet Grass, Montana.

“This to me seems to be the exact sort of thing the UA School of Journalism should be doing more of: Leveraging its geographic location to teach and tell stories in unique ways while embracing cutting-edge technologies and story-telling formats,” a judge for the competition said.

The project will be carried out this fall with financial help from alum Al Litzow.

After training sessions, students in the school’s border reporting course, members of the Online News Association club and two grad students will document Arizona’s southern border region through drone journalism and VR reporting. A group of four will travel to the U.S.-Canada border near Sweet Grass to assess the area, using the technology.

“Like border security, journalism is becoming more reliant on technology,” Bustamante and McKisson said in their proposal. “In order to be competitive, students must be able to tell compelling stories using cutting-edge technology.”

A runner-up project, which plans to apply sensor technology to a fall science journalism class, will be funded by the school.

Under that project, submitted by professor Carol Schwalbe and McKisson, students will write evidence-based stories and produce video explainers, maps and info graphics based on data from up to 10 sensors around Tucson. The sensors will collect information on air, water, light and noise. The project will tentatively be completed in spring 2017.

“Students will need to find the people behind the sensor data,” Schwalbe and McKisson said in the proposal. “What does poor air quality mean to the young child, the middle-aged professional and the elderly man or woman in the community? … How does water quality affect the residents of South Tucson compared with those who live in the Foothills or Marana?”

The J-school will honor the project winners at its annual Just Desserts night on May 12.

Published Date: 

02/04/2016 - 11:06am