New online map tracks censorship battles

OHIO — A doctoral candidate at Kent State University has created an online, interactive map chronicling incidents involving student press censorship.

Audrey Wagstaff, who also is a graduate assistant and researcher at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, compiled recent cases involving student press censorship or prior review, organizing it into an interactive format using Google’s map service. The map also displays landmarks where important Supreme Court cases involving scholastic media or student expression arose.

Users can browse a map of the United States marked with color-coded pushpins representing the location of individual cases and high schools and colleges. Clicking on a pin brings up information on each incident, including the publication’s name, the issue at hand and a brief summary. The box also includes links to relevant news articles.

“It’s visual, it’s interactive. It’s not just reading text,” Wagstaff said. “Our main audience is high school and college advisers. I think it’s a good tool for high school advisers to become aware, especially those that don’t realize that prior review is an issue.”

Ron Spielberger, executive director of College Media Advisers, said the tool will give advisers a quick summary of the national picture. Spielberger said he was not aware of a similar effort to organize information on college and high school censorship in this fashion.

Wagstaff said although Google Maps has been sufficient so far, she is working with online developers at Kent State to develop a system with a more attractive design, and additional features such as the ability to sort events by subject or date.

Wagstaff said she will continue to update the map as new cases crop up.

Funding for the project came through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Wagstaff said.

Wagstaff credits Wendy Wallace, director of the high school journalism program at the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based journalism education group, for the project’s initial concept. Wallace contacted faculty at Kent State, who then relayed the idea to Wagstaff.

Wallace said she was excited about the direction the project was taking and felt it would benefit anyone involved in the student press.

“I would like to first see teachers and student editors in helping populate the map, so we get a good picture of where censorship and prior review is happening,” Wallace said.

Wallace said that as the map becomes more detailed, it will not only serve as an aid to students and faculty, but also offer a valuable insight into the health of the student press.

“I think it will be a powerful visual representation of the state of scholastic media,” Wallace said.