The Des Moines Register courted controversy on Wednesday by posting an interactive map online featuring the locations of Iowa schools that didn’t have security guards. After a wave of criticism, the newspaper pulled the map down only hours later and reworked it to eliminate the names and addresses of the specific schools. The map was re-launched later that evening.
Initially the map featured flag pins which when clicked would bring up detailed information about the school the flag represented. Each flag had the name of the school, the location of the school and its security situation when known. Red flags were schools with no security guards, green flags were schools with guards, and gray were schools that had not supplied the paper with enough information to delineate whether there were guards or not.
Almost immediately Iowans began to complain, alarmed that the newspaper would post a map to every school that was totally unprotected. Citizens accused the paper of putting thousands of kids in danger.
For many Iowans, the map was reminiscent of a map posted by the Journal News of Westchester, NY in December. The New York paper posted a detailed, interactive map showing the names and addresses of gun owners in several local Counties. The New York map was later tied to several home invasions and robberies. Critics claimed it had given the criminals the information they needed to target homes that had guns to be stolen.
In interviews, Green stressed that the map was meant to help Iowans figure out how to allocate financial resources better. But he conceded that the paper had erred in how the whole story was handled.
“Do I wish we would have handled this differently? Obviously,” Green told Fox News.
In an effort to accede to worried customers, however, Register Editor Rick Green quickly changed the map and released a statement explaining the paper’s position on the controversial story:
For months, police chiefs, superintendents and communities across Iowa have weighed whether to invest potentially hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars in the hiring of new or additional resource officers in public schools. The Des Moines Register surveyed superintendents to see which school districts now have those officers. We published on DesMoinesRegister.com Wednesday afternoon a map of districts that had the officers and those that did not. We listed no addresses or the names of specific schools–just the districts’ names. After hearing concerns from a handful of readers, we immediately took down that interactive map. It was replaced with one showing only those 54 districts with an officer or private security guard stationed at one or more of their schools. We also informed readers that many of the rest of Iowa’s 348 districts routinely have police officers or sheriff deputies visit and provide security to their schools. Again, no addresses or school names were shared. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut has forced all of us in the media, including the Register, to be even more thoughtful about how we approach our reporting and presentation on matters related to guns, crime, schools and student safety. We must responsibly balance the need to illuminate taxpayers and the public about school spending and security while also doing absolutely nothing that jeopardizes the safety of students and teachers. I appreciate those readers who expressed their concerns about our initial map. We listened and immediately responded.
Image credit: Des Moines Register