A Michigan high school’s student newspaper has found itself at the center of an unexpected controversy, and it all comes down to a tongue-in-cheek picture of a condom on a banana.
The Rochester Talon had no idea that running a photo of the aforementioned produce and prophylactic would earn it so much trouble. Its advisor had won Journalism Advisor of the Year and its editor-in-chief had won High School Journalist of the Year from the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association; surely it had enough clout among the Rochester High School administration to get away with a clichéd visual gag that would be good for cheap laughs and reader attention.
The picture wasn’t inserted into the publication for no reason. It accompanied a story about sex education. The paper’s adviser said the move risked a backlash, but he ultimately signed off on the decision.
But the administration and the community didn’t think it was at all appropriate. The Talon now faces a new editorial arrangement in which Rochester High School’s principal will review everything in the paper before it is published. The school district has released a statement explaining its reasoning.
“Because student journalists are still engaged in the learning process,” the district said, “school administrators and/or advisors provide rational guidance to ensure content is appropriate and not offensive to other students, parents and the community.”
Danielle Kullman, the paper’s award-winning editor, said the decision amounted to prior restraint.
“It kind of puts a barrier in between us as journalists being able to respond to what people find controversial,” she said. “It keeps us from publishing anything that’s real journalism.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about prior review within the administration,” said Kullman.