High school newspaper fighting censorship after banana condom photo

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.”

The Talon will attempt to sway public opinion against the district’s prior review policy by publishing a story about how such a policy could harm freedom of speech and accountability.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about prior review within the administration,” said Kullman.

H/T Click On Detroit | Photo via Ian Ransley/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Dylan Love

Dylan Love

Dylan Love is an editorial consultant and journalist whose reporting interests include emergent technology, digital media, and Russian language and culture. He is a former staff writer for the Daily Dot, and his work has been published by Business Insider, International Business Times, Men's Journal, and the Next Web.