Student journalists in hot water for James Bond-themed prom supplement

ILLINOIS — A student newspaper has landed itself in controversy after it published a supplement for the school’s James Bond-themed prom with a cover page that featured students posing with guns.

With the headline “Achieving the “Bond’ Look for Prom,” the April issue of the Kaneland Krier displays a boy in a tuxedo pointing a water gun at the reader against the backdrop of a martini glass and a girl holding a prop pistol. The newspaper was distributed to the students at Kaneland High School on April 5, but did not follow its usual route after that.

The cover page was slated to be uploaded to the Kaneland High School Web site and remaining papers were to be distributed to the community later that month, but the newspaper staff decided against these usual procedures in light of the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, newspaper adviser Laurie Erdmann said.

Erdmann said she felt “pleased and proud” that the newspaper staff voted against distributing the paper in the community because they determined that it would not be appropriate to circulate the supplement widely so soon after the Virginia Tech shootings, in which more than 30 students and faculty lost their lives.

Erdmann said the decision to not pass out the paper in the community was not based on the fear of censorship but was a matter of judgment and taste.

But some members of the community, including an elementary school principal, obtained a copy and have expressed criticism about its depiction of violence and drinking. So far, one parent has met with the principal and the school district superintendent about the paper and brought the issue to the school board. Erdmann said she does not think a school policy change or any other action is likely to be pursued.

Heather Lyons, the district parent who made a formal complaint about the issue, said she thought the cover page sent the wrong message to Kaneland students and the community.

“My initial objection was that they were glamorizing alcohol and firearms,” she said. “It’s still our responsibility as parents and educators that students are making wise decisions.”

Erdmann said the controversy has died down, though not before providing her students with an apt opportunity to discuss free press rights and journalism ethics.

“Initially the students were defensive, but then they tried to put themselves in the shoes of a parent,” she said.

Amanda Smith, 18, who recently graduated and was the newspaper’s copy editor in chief, said the staff was initially surprised to see the complaints, but it gradually came to understand that the paper’s influence extends past the campus.

“We learned we are reporting not just to a school but to a community that might not be totally sensitive to issues like this,” she said.

By Judy Wang, SPLC staff writer