I really cannot begin to list all the things that are going wrong here, from the tone of the New York Times article, the original school newspaper article, the normalisation of the sex industry, the obvious failures to protect the welfare of the teenage girl at the centre of it all.
The Bear Creek High School newspaper has profiled notable students — athletes, budding entrepreneurs, academic whizzes — without incident for decades.
But an article that appeared Friday in The Bruin Voice caused an uproar over free speech, feminism and student journalism, all before it was even published.
The 18-year-old subject is a senior at the school in Stockton, Calif., one of more than 2,100 students.
She also makes her own pornographic videos.
The story about the story follows a pattern similar to other clashes between student journalists and school boards. The Lodi Unified School District, after learning about the planned profile, demanded last month that it be turned over for review before appearing online and in print. The attempted oversight drew far more attention than the article probably would have.
The district said the piece might violate a state rule that it said prevented publications at public schools from featuring “obscenity, defamation and incitement,” and it threatened to fire Katherine Duffel, the paper’s longtime faculty adviser.
In articles, columns, television programs and social media posts, the standoff over an unpublished story became either a symbol of censorship and women’s rights, or the loss of traditional values and a school district’s responsibility to protect young students from harmful content.
People from all over the country weighed in. Someone sent the paper a $250 donation. One woman sent $100 and asked for a sneak peek of the article. Hilde Lysiak, who publishes a local paper in Pennsylvania and is, at age 12, the youngest member of the Society of Professional Journalists, offered to flood the Bear Creek campus with copies of the story if the district blocked The Voice from publishing it.
“It’s been pretty hectic — we weren’t expecting so much feedback,” said Bailey Kirkeby, 17, the article’s author. “I’m a little scared that it’s hyped up too much and that when people read it, it’s going to be anticlimactic.”
In the end, the district decided not to block publication. But its lawyers did send a letter to an attorney representing both Ms. Duffel and Ms. Kirkeby, asking that The Voice publish a disclaimer stating that the district did not endorse the article. The Voice refused to do that, according to the lawyer, Matthew Cate.
In the letter, the district told Mr. Cate that it still had the right to review all material scheduled to appear in the newspaper and that it had the right to block an article. It also accused Ms. Duffel of insubordination.
“Students and journalism advisers face a lot of pressure from districts and others in positions of authority, and there’s a serious imbalance of power that can be easy to give in to,” said Mr. Cate, who shared the letter with The New York Times.
The letter also raised concerns that underage journalists may have been exposed to pornography while pursuing the story, and that the student, Caitlin Fink, may have “been exploited before reaching legal age” in “an industry that is at best notoriously poorly regulated, if not abusive and exploitative.”
On Friday, the district said it was “very pleased” that the exchanges with the paper had “resulted in an article that meets legal requirements.”
“We know that these experiences regarding controversies and debates help prepare our students to be successful as they pursue future efforts of higher education and career,” the district said in a statement.
The nearly 1,100-word article explores Ms. Fink’s path to the adult entertainment industry. In it, she explained that she sold erotic photographs of herself on messaging and dating apps like Kik and Tinder, initially for the money but later because she enjoyed the attention.
She left home and now lives with a friend’s family, paying some $300 a month for food, utilities and rent, according to the profile.
“The only hard thing so far is making sure I have enough money,” she told the paper.
The piece also mentioned that she had fallen victim to scams, that her body acne had once disrupted a planned shoot and that she had faced threats. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
Although Fink makes a livable income through her adult entertainment career, as well as her second job as a dish washer, she admits the industry is not always glamorous; workers are constantly at risk of being taken advantage of due to their occupation.
“People assume that just because you’re in the industry, you would do sexual things with anyone, and that isn’t true,” Fink said. “Adult entertainment is a job just like any other job. There’s always that risk of getting kidnapped or possibly not even knowing what to do after your career is over and trying to find work after that.”
Ms. Fink told The Times that she had been making her own online pornographic videos since turning 18 in September. She also began working as a stripper recently. She said she was enthusiastic about being profiled in The Voice, seeing the article as a way to address rumors and meanspirited gossip about her work in pornography.
“I don’t see the story as too taboo — I want to inform people about this topic, that it’s not just all fun and games the entire time,” Ms. Fink said. “I know for a fact that I’m not the only person at school that’s thought about porn.”
The story of the paper’s standoff with the school district has been reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Ms. Fink said she hoped that the publicity would have “a positive effect” on her career: maybe some scenes in movies, “possibly new friends in the industry.”