A male streaker flashed across the stage during a talent show at Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School several weeks ago, and remained on stage long enough for a photographer to snap a picture showing an explicit front view.

The staff of the school's monthly newspaper, the Black and White, decided not to published the photo.

"We try to stay away from sensationalism," explained reporter Steven Cook.

Such editorial decisions are part of the work that earned the Black and White the honor of being named the nation's top high school newspaper for 1979. The staff now will have to find space among the plaques on its crowded office walls for this year's Pacemaker Award from the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Students attribute the newspaper's success, in part, to their professionalism and attention to detail.

Mostly, however, they credit their faculty advisor, Dr. Regis L. Boyle, who teaches them the basics of reporting and insists they get spelling and punctuation right.

"I never would censor any stories. The students are too professional," said Boyle, who has overseen the newspaper for 13 years. "The students know about libel, obscenity and bad taste as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Not that the subject of censorship or bad taste has never come up before. Ten years ago a quarter of the staff -- "the revolutionaries," Boyle called them -- quit the newspaper because the principal censored an article about sexual impotence that had a veiled reference to a faculty member.

"You do not ridicule a phsyical disability. They thought it was funny," she said.

Nowadays students are more responsible and interested in in-depth reporting, said Boyle, who also teaches journalism at the University of Maryland College Park campus.

A recent issue profiled "teacher burnout" with interviews, facts and national statistics.

Last year's April issue of the Black and White published the results of a poll which showed that, despite the nation's growing conservatism, the majority of Walt Whitman students have a liberal bent. The survey of 150 students showed they favored Massachusets Sen. Edward Kennedy for the presidency, supported the Equal Rights Amendment and wanted to see reduced defense spending.

The paper's best-known story, which appeared in April 1976, reported it had been discovered that, during his incumbency as vice president almost 20 years ago, Richard Nixon was the first person found to have been exposed to radiation at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The copyrighted story caught national attention.

"That day the television cameras arrived. It was exciting," said Boyle nostalgically. "To this day I don't know the reporter's sources, but I had enough confidence in him to go ahead with the story."

The reporter, richard Berke, is now managing editor of the University of Michigan daily newspaper, she said, adding that many alumni of the Black and White work for major newspapers across the country.

Other reasons for the newspaper's success may be the caliber of students attending the Bethesda high school and the connections and affluence of their parents. For example, reporter Susan Levine can compete with professional journalists in getting interviews with Redskins or Bullets athletes. Her father is the team's physician.

And when a high school reporter needed access to a Washington jazz club recently, another student said her parents knew the club's owners.

Claire McCann, photography editor, doesn't worry about supplying her photographers with equipment. They use their parents' cameras and lenses, and develop pictures in dark rooms at home.

The Black and White publishes three sections -- news, features and sports -- with more than 150 pages a year. Even though it is considered the best high school newspaper in the country, not all Walt Whitman students read it. Only about half pay $2.50 for a year's subscription, said Kahane Corn, editor-in-chief of the Black and White.

"But on the day the newspaper comes out," said reporter Helen Rubino, "you notice that the lunchroom is much quieter."