#SJW2021: An oasis amidst desert

Student journalists play crucial role in turmoil


Angelina Liu

In celebration of Student Press Freedom Day, The Sidekick advertising and circulation manager Trisha Atluri delves into the world of student journalism with her experiences as a writer, photographer and designer. Atluri highlights the importance of student newspapers during unprecedented times.

Trisha Atluri, Advertising/Circulation Manager

Currently, there are more than 13,000 students enrolled in Coppell ISD. 13,000 stories to tell and one newspaper staff to tell them.

As news deserts across the country grow, local journalism is left to wither. The locals are left without an accurate and unbiased source of information to keep them updated on constantly evolving situations. While national news outlets cover events on a wider stage, it is up to us as student journalists on The Sidekick to bring the story back home and cover it from a local perspective. 

This past year, a pandemic caused mass hysteria and changed the course of so many lives. Local journalists, including myself and other reporters on The Sidekick, took it upon ourselves to update Coppell on changes such as school closures, testing changes and the cancellation of prom. Beyond that, we covered changes to the sports season, COVID-19 tracking and wrote about how various Coppell jobs were affected by the pandemic – from teachers to administrators to small business owners

Even though we experienced the same periods of uncertainty as our peers, we reported on information as it came out, interviewing district officials to make sure our information was credible. Our newsroom became virtual and though we were isolated from our fellow staffers, we adapted and made the best of it. I’m proud of all student journalists who continued to work despite the extended break.

When the murder of George Floyd sparked protests across the country in May and June, we wrote about racism and the fight against it as it unfolded in our own backyard. We wrote about a first-hand events of local racial inequality and the fury citizens felt when a slur was found graffitied in Andy Brown Park. We covered the marches and demonstrations, highlighting the voices of people of color who had been silenced for too long.

In November, while national news sites were swept up in presidential election coverage, we interviewed candidates for local offices to help citizens make informed voting decisions. A team of Sidekick journalists, organized by executive news editor Shivi Sharma, covered local elections for City Council and the school board through the Behind the Ballot video series

And yet, despite all we have done, student journalists are constantly censored and belittled.

Last week, over 10,000 Coppell residents were plunged into darkness as freezing temperatures led to periodic power outages throughout Texas. Still, from our homes, we interviewed teachers, administrators, students and district officials to provide updates on the school closure and share how Coppell residents dealt with the blackouts.

And yet, despite all we have done, student journalists are constantly censored and belittled. It was only 33 years ago that the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier case was brought to the Supreme Court and ruled that schools could censor student publications without facing consequences. Since then, we have been fighting for freedom of the press and honest journalism. 

It’s time to recognize the role student journalists play in filling in the gaps of information in our communities. Student press freedom is the root of our ability to cover local stories despite unexpected difficulties this past year. We may not be as well known as the Dallas Morning News, the New York Times or the Washington Post, but as long as we are able to, we will keep telling the stories of the people of Coppell.

Follow Trisha (@trishatluri) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.