#SJW2021: Student Press Freedom Day shines light on student journalists fighting long standing challenges

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Srihari Yechangunja

Today marks the last day of Student Journalism Week, which is Student Press Freedom Day. The Sidekick’s Varshitha Korrapolu outlines the challenges student journalists face such as censorship, COVID-19, handling racial justice coverage, and civil engagement/election news.

Varshitha Korrapolu, Staff Writer

Student Press Freedom Day recognizes the challenges that student journalists face, and honors the work they put in around the clock. It sheds light on the dual lives student journalists lead, and illustrates journalists’ ability to convey people’s stories and opinions without people trying to suppress them. 

This day was created in 2018 by the Student Press Law Center to recognize the 30th anniversary of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier U.S. Supreme Court Case, since the decision made revealed the importance of student journalism in the country.

As student journalists faced challenge after challenge in 2020, the theme chosen for this year’s Student Press Freedom Day is “journalism against the odds.” Censorship is one of the key issues student journalists face and have protested it, demanding for justice. The Student Press Law Center wanted to communicate how student journalists persevered through the challenges and continued to produce quality content. 

The Sidekick senior editor-in-chief Sally Parampottil had to adapt to these circumstances in order to serve her role as a student journalist and a leadership team member. 

“Sometimes it’s really frustrating, because I am a person who really enjoys feeling like I have a plan and knowing that I can step in at any point to help out if something goes wrong,” Parampottil said. “You can’t always do that now because you don’t always know 100% what’s going on. You just have to make the best of what you have and roll with it. Be flexible. Be adaptable. But always have some foundation of what plan you want.” 

Not only did students writing, taking photos or designing graphics face challenges, but KCBY-TV’s videographers did as well. 

“There were a few moments where my kids were like ‘COVID-19 killed KCBY’,” KCBY-TV adviser Irma Lazos-Kennedy said. “It was funny, but I refused to accept that because I felt like there was something we can do even against all odds. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to put out 25 shows. But if we could just keep going and just not give up, we can cross the finish line and say we did our best.” 

Student journalists have a vital role of covering local news in their own communities and crafting nuanced stories about local happenings. 

There were a few moments where my kids were like ‘COVID-19 killed KCBY’.It was funny, but I refused to accept that because I felt like there was something we can do even against all odds. ”

— KCBY-TV Adviser Irma Lazos-Kennedy

“We are essentially building up a time capsule,” Parampottil said. “It’s an ever updating time capsule and captures everything, so it’s not necessarily a handful of stuff you put in. The stuff that we create today will eventually be a citation in somebody else’s research paper or a hyperlink to a future staffer’s story. People are going to look, especially this year, at what we did. How did we capture the pandemic? How did we tell the story of the 2020 election? What happened with the winter storm last week? Those are the stories that people are going to look back at.” 

It is the responsibility of student journalists to ensure that the news delivered is fair and covers several aspects of a story in order to fulfill their duties. 

“The truth isn’t always pretty but the truth is always the truth,” Parampottil said. “You can’t change facts. If censorship were to happen on a larger scale, you lose your First Amendment rights. You lose the freedom of the press. You lose a lot of things that make this country functional.” 

Despite the difficult circumstances students faced during the last year, student journalists strived to do their part and do justice to our community’s stories. 

“[I love it when] when [student journalists] become passionate about serving other people and telling their stories,” Lazos-Kennedy said. “We are here to tell stories. We are here to give a voice to the voiceless. We are here to shed light on what’s happening that people may not know about. That’s what excites me and that’s what keeps me going year after year.”

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