Five things we’ve learned about Kansans from taking Kansas Reflector on the road

March 28, 2023 3:33 am

From left: Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith, opinion editor Clay Wirestone, reporter Rachel Mipro and reporter Allison Kite gathered at Riverbank Brewing in Council Grove on Jan. 30, 2023, to talk about their work and answer questions. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

Council Grove. Hutchinson. Valley Falls. Manhattan.

Over the past couple of months, Kansas Reflector staff have fanned out across the state of Kansas to talk about what we do and why to a variety of audiences. This Thursday, we will descend on Newton for out latest stop (and I hear you can still get a seat). Everyone from Kansas Reflector has made at least one appearance — editor Sherman Smith, senior reporter Tim Carpenter, reporters Rachel Mipro and Allison Kite, and yours truly — answering questions and sharing our experiences on the job.

I’ve learned much from attending these events and talking to Kansas Reflector readers. As we wrap up this first leg of touring, I thought it was a good time to share. Here are five takeaways, along with my bonus ruminations.

Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith appears March 21, 2023, at a Valley Falls town hall. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)


You want to know the news

As a matter of fact, you crave it. From the nearly 100 folks who attended our Hutchinson conclave last week to the class at Kansas State University I chatted with on Monday, a huge number of you yearn for quality journalism. You understand that conventional news sources face perplexing predicaments, so you search elsewhere — Facebook, TikTok, you name it.

Regardless, you’re curious and eager to learn.

At K-State, students bemoaned paywalls at news sites. They wanted to learn about current events, but financial pressures facing publishers meant that they were met with sign-up offers instead. In other communities, readers told us they had been at a loss to know what was really going on at the Statehouse. That’s where we come in.

Tim Carpenter, the senior reporter at Kansas Reflector, speaks to the audience March 21, 2023, at a Valley Falls town hall. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)


You want to see a wide variety of views represented

While our audiences understand the difference between news and opinion content, they see the commentary published at Kansas Reflector as an essential part of our mission.

In both Council Grove and Hutchinson, I spoke with many Kansans who were relieved to finally see columns written by people to the left of NewsMax or Breitbart (that is, the vast majority of people in this state). Not everyone who lives and votes in this state identifies as a hardcore, right-wing Republican. And that gargantuan group might not be exclusively progressive, it nevertheless welcomes a wide array of perspectives. We all benefit from taking a moment or two to think.

Opinion editor Clay Wirestone welcomes the crowd at a March 20, 2023, town hall held at Hutchinson Community College. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


You are disgusted by the antics in Topeka

Our audiences invariably include those who remember how the Kansas Legislature operated 20, 30 or 40 years ago. They don’t hold back from expressing disappointment about how the landscape has shifted in Topeka. They shake their heads at extremism and rank partisanship. Among the K-State students, several wanted to be free from politics altogether.

One wondered if she could possibly work and live in a world without being involved in political disputes.

Unfortunately, while everyone wants a return to normalcy, I’m not sure folks could settle on what “normal” means. I doubt the college students would agree with the members of the Legislature, who wouldn’t agree with the crowd we spoke with in Hutchinson. No one believes that we’re doing our best, but beyond that? Good luck.

Reflector reporter Rachel Mipro, the newest member of the staff, explains her work March 21, 2023, at a Valley Falls town hall. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)


You know specifics about policy

Be it questions about the Ogallala Aquifer or education funding, you know what you’re talking about. In each place we visited, I was surprised to hear audience members ask on point and deeply informed questions about issues that mattered to them.

As journalists, we sometimes feel as though we’re facing off against a tidal wave of apathy and ignorance. Our audience doesn’t look like a fearful tsunami at all. You care, and you’ve done your research besides. Here’s a piece of advice to you. Make sure to hold us to account. If you see something wrong in a story or column, please send us a message to let us know. From what I can tell, plenty of you know your stuff.

Reflector news staff Tim Carpenter, Rachel Mipro and Sherman Smith talk about the site March 21, 2023, at a Valley Falls town hall. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)


You’re so nice to meet in person

Perhaps the loveliest part of this experience for me has been the sheer civility of everyone. Yes, we’ve sometimes answered pointed questions about our opinion section or funding (this column addresses the first point, and States Newsroom’s funding page answers the second), but folks usually ask out of genuine curiosity. You all understand Kansas Reflector does what it does out of a sense of mission and purpose and pride.

We all care about what we do, and you respect that. I’m not the best at receiving praise, but I have learned to smile and take it anyway. You all deserve it.

Finally, if you haven’t attended an event yet, don’t worry: We’re in talks for more appearances in upcoming months. We know that many folks in communities across the state want to hear from Kansas Reflector staff, and we want everyone to have that opportunity. If you have any requests or questions, please email [email protected].

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.