Entire Kansas Reflector staff recognized in annual press association awards

April 19, 2023 3:33 am

Reporter Allison Kite, senior reporter Tim Carpenter, editor Sherman Smith, opinion editor Clay Wirestone and reporter Rachel Mipro gather at the Kansas Statehouse for a staff photo in late 2022. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

This year’s Kansas Press Association awards carried a special distinction for Kansas Reflector staff, although you might have to read through the list of placements a couple of times to notice it.

Every member of our staff won something. Every one. Several more folks who are regular contributors won too.

As someone who came to the party late — joining after the Reflector’s first year of publication — I knew that editor Sherman Smith had assembled a special team and built an exceptional outlet. But onlookers might have been forgiven at the outset for seeing it as Smith’s outlet alone, or the place where they could now find senior reporter Tim Carpenter’s stories.

This year’s awards results prove how much more Kansas Reflector has to offer.

Heading up the pack is reporter Allison Kite, who won first place in two separate categories. Her article headlined “Even some GOP voters in Kansas support abortion. But Laura Kelly rarely talks about it,” won first place government/political story, while “ ‘Time bomb’ lead pipes set to be removed. But first water utilities have to find them” won best environmental story.

“I am proud of Allison’s skilled and exhaustive reporting,” Smith said. “These stories shine a light on the long-ignored health hazards associated with lead pipes and the shifting dynamics of reproductive health care in politics.”

Smith won first place in general news photography for the unforgettably adorable images he captured illustrating “Kansas school leaders urge lawmakers to fully fund special education services.”

Sara Jahnke holds her first-grade son, Crosby Orlando, during a news conference on special education funding Nov. 10, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka
Sara Jahnke holds her first-grade son, Crosby Orlando, during a news conference on special education funding Nov. 10, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka. This photo won first place for general news photography. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The next batch of results bring me great personal satisfaction. Kansas Reflector’s opinion section has been my pride and joy since taking it on from the irreplaceable C.J. Janovy, and this year the first and second place column awards go to Eric Thomas and Mark McCormick respectively.

Eric has written just about every week since before I came on the job, starting with coverage about podcasts. But his breadth has extended and grown since, and he’s become a startlingly perceptive writer about sports, education, technology and family life. (He also finished third for an online photo gallery.)

Mark, of course, needs no introduction from me, having written books and served as one of the most perceptive writers on the intersection of race and politics — not just in Kansas, but period.

Finally, the opinion section itself earned third place in editorial pages. I appreciate that distinction, given that we don’t have a physical page but still invest effort in curating the category.

Opinion writing, this time from yours truly, figured in the next two prizewinning categories. These were group efforts, showcasing how Kansas Reflector staff can come together and shine light on a topic from many different directions.

We took second place in the series category for articles about legislative transparency, which were also written by Smith and First Amendment attorney Max Kautsch. We finished second in the new category of diversity coverage, which also included stories from reporter Rachel Mipro and Smith. Part of our mission statement is amplifying voices of people whose lives are affected by public policies but who might typically be left out of public debate, so that means a lot.

Rounding out Kansas Reflector staffer representation, senior reporter Tim Carpenter placed third in the headline category.

“I take seriously the opportunity and responsibility we have to inform everyday Kansans about the policies that affect their lives,” Smith said. “And I love that I get to it independently, as a nonprofit, with this talented team of authority agitators.”

A small fan dressed up as a Jayhawk meets big J, the University of Kansas mascot, during a pep rally to celebrate the men's basketball teams win over the University of North Carolina. (Eric Thomas for Kansas Reflector)
A small fan dressed up as a Jayhawk meets big J, the University of Kansas mascot, during a pep rally to celebrate the men’s basketball teams win over the University of North Carolina. This photo was part of an award-winning online photo gallery. (Eric Thomas for Kansas Reflector)

Other Kansas Press Association awards for Kansas Reflector included:

As I wrote when tackling this topic last year, no one goes into this field for the prizes. But as a news organization still short of its third birthday, Kansas Reflector has built its name and reputation not on some long-ago history but on the work done by reporters and columnists right now. We have all come together to make something special for the people of Kansas, and we appreciate your feedback, awards from peers and the simple knowledge that people read what we do.

Stay tuned. There’s so much more to come.

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.