Kansas Reflector serves this state’s people. No one else.

May 3, 2023 3:33 am

Kansas Reflector staffers (from left) Clay Wirestone, Rachel Mipro, Tim Caprenter and Sherman Smith record a podcast on April 7, 2023. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

As Kansas Reflector staff traveled across the Sunflower State this year, one set of audience questions stuck with me.

We appreciate Kansas Reflector and its coverage, audience members said. But can you keep doing this? Do you have readers? Are you successful enough to keep going?

I appreciate both the compliments and the concern. The short answer to all of them is simple.


I understand why they were asked, though. We’re living through a disruptive time for news media, one in which multiple outlets have shut down or shed workers. Meanwhile, Americans fault journalists for dividing our country, although readers still crave high-quality, local information. Folks could be forgiven for wondering about Kansas Reflector’s status, even though we’re nearly three years into this exhilarating endeavor.

We’re doing well by any parameters you choose.

Our website traffic has increased by about 50% from a year ago. Every week, roughly two dozen newspapers across Kansas republish our news articles and columns about 150 times. Our readers come from multiple age groups, without depending on any particular demographic. Thousands upon thousands follow our social media accounts (including TikTok) and subscribe to our newsletter. For three years in a row, we’ve won an impressive array of awards in the Kansas Press Association’s annual contest.

I believe we’ve seen these results for a reason. We know our readers. We don’t do this work for lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature. We don’t do it for lobbyists or special interests, either. Kansas Reflector produces journalism, available without paywalls or subscription fees, for the people of this great state.

That’s our audience, and it always will be.

You deserve to know what lawmakers do in your name. Our reporters make sure to tell stories not just from the viewpoints of the powerful, but from the perspectives of those affected. That makes a difference, and our readers notice.

You deserve to know what lawmakers do in your name. Our reporters make sure to tell stories not just from the viewpoints of the powerful, but from the perspectives of those affected. That makes a difference, and our readers notice.

– Clay Wirestone

In this opinion section, I don’t run pieces from a laundry list of elected officials — as a matter of fact, we don’t run columns from elected officials at all. We don’t run an endless stream of syndicated content from faraway writers focused on Washington, D.C. We run columns from Kansans, about issues that affect Kansans. Our readers notice that, too.

Political coverage can veer toward insular, incomprehensible process stories. Politico built its brand on this kind of reporting. Following its lead, some state news outlets target their coverage to local influencers, hoping to sell subscription packages. Don’t get me wrong: This kind of coverage can be excellent. I read Politico regularly. But it’s not what we do, and it’s not what Kansas Reflector aspires to.

That’s why I spent so much time this year writing about the simple-yet-vexing question of the Statehouse’s awfulness. Everyday Kansans, watching the fracas in Topeka, surely wonder how on earth lawmakers can do so much harm and so little good. They deserve answers.

That’s also why, on the news side, we’ve extensively covered stories that few others have. Editor Sherman Smith has owned the story of unprecedented layoffs at Emporia State University. Senior reporter Tim Carpenter wrote about a small town rebelling against a proposed cryptocurrency data center. Reporter Rachel Mipro wrote about a small town’s threat to close its library. And reporter Allison Kite delved deep into the dispute over a Leavenworth County landfill.

This approach matters. It means something.

That’s fine, you may ask, but where do you all find the financial security to do this work? We primarily receive support from our national parent nonprofit, States Newsroom. You can read a list of supporters who contributed more than $500 (as well as the organization’s tax returns) right here. We are also beyond fortunate to receive support from Kansas Reflector readers across the state, who have made the decision to invest in news they read and value.

Tim Carpenter, Rachel Mipro and Sherman Smith appear March 21, 2023, at a Valley Falls town hall. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

Let me also make a couple of points clear, in case anyone wonders. I have never been told what to write about, or how to write about it. I have never been told what columns from contributors to select or turn down. Those on the news side enjoy similar independence.

I can tell you from a career in news media that this freedom cannot — and should not — be taken for granted. In the old days, big local advertisers could try to sway coverage. The closure of BuzzFeed News and extensive layoffs at FiveThirtyEight show that splashy new outlets face corporate pressures of their own.

I don’t tell you these things to brag. Kansas boasts many great journalists and storied publications.

But Kansas Reflector and its staff have a mission that should be obvious to anyone who reads what we do: We’re here to give you the news you need to understand what’s happening in Topeka, and opinion coverage to stretch your mind.

Some folks roundly dislike us for this.

A certain class of lawmakers, lobbyists and ideologues can’t abide the notion that a news outlet exists that they can’t browbeat into submission or shame with spurious claims.

This unnerves them. They know that Kansans across the state read Kansas Reflector. They know that we can attract more politically engaged Kansans to events than they can. They see that folks across the state earnestly want the truth, explained to them plainly and as adults. They know that they can’t fool us with misleading statistics and florid fakery.

Above all, they know that we don’t get our power from special interests.

We get it from you.

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.