Audiences challenge and encourage us at town halls across Kansas. Thanks for showing up.

August 25, 2023 3:33 am
From left, Kansas Reflector's Sherman Smith, Clay Wirestone, Rachel Mipro and Max McCoy appear at an Aug. 23, 2023, forum at the Lyon County History Center in Emporia

From left, Kansas Reflector’s Sherman Smith, Clay Wirestone, Rachel Mipro and Max McCoy appear at an Aug. 23, 2023, forum at the Lyon County History Center in Emporia. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector staffers headed back out on the road this month. We’ve made stops in Salina, Lawrence and Emporia, talking to roughly 300 of our fellow Kansans.

Overall, these road trips are a warm and cheery reminder of what we’re doing and why. We care about bringing deeply reported fact and opinion to the widest possible audience, free of charge. Yet there’s more to it than that: While national news outlets might descend when big stories like the Marion newspaper raid erupt, we’re here for the long haul.

Kansas Reflector wrote about the Aug. 11 raid before anyone else. Since then, we’ve provided extensive reporting and commentary, and we’re not letting up anytime soon. Our story Thursday about data illegally retained by county law enforcement officers should prove that.

In Emporia, we spoke about the hard-hitting reporting that editor Sherman Smith and columnist Max McCoy have done about Emporia State University.

The situation there, where university officials suspended tenure for faculty and fired dozens, has raised a furor in academia. It hasn’t ignited the same kind of national outrage as the Marion raid. But that doesn’t matter to us. As I’ve noted, the Reflector doesn’t judge success by the number of pageviews a story has. We write based on what needs to be written, what people in this state we care about deserve to know.

Legislators have paid attention, too.

We recognized state Rep. Mark Schreiber stopping by to take in our Emporia appearance. State Rep. Steven Howe and former state Sen. Randall Hardy came by our Salina stop. I’m sure the three gentlemen don’t always love what we report, or agree with everything that runs in Kansas Reflector’s opinion section, but they’re just as interested as we are in knowing what’s on Kansans’ minds.

Former state Sen. Randall Hardy asks a question during an Aug. 7, 2023, town hall at Theatre Salina
Former state Sen. Randall Hardy asks a question during an Aug. 7, 2023, town hall at Theatre Salina. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

That’s the whole point. Between the town halls this month, Smith appeared at all three. Senior reporter Tim Carpenter, reporter Rachel Mipro and yours truly appeared at two. Reporter Allison Kite, intern Sam Bailey and columnist McCoy appeared at one. That’s our entire staff, plus two. (Incidentally, keep watch for more of McCoy’s work in the near future.)

None of us can do this work without readers. That’s the simple truth.

Don’t fret if you haven’t caught one of our forums yet. We not only plan to do more, but we already have the next one scheduled, in Great Bend. We will appear at at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, at The Front Door, 1615 10th Street. Appreciation to our sponsors, the Barton County Women for Kansas.

Earlier this month, I marked two years as Kansas Reflector opinion editor. In my first column, I tried to explain why I returned to Kansas after 14 years way.

“This is my home, and I care about it,” I wrote. “Every single state — no matter its hue on presidential election night — has dedicated residents working to increase equality, care for the less fortunate, and increase civic participation.

“Yes, those with the desire and resources might move away from Kansas. But where does that leave everyone else? ”

Our town halls have proved those beliefs from two years ago correct. Frankly, the people of Kansas I’ve met transcended those expectations. In each city we’ve visited — including earlier stops in Council Grove, Newton and Hutchinson — I’ve talked to folks eager to make their state better. I’ve listened to questions that prove you dig behind the headlines to figure out what’s really going on.

In Emporia and Lawrence, for example, we answered astute questions about the Marion raid, artificial intelligence in journalism, outmigration and more.

Audience members didn’t just engage during the events proper. You came up to us afterward to chat, to press for details, to exchange contact information, to offer a kind word or handshake. Elephantine thanks.

You did more than lift my spirits. You’ve sustained my faith in Kansas.

Kansas Reflector reporter Allison Kite and opinion editor Clay Wirestone speak at an Aug. 12, 2023, forum at the Lawrence Public Library. (Jessica Tufts for Kansas Reflector)

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.