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Kansas Reflector opinion writer praises community journalism
Kansas Reflector writer Clay Wirestone visits Great Bend
ClayWirestonein GB
Clay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector opinion editor, talks to a crowd of about 45 people on Monday at Great Bend’s Front Door facility. - photo by photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune
ClayWirestonein GB
Clay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector opinion editor, talks to a crowd of about 45 people on Monday at Great Bend’s Front Door facility. - photo by photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Journalists from the Kansas Reflector ( are hitting the road to connect with Kansans across the state. On Monday, Sept. 18, the nonprofit news operations opinion editor, Clay Wirestone spoke at Great Bend’s Front Door facility to a crowd of about 45 people.

Kansas Reflector Editor Sherman Smith had planned on joining him but was unable to attend because he received a summons for jury duty. Wirestone talked about the Reflector and how it is funded, the raid on the Marion newspaper, and other topics of interest to audience members.

“Our goal is basically to cover state government and the state itself, but not really from the perspective of lawmakers or the people in power,” Wirestone said. The Reflector is one of more than 30 state-based nonprofit news outlets that make up a network called States Newsroom. Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher, launched States Newsroom in 2017 and the Kansas Reflector started in 2020 with a staff of professional journalists with insight and experience in Kansas reporting.

“Everyone can write about (for example) Trump and Biden all day long and frankly it can get a little boring at times, but to actually write about the state, write about things that are going on here, I think that’s special,” Wirestone said. “It’s a privilege to do. I feel really lucky to be able to do it and, hopefully, to contribute to the conversation.”

The Reflector’s news stories are sometimes published in the Great Bend Tribune. Wirestone explained, “All of our content is available through Creative Commons, which means that it is free to use; it is free for anyone to print as long as they don’t revise it to make it say something totally different. We don’t see ourselves in competition with any other news outlet in Kansas. ... We are trying to fill roles that aren’t there anymore.”

Funding comes through the States Newsroom, and its website lists all of the donors over $1,000. Google and various foundations and individuals have donated funds raised by the national organization. When people donate to the Kansas Reflector, “that’s kind of the bonus money,” he said. For example, Kansas donations helped the news outlet pay for documents when it made a Freedom of Information request to Emporia State University and was told it would cost $700 for ESU to produce the list. “We were able to cover that pretty easily,” he said.

“It’s good that we’re able to do aggressive coverage about state government. I feel it’s good there we’re there in Topeka. But, obviously, Kansas is a huge state, just geographically, and looking at the various towns, I think you are fortunate here in Great Bend to have a newspaper that actually shows up and covers things. Many, many towns are not that fortunate any more, and that’s a real shame.”

Covering Marion

The first question from the audience was about the August 11 raid on the Marion County Record, when local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the newspaper office, its reporters and the publisher’s home.

That afternoon, Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, sent an alert that the raid was happening. Although many of the Kansas Reflector staff work remotely, most of the staff were in the office at the time and they had a reporter on the road to Marion within minutes.

The following week the story was international news but that Friday afternoon it seemed only a couple of papers ran the Kansas Reflector story.

“Friday afternoon is a tough time. I understand people want to get out for the weekend and I understand it was a small town and maybe people had other priorities. But I think for us, we all saw and felt from the very beginning, this is hugely important, a huge story,” he said.

Police had a search warrant, which has since been withdrawn, to investigate a complaint of alleged identity theft by a reporter claiming to be someone else to gain personal information.

Wirestone said he expects more information will come out and more lawsuits may be filed. However, he said, “There’s a little bit of a hiccup because the actual investigation into the original complaint of identity theft is with the (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) right now. ... “I suspect that you’re not going to see some of the other dominoes fall until the KBI actually puts out its report on the fundamental charges.”

About the program

This program was sponsored by Women For Kansas, Barton County Chapter. Chair Pam Martin said Women For Kansas is a non-partisan organization. Its mission is to recruit, motivate and educate women who actively work to elect moderate politicians and to promote moderate policies.

Clay Wirestone’s columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has appeared on MSNBC and CSPAN while writing and editing for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about Monday’s program featuring Clay Wirestone, opinion editor of the Kansas Reflector.