In this holiday season, gifts take center stage, for better or worse. We often give and receive gifts that are curious, strange, or useless, as well as those we genuinely desire. Sometimes, however, we get a gift that we never anticipated, one that we appreciate in part because its very surprise.
This fall, the Kansas News Service, a consortium of public radio stations, gave Kansans such a gift a podcast series that addressed the decline of rural Kansas. Hosted by veteran journalist Jim McLean, My Fellow Kansans (do an internet search) explores the century-long trend of smaller rural population in seven clear-headed episodes that explore the context of this decline and the implications for 900,000 Kansans who remain in (mostly) shrinking towns and rural areas.
The series begins with an interview with Los Angeles reporter Corie Brown, a Kansas native, who returned to the state to explore first-hand the intricacies and implications of rural decline. Despite re-discovering the beauty of western Kansas, Brown eventually wrote a downbeat story, titled Rural Kansas is dying. I drove 1800 miles to discover why.