Newsrooms shrinking at critical juncture for country 

Wichita Eagle reduces publication to three days a week; the Gardner News shutters



July 1, 2024 - 2:13 PM

Kansas Reflector reporter Tim Carpenter, center, takes notes at a town hall meeting on Saturday, June 29, in Olathe. Increasingly, the role of a reporter such as Carpenter is being diminished as citizens opt out of subscribing to newspapers. GRACE HILLS/KANSAS REFLECTOR

The hits just keep coming for Kansas news outlets.

The Gardner News has closed as of today, according to owner CherryRoad Media. Despite serving a community of 25,000, the newspaper has fewer than 200 subscribers.

On Friday, The Wichita Eagle announced it would issue only three print editions a week. Beginning in September, the paper will come out on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. That comes after the Wichita city council tried to stop publishing legal notices in the Eagle.

News organizations across the country have faced tumult in recent weeks. The Washington Post has been losing money and firing top leaders. Oregon and Washington newspapers have absorbed a wave of job cuts. With the United States gearing up for yet another bitterly contested election season, I can hardly imagine a worse time for such decisions. We need a feisty and robust press to cover monstrous threats to democracy.

“Representation and accountability, these are the things that our democratic system relies on,” said UCLA’s Megan Mullin in an interview with LAist.

She co-wrote a study showing that robust coverage of infrastructure directly leads to public support of increased funding.

“And that representation and accountability rely on voters having access to information about the status of problems and the efforts of elected officials to solve those problems,” she said. “Staff cuts and corporatization of newspaper ownership structures, they’ve had a big impact on the information available to voters. As reporting capacity has declined, so has coverage of politics.”

You might wonder how Kansas Reflector has been doing and whether we are prepared to keep on serving Kansas like we’ve done in the past.

The good news is that we absolutely are. We have more readers than ever. Those readers, according to a recent survey, profoundly appreciate what we do and recommend us to their friends. Our parent organization, States Newsroom, now has freestanding newsrooms or partnerships in all 50 states. We are strong and getting stronger.

The challenging news is that we can’t do this job alone. Kansas still enjoys abundant news outlets, staffed by talented reporters and editors. These publications are doing their damnedest to serve their fellow Kansas. I have no doubt that the Wichita Eagle will remain a great news source, even as it pivots to an online focus. CherryRoad continues to publish cherished small newspapers across the state. Kansas journalism has set an example for the nation.

But when I say we can’t do it alone, I’m writing about more than sheer journalistic capacity.

I mean the people of Kansas themselves must show they appreciate and use the news. Perhaps that means you buy a subscription to a local newspaper. Perhaps that means you subscribe to the newsletter of one outlet or another. Perhaps it means you make a donation to a public broadcasting station. Maybe you simply drop by a local news website now and then to scan the headlines. Whatever the case, these outlets can’t do it without you.

This was brought home to me Saturday, when Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith, reporter Tim Carpenter, intern reporter Grace Hills and myself spoke at a town hall meeting. Olathe’s Saint Andrew Christian Church welcomed us to its sanctuary, along with 100 Kansans. The audience asked us questions on topics including the U.S.-Mexico border, the Marion County Record newspaper raid and CNN’s decision not to fact check Donald Trump during the presidential debate.

Every time I’ve done one of these town halls, I walk away elated by the interest and enthusiasm of our readers.

But I also find myself apprehensive because more Kansans should be similarly engaged. It doesn’t have to be with us. But certainly with the world around them, the country and state and town in which they live. It’s going to be difficult to make it through this election season, I understand. Surveys tell us that a sizable number of voters are disenchanted with their options they have and feel pessimistic about the future.