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Signs Of Democratic Life In Kansas

By Darrell Hamlin
Opinion | October 9, 2009

HAYS, Kan. - Throughout my career teaching college students I have encountered a recurring sentiment, often from the most earnest undergraduates. "I wish I could just study, go to class, and write what I really think, without everything being so competitive." The implication is that the way achievement is recognized in higher education is undermining the learning experience for the student.

Journalists often voice a similar regret - or excuse, depending upon your point of view - about how they would much rather be finding and reporting different kinds of stories, but the nature of the business requires them to operate according to standards the journalists themselves claim to resent. Perhaps the commercial realities of circulation, ratings, and advertising revenue are undermining journalistic freedom to pursue stories from a different perspective, shaped by a larger purpose. I don't know because I have never had to make a living within those realities.

But I have been consuming the product of journalism for many years, with a particular appetite for civic journalism - representations of reality that are useful and necessary for citizens to do their jobs. I have been hungry for something more relevant, something less like caloric content and more like nutrition. And yes, I also hunger for inspiration.
Kansas Free Press is my opportunity to start growing my own garden and making the meals I want to eat. It is also my opportunity to break bread with other Kansans who want something different.

I am interested in public problems - the problems we have as Kansans, caring for this place, inhabiting this generational moment, sharing a common future. That's what I want to learn about, so that's what I am going to write about. When I refer to "public problems" I don't mean "issues." Issues are complexities dipped in the egg wash of ideology and deep-fried for mass consumption by legislators and candidates, parties and pundits, passed through drive-in windows for those who want fast intake and fast getaway. Public problems are the unprocessed complexities, not the crap that comes in a wrapper with a packet of ketchup.

I am looking for people who are solving public problems in Kansas, or at least those who have run to the battle. I am looking for innovators, activists and organizers. I want to meet educators who refuse to teach to the test and learners who want more than just what state standards tell them will be on that test. I am looking for signs of democratic life in Kansas.

Democracy is a story, and it can only be told one story at a time. It is the narrative arc of who we are, who we want to be, and the work we do to get from one place to the other. Lives of meaning and purpose are only experienced by individuals willing to invent those lives, from the inside-out. No such life ever came from a cookie cutter. It's hard enough to find stories about such lives.

Traditional mass journalism is brought to you faster and more cheaply produced than ever, and it may fill you up. But it will not nourish you.

No small example of a public problem is journalism itself. Where does our information come from? Who is filtering it? What kind of lens are we seeing it through?

Kansas Free Press, of course, is a delivery device, a lens. But the perspective is determined by the citizens who submit the stories, not by popularity or commercial viability or ideological resonance. Conversely, no writer at this site has to bow to the false journalistic god of objectivity if the political realities of a story need to be covered instead of edited out by the formulaic standards of the mainstream media matrix.

Kansas Free Press does not solve the public problem of journalism that we face. But by its existence, KFP allows citizens to be part of that solution.

Too often citizens complain about political life, as though the system itself is not allowing them to be the citizens they desire to be, not allowing them the choices they believe they deserve.

But the political life you have is the one you choose to live, the choices you have are the choices you have settled for.

At Kansas Free Press you can read about the life of Kansas, written by Kansans who have chosen not to settle for information about their home as provided by fast food journalism. We grow it, we prepare it, we serve it ourselves. If you are a Kansan who cannot find what you are looking for here, then contact Pam, our publisher. You'll get a space to write those stories yourself, and friendly encouragement to your backside when we don't hear from you. What you will never have again is the excuse that the system isn't letting you read or tell the stories about your home that you need to take care of your home.

Ideology does not solve public problems. Politicians don't solve our problems. Newspapers don't, and neither does National Public Radio or a website. Citizens solve public problems.

Kansas Free Press is a community for citizens who care about Kansas and its problems, citizens who want to take care of Kansas. I am going to use this site that way. Reading or writing here, I hope you use it that way too.


Darrell! What a wonderful inaugural piece this is! Your hopes for KFP make my tedious computer coding work seem totally worthwhile now. Thank you for this vision.

I'm going to link this story to our "About Us" page so that others will be able to read it in months and years to come when they wish to discover how and why we began this project.


Darrell--You've put your finger on what I see as the value of this venue. Without our life stories, issues are just abstractions. Thanks for stating this so succinctly.

You have my appetite growing so I hope I hear more from you. I went to Hays and when I graduated my adviser B. Jellison told me I would be one of the few people in a small community with a M.S. and I would need to take that role of helping make changes happen locally. I have always taken that advice even when I lived in Broward Co. FL. I am glad to see Hays is still hiring quality people.

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