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« Census 2010 and Dallas, Texas | Main | Senator Brownback's Questionable Vote(s) »

Simple Facts, Plain Arguments, Common Sense

By Pamela Jean
October 7, 2009

I am pleased to announce that the Kansas Free Press has opened officially this week! As many Everyday Citizen readers may have noticed, over time, EC writers began writing about Kansas frequently on these pages. So, the idea was born - to offer Kansans their very own website. But, Kansas Free Press is really much more than just that. Allow me to explain.

"I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense ..." Thomas Paine, 1776, pamphleteer
Though Thomas Paine is thought of as one of America's earliest, and perhaps its most famous journalist, if he were alive today, it's fairly unlikely that he'd be working as a glam television anchor, covering car chases on the L.A. freeway or following the sagas of divorcing celebrities. Would he end up an argumentative or abrasive talking head on some cable news channel?

No. The man who is the original embodiment of the the 1st Amendment would strive for something much greater.

If Tom Paine were to be among us now, it's likely that he would aspire to be one of us. He'd probably be writing furiously and freely at a free press on the Internet, just like this one, or like the new one created just for Kansans.

And, just as we do, he'd be speaking of issues that he believed to have the most relevance to his fellow citizens. This is the mission of the Kansas Free Press.

Citizen-powered websites, like Everyday Citizen and the Kansas Free Press, are bringing about a real revival of pamphleteering, and a renewed understanding of freedom of the press.

Thomas Paine blazed the first trail with "Common Sense", first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, before the American Revolution. It was pivotal in growing popular support for independence from Britain.

Even Thomas Jefferson took ideas from his pamphlet when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Tremendously popular, as many as 600,000 copies of "Common Sense" were distributed among 3,000,000 people (one for every five people). That would be equivalent to 60,000,000 copies printed in present day America.

Before telecommunications, ordinary citizens, like Paine, with access to printing presses and some paper could use pamphlets for mass communications. Communicating this way was especially helpful since ordinary people couldn't operate from within the power structures of main stream newspapers or books, even then. Has it always been that way? Yes, even before the huge growth of newspapers and television in the 20th century, citizens struggled to gain access to and freedom for their own distribution of information.

The 1st Amendment to the U.S Constitution was written, in large part, to protect the liberties of everyday pamphleteers and assure their rights to free speech and freedom of their printing presses.

Is the "press" as we know it today still the voice of the people? That's debatable. In the intervening years between Paine's time and ours, "freedom of the press" seems to have lost its intended meaning and its root in history. To many, "freedom of the press" is now synonymous with "freedom of the powerful media and the well-connected". With a sort of elitist status, the "press" often seems to be mostly comprised of brigades of professionals possessing certain journalism degrees or specific credentials.

Many have even come to believe that a person has to get paid for writing in order to be qualified as a real journalist. But, Thomas Paine was not paid. Wasn't the 1st Amendment written to protect ordinary unpaid citizens like Paine?

At the Kansas Free Press, we believe that citizens should always have access to free presses for the health of democracy.

So, taking our inspiration from Thomas Paine and his pamphleteering, and providing our own similar boldness and simplicity, the electronic newspaper that calls itself the Kansas Free Press seeks to provide opportunities for everyday citizens in Kansas to speak freely with one another about things that truly matter to Kansas.

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." Thomas Paine, 1776

By writing about the local politics and people of Kansas, our citizen journalists hope to encourage others into a meaningful public conversations about the future of Kansas.

Kansas writers desire to participate directly in democracy - by gathering information about what happens in school board meetings, community events, county commission meetings or in the state legislature. They also hope to share entertainment and cultural news with one another.

KFP writers are chiefly interested in examining what the people of Kansas value most and how our communities and governments respond to those values.

Kansas Free Press writers want to be more informed - and they want to ensure other citizens in Kansas have good information, too.

To learn more about our writers and authors, click here.

"We need news that breeds understanding, not contempt; news that fosters a healthy skepticism of the workings of power rather than a paralyzing cynicism. We need the basic information that a self-governing people requires. The old news model is crumbling, while the Internet, for all its immense promise, is not yet ready to rise in its place - and won't be until it can provide the nuts-and-bolts reporting that most people so take for granted that it escapes their notice." - Dan Rather, 2009
We hope that EverydayCitizen readers will come and check us out - particularly when you notice that the Kansas news and opinion has moved. You may miss it! Now you'll know where to find it again - at the Kansas Free Press!

Comments (1)

Rebecca Sanborn Stone Author Profile Page:

Congratulations on the launch of the Kansas Free Press - it sounds like a big step forward in terms of increasing civil discussion and expanding dialogue on important issues. And good luck making it a truly open and inclusive platform - a worthy challenge, but perhaps one that's larger than many first assume.

I'm sure most people would agree with you that much of the print media is no longer a "voice of the people," and web-based media has certainly gained much more of a reputation for opening up the news stream to the thoughts and opinions of the masses.

I hope that's right, but I'm inclined to agree with an opinion piece I saw this week (I unfortunately can't remember where) that suggests web media may in fact be less of an equalizer than print media. Most letters to the editor in newspapers, if not the articles themselves, have historically NOT been written by people with advanced degrees and hefty incomes - in short, they've been pretty good platforms for average citizens to speak their minds. But today web-based media is really dominated by a few BIG sites and most of the heavy-hitters in the blogging world are people with degrees from elite institutions and fairly privileged world views.

It doesn't sound like Kansas Free Press is going in that direction at all, but I think you'll still have your work cut out for you in attracting citizens from a wide diversity of economic classes, races, age groups, and mindsets. Without some grunt work in the community organizing realm, it'll be easy for the site to be dominated by the relatively educated, middle class users who already participate in blogs and regularly get their news and opinions online.

I don't mean to be pessimistic and I'll watch Kansas Free Press with interest. And there are success stories in this realm - like Burlington, VT's Front Porch Forum, a local neighborhood organizing site that has signed up more than 40% of Burlington's citizens. I hope KFP will become another to add to the list of successes!

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