In accepting national journalism award, small-town Kansas editor urges everyone to stand up to government

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Eric Meyer, editor of the Marion County Record, is pictured on April 11, 2024 at the University of Kansas' William Allen White Day celebration.

The editor of a small-town Kansas newspaper that had its newsroom raided by law enforcement urged journalists and the public on Thursday to become even more aggressive in standing up to government.

“What happened to us was that somebody, politically, weaponized the police force, ” Eric Meyer, editor of the Marion County Record, told a KU crowd as part of the university’s annual William Allen White Day ceremony. “They thought they could get away with it because the prevailing sense among government — we talk about the swamp in Washington, but there is a swamp everywhere in government — and it is led by people who say government can do whatever it wants, unless somebody sues.”

The Marion County Record — located in a county of about 12,000 people northeast of Wichita — became the first organization to win the William Allen White Foundation National Citation. Previous winners have included some of the biggest names in journalism such as Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, Gwen Ifill and many others dating back to 1950.

Trustees of the William Allen White Foundation — named after the famed Emporia Gazette editor who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 and gained national prominence as a voice of middle America — chose the Marion County Record for the award after it persevered following a police raid of its offices in August.

“In choosing this local newspaper for this year’s award, the trustees of the foundation also are honoring the importance of local journalism across America,” Barbara Rosewicz, chair of the foundation, told a crowd at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. “Local journalism plays a vital role in sustaining our democracy.”

Local law enforcement raided the offices of the newspaper and the home of its editor and publisher with a search warrant to seize computers and cell phones. The raid came in the wake of investigations by the newspaper involving the Marion police chief and a local business owner.

Meyer said the newspaper was not liked by some local officials because it was perceived as too negative or stirred up too much trouble.

“There’s nothing wrong with causing trouble,” Meyer told the crowd. “You want to be a disrupter? Be a disrupter. We need to be disrupters.”

Meyer thanked the foundation for honoring a smaller media outlet, and urged journalism students in the crowd to strongly consider working for a small newspaper.

“Students, you need to think about working for a small news organization,” Meyer said. “There is no such thing as small journalism, just small minds about what it is.”

No matter where they go, Meyer said journalists need to be prepared to work hard because journalism has to be more engaging than ever to reach people who often only hear what they want to hear.

“People don’t care as much anymore about knowing facts,” Meyer said. “They care about images.”

Meyer said people are either tuning out or simply adopting slogans that guide their thinking as social media creates an echo chamber of ideas, and as government often focuses on ideas that are at the edges of the political spectrum.

“We have been radicalized. We’ve been radicalized because we only care about … slogans, we only care about images,” he said. “Some of that is because people have not been able to make change anymore.”

Meyer talked little about the events that occurred on the August day of the raid — he relayed he had to ask a neighbor to look up the phone number of his attorney because police had confiscated his phone and computer where the number was stored, and then borrowed the neighbor’s flip phone to make the call.

As has been reported, Meyer’s mother — 98-year old editor emerita Joan Meyer — died in the days following the raid, which included officers entering the home she shared with Meyer. Recently, the newspaper has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Marion, the Marion County Commission and five current and former local officials of violating free press rights and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Two current employees and one former employee of the newspaper also have filed lawsuits related to the raid.

Meyer and others continue to wait for an investigative report from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which has been asked by Kansas officials to serve as a third party to review the actions of all parties involved in the matter. That report will then be used by Kansas prosecutors to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.

As for the civil lawsuits filed by the newspaper and Meyer, they plan to seek more than $10 million in damages, the Associated Press has reported. Meyer — a KU alumnus who returned to Marion to run his family’s weekly newspaper after having worked in the daily newspaper industry and as a journalism educator — told the crowd the newspaper lawsuit is not about the money.

“We have already said that if we get the money, we’re probably going to donate it away,” Meyer said. “But we have to set the precedent that this is not something that is allowed. This is not something that is allowed under American democracy.”


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.