In a Kansas town of about 1,900 people, a weekly newspaper had its publication servers, computers, cellphones and other electronics seized last month during a raid by local police. Law enforcement officers with a warrant removed electronics from the paper’s office and from the home where the editor and publisher lived with his 98-year-old mother, a co-owner of the newspaper.
The elderly woman later died from the stress of the raid, according to her son.
News of the raid has gained national attention, with the countywide newspaper receiving an outpouring of support as an investigation takes place into whether the equipment seizure was justified. In the meantime, the small staff at the 4,000 circulation newspaper worked long, difficult days to cobble together and re-create enough editorial and advertising files to publish an edition with a large headline saying, “Seized … but not silenced.”
In The Coastal Star’s 15-year history, we’ve never experienced such a dramatic attempt at silencing our reporting, but we’ve had lawsuits thrown at us purely for intimidation and many, many subpoenas delivered for our photos and stories. All of them required attorney’s fees and at least once increased the annual cost of our insurance.
Appallingly, the objective pursued in the raid of the Marion County Record was for information the newspaper chose not to publish before it became public. That made this Kansas-based threat to press freedom even more disturbing.
There are many times our publication obtains information that we choose not to write about. Sometimes because we don’t have the resources, but most often because either the source or the nature of the allegations doesn’t meet our threshold for what is critical for the community to know. It is never because we are afraid of being sued or raided.
What happened in Kansas appears to be a ham-handed attempt at silencing a free press to keep salacious information from exposure. The facts will no doubt be revealed as investigations (legal and journalistic) continue.
In the meantime, small newspapers all over the country are closely watching this case.
Without confidence in their ability to publish free of fear or intimidation, many will close. Already more than 2,500 dailies and weeklies have ceased publication since 2005 — leaving behind communities with essentially no local news.
Cronyism, misconduct and corruption flourish without a free press. Even a small free press. Just ask that little newspaper in the rolling hills about 150 miles southwest of Kansas City.
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— Mary Kate Leming,