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Opinion: The Journal’s next challenge is building a public square for all to lead

After a year of introspection, The Journal sets its sights on shaping healthier civic dialogue.

At first glance, The Journal’s most recent efforts probably don’t look any different from what you’re used to seeing.

But make no mistake. This publication is in the midst of a metamorphosis, albeit a gradual one.

The most visible change thus far will be seen on the cover of our forthcoming Winter 2022 edition, which will be published later this month. The tagline that used to read “Inspiration for the Common Good” now reads “A Public Square for All to Lead.”

That small change in wording is a leading indicator of bigger shifts ahead for The Journal, which is entering its 13th year of publication in 2022. The driving force behind those changes is something you’ve probably seen only glimpses of over the past year.

Beginning last spring, I led a collaborative effort to extensively evaluate The Journal and chart its future course. The project likely sounded strange to some. After all, how do you improve upon a nationally award-winning magazine?

But evolution has long been part of The Journal’s story as it has shifted from an academic-style journal to an alumni magazine to a compelling civic issues magazine.

To map out The Journal’s next transformation, I had a lot of collaborators. The existing team of Journal contributors played a key role, as did Kansas Leadership Center staff. Hundreds of audience members shed light on potential strengths and weaknesses through a survey. The KLC board of directors engaged in extensive discussions.

What emerged from all the dialogue was a vision for expanding The Journal and its impact on civic life in Kansas, in part, by accelerating its development as a multiplatform magazine. What does that mean? First off, the print edition is deeply beloved by our existing readership, and it will remain a part of our efforts.

But The Journal’s future growth will be digital. We already offer klcjournal.com, publish a near-weekly email newsletter and offer a slate of live and virtual events that drew hundreds last year. Expect those offerings to grow significantly as we meet more and more readers where they are, whether it’s through text, audio or video.

As the footprint of The Journal grows, so will our staffing. Right now, I am the only full-time employee who works on the magazine. Over the next five years, we plan to bring on additional personnel, including a new managing editor, to reach the scale needed to achieve our goals.

To attain these heights, we’ll need a deeply engaged audience that thinks critically and finds creative ways to use our content; imaginative partners who see new ways of leveraging our platforms; and a diverse array of stakeholders whose financial support will sustain the cultiva­tion of a truly healthy 21st century public square.

The bottom line isn’t to increase unique page views or revenue. What matters most is providing the crucial information and context necessary to sustain a civic culture that can discuss and address difficult problems. The Journal will work to foster an environment where people are able to talk about the most difficult topics and complex challenges while working across differences in race, ethnicity, culture and values, not to mention class and political ideology. We see ourselves contributing to a Kansas where everyone is more empowered to act on what they care about most.

It’s an ambitious aspiration, and one not without significant stumbling blocks. But there’s no challenge that motivates me more to keep showing up to work every day.

I look forward to walking with you down this road, however it twists and turns.

 

Cover about honoring black history in small town Kansas

A version of this article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.

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