07-01-20 | Printable Version

Renowned Small-Town Journalist William Allen White Featured in New Documentary

recently released documentary on William Allen White, the renowned small-town journalist from Emporia, Kansas, is a must watch video for those in the newspaper industry today.

William Allen White: What’s the Matter with Kansas re-introduces the Sage of Emporia to new generations in a society that could benefit from a bit of his prairie wisdom. Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April was pleased to have participated in the funding of this production.
Michael Gartner, in his book Outrage Passion and Uncommon Sense, called White one of the greatest editorial writers in the history of our nation. White believed the editorial was the heart and soul of any newspaper.

The film was directed by renowned independent filmmaker Kevin Willmott and narrated by acclaimed broadcast journalist, Bill Kurtis. The film features interviews with journalists, authors, and family friends, including PBS’s Jim Lehrer.

White met his wife Sally while working at the Kansas City Star. They decided they wanted their own newspaper and found it an hour away in Emporia, Kansas, where in 1890 they purchased the Emporia Gazette for $3,000.

White changed the political conversation of the country in the early 1900’s through his platform at the Emporia (KS) Gazette. He was always looking out for Main Street. He became the confidant of many powerful political leaders including presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.

What’s the Matter with Kansas, an editorial written by William Allen White in 1896, is considered a masterpiece of opinion writing. This famous editorial was written at a time when populism was taking hold of Kansas and White wanted none of it. The editorial caused a sensation and was widely reprinted.

White was also known as a staunch defender of freedom of speech. He argued that suppression was more dangerous than violence because violence was the child of suppression. White said, “if Americanism means anything, it means freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of press.”

White lashed out at the growing Klu Klux Klan movement in Kansas after the end of World War 1. He was so troubled by the rise of this movement that he decided to run for governor of the state. Although he lost the election, his convictions and strong showing empowered other candidates to speak out against this movement.

Kevin Willmott, director of this new documentary about William Allen White, grew up in Junction City, Kansas and received his BA in Drama from Marymount College in Salina, Kansas. After graduation, he returned home and worked as a peace and civil rights activist, fighting for the rights of the poor, creating two Catholic Worker shelters for the homeless, and forcing the integration of several long standing segregated institutions. He attended graduate studies at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, receiving several writing awards and his M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing.

As a screenwriter, Willmott won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for BlacKkKlansman with Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel in 2019.

For more information, or to purchase a DVD, contact the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas at jschool@ku.edu or 785-864-4755.