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In His Opinion

Alumnus discusses important national, local issues as KC Star editorial writer

From The Ichabod - Fall 2020 (photo by the Kansas City Star)

As a student at Washburn University, Michael Ryan, ba ’81, was not planning to become a writer – but then he authored his first column for the Washburn Review. It was more of a favor to a friend than an intentional choice: Another member of his fraternity served as editor of the student newspaper and needed content, so Ryan offered to contribute a humorous piece. He quickly learned how to type on a manual typewriter, hammered out a column in the style of comedic writer Woody Allen, and offered a draft to his roommate for review.

“My roommate gets about halfway through the first sheet and says, ‘Oh, I see – this is funny, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I thought so, anyway,’” Ryan recalled, laughing. “But in the process of doing that I fell in love with writing.”

Ryan kept honing his craft while earning his media and communications degree at Washburn. Eventually one of his professors helped him get his first job at a paper in McPherson, Kansas, which kick-started what has become a successful 30-year career in journalism.

“That’s the real beauty of attending a university like Washburn,” Ryan said. “If you went to a big university where you were in an arena watching a professor you aren’t going to get that kind of individual attention. So many good things have happened to me because of the start I got at Washburn.”

After spending a few years in McPherson, Ryan got a job at the Topeka Capital-Journal, where he stayed for 19 years. During that time, he became an editorial writer, and he continued working in that capacity after moving to Augusta, Georgia. Last summer, he landed at the Kansas City Star, where he is a big part of what he calls the paper’s “unique and irreplaceable” editorial voice.

“Editorial writing, to me, is as American a tradition as jazz or baseball,” Ryan said. “It goes on around the world to some degree, but our First Amendment allows it to really flourish here. Editorial writing presents an opportunity for a newspaper to provide leadership in a community, to highlight what’s wrong and spotlight what’s good. I think it’s invaluable.”

Ryan believes editorial writers play an especially vital role during challenging times, such as the United States gearing up for an election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He works hard to strike the right tone – collaborative instead of condescending, disappointed instead of outraged – to help people have important conversations about difficult topics and focus on what’s important to them.

“The coronavirus has made the role of the local editorial page, in my opinion, even more important,” Ryan said. “Candidates are not out there shaking hands and kissing babies. They’re having to campaign from their basements, so it’s even more important for newspapers to provide information on local races.”

Ryan also aims to bring out the best in the community where he lives and “comment on the passing parade” – a goal that, along with persuasion, often requires a bit of humor.

Read Michael Ryan’s latest columns at kansascity.com/michael-ryan.

The Ichabod magazine fall 2020

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2020 fall edition online and look for it in mailboxes in October.

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