States Newsroom launches Arkansas Advocate

Press release | States Newsroom

States Newsroom, the leading national network of state-based nonprofit news media, has launched the Arkansas Defender provide free, high-quality, non-partisan reporting on critical issues affecting the natural state. The Arkansas Advocate is States Newsroom’s 29th outlet in its network.

Sonny Albarado is editor-in-chief of the new newsroom. During his nearly 50-year career, Albarado served as an investigative editor, business editor, city editor, environmental reporter, and government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. More recently, he retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after serving as a projects editor for 12½ years. He got his start in journalism as editor of Nicholls Worth, the student newspaper at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973. Nicholls awarded him an honorary doctorate in letters in 2014.

Other members of the Arkansas Advocate Newsroom include:

  • Hunter Field, Associate Editor: Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose state reporting has taken him from military airstrips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas Delta. He has spent most of the past decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana, and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Capitol Bureau of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Most recently, he was projects editor for the Democrat-Gazette, leading the paper’s investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Originally from Memphis, he enjoys smoking barbecues, kayaking and fishing in his spare time.
  • Antoinette Grajeda, senior reporter: Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.
  • Tess Vrbin, journalist: Vrbin came to counsel for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenant rights, and won awards for her coverage of the 2021 floods and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. Originally from the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 2019.

“We are thrilled to welcome this team of award-winning veteran journalists and launch the Arkansas Advocate,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom. “Over the past two decades, local news has suffered as newsrooms have shrunk and reporters have been stretched across beats. This new newsroom will help strengthen coverage of the important stories coming out of Little Rock and how they affect people in every corner of Arkansas.

The launch of the Arkansas Advocate comes shortly after Pew Research Center cited the States Newsroom and other nonprofit newsrooms as key to filling the void in Statehouse coverage left by staff cuts in legacy media. According to Pew, the overall percentage of reporters working for nonprofit newsrooms in Statehouse’s press corps has more than tripled since 2014 and now makes up the largest portion of Statehouse reporters in 10 states and the second largest in 17. States.

Last year, the States Newsroom announcement major plans to expand its footprint to have independent newsrooms in approximately 40 states and launched State News, a comprehensive source of information on state houses across the country. States Newsroom is expected to continue its rapid expansion this year in Kentucky and South Dakota. Recently, the organization has expanded its reach by launch new content-sharing partnerships with eight independent nonprofit media outlets, including the Texas Tribune, to host their News from the States reporting.

States Newsroom is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is funded by the generous contributions of readers and philanthropists. States Newsroom is committed to providing the public with factual, nonpartisan information, free of charge and without advertising.

Other State Newsroom Affiliates and Partners are:

In addition to its network of 29 state-based outlets, States Newsroom has content-sharing agreements with eight major nonprofit newsrooms: CommonWealth (Massachusetts), Connecticut Mirror, Honolulu Civil Beat (Hawaii ), Mountain State Spotlight (West Virginia), Mississippi Today, Texas Tribune, VTDigger (Vermont), and WyoFile (Wyoming).