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Arkansas Advocate Is Here, With Trio of Democrat-Gazette Vets

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Arkansas Advocate, a statewide online news outlet focused on state government and public policy, launches its website Tuesday with a reunited trio of prizewinning Arkansas Democrat-Gazette veterans led by Editor in Chief Sonny Albarado.

Albarado, a Louisiana native who and former investigations editor for the Little Rock daily, has hired former Democrat-Gazette Projects Editor Hunter Field as his deputy in the nonprofit Little Rock newsroom. They’re working with Tess Vrbin, another former Democrat-Gazette reporter, and will be joined soon by Antoinette Grejeda, a veteran Fayetteville public radio reporter and freelancer.

Vrbin covered housing and tenants rights at the paper, and “will continue her focus on the personal effects of public policy on women, children, and how and where people live,” Albarado told Arkansas Business.

Both Albarado and Field emphasized that the nonprofit news outlet’s products will be free for all. Daily reports and special investigations will be online at www.arkansasadvocate.com and available through morning newsletters to subscribers. There are no fees or pay walls, and stories are also available at no cost for other Arkansas news organizations to use.

“I see our role as showing people what their government is doing and how it’s affecting them,” Field said. “That all starts with being free to read as well as transparent about everything from our finances to our reporting processes.”

Arkansas Advocate is the 28th state government news unit to be part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit network funded by tax-deductible donations from readers and philanthropists.

It got started, according to its website, in response to a sharp decline in state capitol reporting as news jobs have declined in traditional media.

Financed at the start by the Wyss Foundation, supported by Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, States Newsroom launched in 2019 as an offshoot of NC Policy Watch.

“Our emphasis will be on public service reporting,” Field said. “That includes investigative work and holding public officials accountable, of course, but it also means making government and public policy accessible to everyone. Most people don’t know what the Revenue Stabilization Act is, or the Educational Adequacy Study, or how the state income tax code works. It can be easy for politicians and journalists alike to live in the State Capitol bubble, but that’s not where most Arkansans live.”

Albarado got his start on the project — he calls it a mission — at the start of June, and his first priority was building a team. “We intend to provide Arkansans with responsible, ethical reporting about state government and leaders that focuses on the relationship between people, power and policy,” Albarado said.

“I’m happy to help start a new source of hard-hitting coverage of Arkansas government and public policy that centers on regular people and how officials and politicians affect their daily lives,” he continued. “I believe we’ve gathered a group of talented journalists to do just that.”

Field, he said, was an excellent Capitol reporter who became a skilled editor of investigative work. Vrbin will home in on how public policy affects women, children, and how and where people live. “Grajeda won’t officially join the team until the end of August, but she brings a dozen years of public affairs reporting and social media savvy to our coverage,” Albarado said. “I’m excited about the potential for the Arkansas Advocate to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

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