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Brenda Blagg, Storied NWA Journalist, Dies at 75

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Longtime northwest Arkansas journalist Brenda Blagg has died at age 75, leaving behind a 52-year legacy of stellar reporting, tough questioning and trenchant columns.

She was also a champion of transparency in government and a staunch defender of Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act.

Bragg, who made her name at the Springdale News, later the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, covered local and statewide politics, Washington County government and environmental issues in the Natural State.

As a freelancer, she wrote a column published in newspapers statewide, “Between the Lines,” and her final column from just last month typically pulled no punches. Published Nov. 2 in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the opinion piece accused Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders of sending an insulting message to Arkansas teachers in her campaign commercials.

By claiming that Arkansas children were being indoctrinated rather than educated, Sanders offended many people, Blagg wrote. “Nevertheless, she continued with the insulting message, repeating in in campaign literature and in advertising right up to the end of the campaign,” Blagg wrote.

Blagg, who began her newspaper career in 1970, was beloved particularly in Fayetteville, where she was editor of the Arkansas Traveler when its campus office in Hill Hall burned in 1969. Under her leadership, the students still managed to put out a paper.

She began writing her column in 1979.

UA journalism professor Larry Foley shared that story on social media, reporting that Blagg had heart ailments and had recently collapsed and couldn’t be revived, according to retired UA journalism lecturer David Edmark. Edmark is a former city editor of the Morning News of Springdale.

Edmark also recalled Blagg’s alter ego, Lititia Mae Shufflebeam, a character she conceived in the 1980s  to “comment on current events while relating to the common folk.”

In 2012, Blagg was inducted into the inaugural class of the Great Plains Journalism Hall of Fame, representing outstanding regional journalists from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota.

She was twice awarded the Arkansas Press Association’s FOI Award.

Blagg covered Arkansan Bill Clinton’s 1991 campaign for the presidency and followed a group of Clinton supporters known as the Arkansas Travelers as they helped convince enough voters to give him a solid showing that probably rescued his aspirations for national office.

That experience led to a book by Blagg: “Political Magic: The Travels, Trials and Triumphs of the Clintons’ Arkansas Travelers.”

Ashley Wimberley, director of the Arkansas Press Association, said she was proud to call Bragg a colleague and friend.

Brenda has been a staple in the Arkansas newspaper industry for decades. She would laugh when I would call her the queen of Arkansas journalism, but it was really true,” Wimberley said. “She was the best of the best. Both a powerful writer and educator, Brenda contributed so much, not only to our industry, but to society in general. 

She was also a fierce protector of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, and her work in this area kept numerous bills from passing that would lessen the public’s access to information,” Wimberley continued. “She was always hungry to share her vast knowledge to ensure government transparency. In fact, our last communication was her asking me to overnight some Freedom of Information handbooks, because she was speaking the next day to a group and she knew they would benefit.

“This loss to the Arkansas newspaper industry is incalculable. I’m going to miss her knowledge and her friendship.”

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