Welcome to the Arkansas Advocate, a fresh voice in state news

An editor leaves retirement for journalism potential

August 16, 2022 5:00 am
Sunset in early April 2022 on Lake DeGray in Bismarck, AR.

Sunset in early April 2022 on Lake DeGray in Bismarck, Arkansas. (Photo by Sonny Albarado)

Thirty-eight years ago, my bride and I drove up from Baton Rouge and into Arkansas in her Datsun B210 hatchback. Looking for adventure, we planned to camp and hike during our honeymoon.

We pitched our tent on Mount Nebo on July 4. Over the next few days, we toodled along scenic routes through the Bostons and Ozarks. We ended our sojourn five days later in a cabin at Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View.

As a flatlander from Louisiana’s bayou country, I fell in love with Arkansas’ hilly terrain and natural beauty. That affection remains today.

Affection for the Natural State played a part in my decision to move from Memphis, a city I also love, to Little Rock in 2007 to join the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff. My wife and I chose to live in the foothills of the Ouachitas at the western edge of Pulaski County.

When I retired from the ADG in January 2020, we stayed in Arkansas for the same reasons we first came: the scenic beauty, the neighborly people and the potential for great things.

Potential lies at the root of my decision to leave retirement and help launch the Arkansas Advocate. This online news source aims to give Arkansans incisive news and commentary about state government, public policy, politics and people.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed retirement, despite the isolation imposed by COVID-19. I helped around the house, tackled personal projects, visited grandkids and caught up on postponed reading.

But retirement didn’t end my nearly 50-year passion for journalism. As a child I developed a habit of reading my hometown newspaper. When I became editor of my university’s student newspaper, my passion for journalism took root. It blossomed into a career when I began covering local government and digging into public records in a coastal city in Louisiana.

Although retired, I continued to stoke my journalistic passion. I remained involved in the Society of Professional Journalists, on the local and national level. I served the organization as national president in 2012-13 and continue to serve as a member of its funding arm, the SPJ Foundation. I’m also vice president of the Arkansas Pro Chapter of SPJ. And I represent SPJ on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. That body assures that journalism schools meet high standards and help young journalists reach their potential.

For the past two years, I’ve worked as a recruiter for the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s fellowship programs. I also mentored journalists in the center’s annual National Health Fellowship, helping them see the potential of their in-depth reporting projects.

Yet, the joys of retirement lost out to the potential for achieving great journalism when the opportunity arose to continue serving Arkansas and my profession as editor-in-chief of the Arkansas Advocate.

Here was a chance to play a part in developing a news outlet that has a passion for seeking truth. A chance to give citizens the information and tools to make informed decisions for themselves. The opportunity to create a news outlet that takes seriously its role as a responsible, ethical interlocutor of the events and issues that concern Arkansans, especially those from marginalized or overlooked communities.

Meet the Advocate staff

I am joined in this endeavor by a staff of veteran journalists:

  • Deputy editor Hunter Field, most recently projects editor at the Democrat-Gazette and a former member of the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau covering education policy and medical marijuana. Much of his reporting for the Advocate will focus on criminal justice, marijuana, gambling, and tax policy.
  • Reporter Tess Vrbin, also from the Democrat-Gazette, where she covered low-income housing and tenants’ rights among other issues. She will cover housing policy, women’s health, and climate change for the Advocate.
  • Senior reporter Antoinette Grajeda, a multimedia journalist who has launched, hosted and produced daily news programs for public radio in Northwest Arkansas. She will cover immigration, race and equity, and education. She will report from Fayetteville and join the staff near the end of August.

We believe Arkansas needs an aggressive staff of professional journalists focused on what happens in the halls of power and the courts. We aim to give Arkansans a fresh perspective on the legislators, laws and leaders whose decisions affect residents’ daily lives.

The Arkansas Advocate will always be free to read — no paywalls and no ads. We are a nonprofit supported by the generosity of those, like us, who believe that journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and self-governance.

I am proud to offer Arkansans this fresh source of passionate reportage on important issues as we help Arkansas realize its potential.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sonny Albarado
Sonny Albarado

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. He retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2020 after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years and returned to professional journalism in 2022 to lead the Arkansas Advocate. He is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and a current member of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.