I’ve been a reporter at the Arkansas Times for over four years. Since 2017, I’ve also been a frequent contributor to the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, a separate but related entity. I believe ANNN represents the future of in-depth public interest journalism in our state.
Two years ago, ANNN was founded by Arkansas Times Editor Lindsey Millar. It’s a nonprofit, which means it’s able to receive funding from grantmakers and individual donors. All ANNN stories are provided free of charge to some 20 media outlets in cities and towns throughout Arkansas, helping to sustain small newspapers and reaching an audience that rivals those of the largest media in the state.
In the past year alone, our small organization has made an impact with major stories on political corruption, health care, juvenile justice and more. So far, we’ve managed to do this with almost no administrative overhead: The money raised by ANNN all has gone directly to pay writers and editors like myself. (Lindsey, who remains the full-time editorial director of the Times, has worked without pay to build the organization from scratch.)
Until Dec. 31, every dollar ANNN receives in donations will be matched one-to-one by NewsMatch, a national campaign to grow nonprofit newsrooms. I want to thank all ANNN donors thus far and encourage anyone who values our work to give before the end of 2018.
My reporting this year has focused on Medicaid, especially Arkansas’s first-in-the-nation work requirement that has caused over 17,000 low-income Arkansans to lose their insurance. Thanks to ANNN’s resources, I’ve been able to dive deep into the details of the state’s complex reporting policy. Even more importantly, I’ve been able to tell the stories of real people who have gone without medical care or much-needed prescriptions.
This wasn’t easy. Finding, cultivating and fact-checking my sources required an investment of time and energy that would have been impossible without ANNN.
My colleague David Ramsey, meanwhile, has done monumental reporting this year on a massive public corruption scandal in the Arkansas legislature. Ramsey, who was named to The Washington Post’s 2015 list of best state political reporters, interviewed dozens of current and former lawmakers, lobbyists, state officials and others implicated in multiple alleged bribery and embezzlement schemes described by the FBI. He and other ANNN reporters pored over thousands of pages of court documents in more than a dozen cases.
This is precisely the sort of topic ANNN was designed to tackle. Ramsey’s investigative work offered the public a clear and coherent view of just who did what and why it mattered. His reporting revealed that an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare, a Medicaid provider at the center of the scandal, remained in place despite the company’s assurances that it had cleaned house. In apparent response to our reporting, PFH put the executive on leave. He’s since pleaded guilty to concealing knowledge of a felony.
Arkansas is lucky to have a statewide daily newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is locally owned and has retained excellent reporters. However, its newsroom and its print circulation are both shrinking. The Associated Press has reduced its Arkansas bureau, and Gatehouse Media has closed a number of papers throughout the state.
That’s why I’m proud to be a part of an organization trying to chart a path forward for rigorous journalism in Arkansas. Here’s what Chris Wessel, the editor of The Jonesboro Sun, has said about ANNN:
“We try to use Arkansas Nonprofit News Network in-depth reporting whenever we can. It gives our readers a deeper understanding of issues that affect their lives and their pocketbooks. We need to make sure this kind of journalism continues because no one else is watching or holding our statewide elected officials accountable. With the newspaper economy suffering, it’s also important because it doesn’t cost our newspaper anything to use the service. We appreciate the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network and are hopeful it continues to grow.”
Readers, too, have responded. Since our NewsMatch funds drive began last month, we’ve received donations from about 100 local donors. As an ANNN reporter, I’m grateful for this level of support. As an Arkansan, I can’t wait to see what ANNN is able to accomplish in 2019 and beyond.
Benjamin Hardy is a reporter and editor and a 2018 fellow with the Association of Health Care Journalists