Arkansas SPJ to advance free flow of information with PIO event


The Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will present Public information officers and the press: Advancing the free flow of information, a discussion about the relationships between public information officers and the media at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30. 

The event moderated by KATV reporter Brenda Lepenski will take place at the Arkansas Press Association, 411 S. Victory Street in Little Rock, for those who would like to attend in person or online at

Featured speakers include Bill Sadler, PIO for the Arkansas State Police, and communication directors Cindy Murphy of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Aaron Sadler of the office of Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Pamela Smith of the Little Rock School District.

The event is free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their lunch. Submit questions and comments for discussion to or tweet @ArkansasSPJ.

About the moderator:

Arkansas SPJ board member Brenda Lepenski joined the Channel 7 News team in March of 2022 as a general assignment reporter. Prior to working at KATV, Lepenski worked as a multimedia journalist in Lubbock, Texas. She also worked for a Spanish TV station in Irving, Texas where she helped produce newscasts for Dallas, Houston, and Miami.

Lepenski is fluent in Spanish. She grew up in Bossier City, La. and is originally from Juarez, Mexico. Her name is Polish, given to her by her adopted family.

She’s a proud member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and has served as vice president of the Dallas chapter where she’s helped in the effort to raise scholarship funds for aspiring journalism and communication students.

She’s a former student at Louisiana Tech University and a graduate of University of Texas at El Paso.

Lepenski is looking to explore more of the Natural State and to serve the community by telling stories that matter.

About the panelists:

Bill Sadler grew up in a newspaper family in Rison, where his grandfather bought the Cleveland County Herald in 1923. Bill started working at the paper in the backshop, learned to write, photograph, “and all the other demons that come with a weekly newspaper,” he said. His family sold the paper in 2002.

He attended Arkansas State University and worked as a reporter and photographer at the Jonesboro Sun, Malvern Daily Record and Pine Bluff News.

In 1976, Bill Sadler joined the staff of KARK as a reporter/photographer assigned to Pine Bluff; then, in 1996, he went to work as a field producer for NBC News affiliates division. His first assignment covered TWA Flight 800, which exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after takeoff killing all 230 people on board.

He became a PIO in May 1997.

“Ten months into the job I was thrown to the wolves as lead spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, Craighead County Sheriff’s Department, Prosecuting Attorney and Juvenile Judge in the aftermath of the Westside School shooting,” Bill Sadler said. 

He is still at the job 25 years later.

Aaron Sadler (no relation to Bill) is a veteran communicator with experience in both public relations and newspaper reporting. He is currently Communications Director for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., and before that he led communications for five attorneys general in five states.

He is a staunch advocate for the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, having been a correspondent for Stephens Media in both Little Rock and Washington. He has also worked for the Arkansas Press Association and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

A Trumann native, Sadler is a graduate of Arkansas State University.

Cindy Murphy spent more than 11 years at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she covered city hall for four years and wrote for the family section in the popular “Forces of Nurture” column about the challenges, joys and misadventures of parenting; she was a website editor, then a special projects reporter for more than seven years, during which time she was responsible for writing award-winning, in-depth articles on a number of topics, including the Arkansas Crime Lab, cold cases, various city and state agencies and related legislative initiatives.

She conducted exhaustive investigations into fraud, corruption and public spending. In addition, Murphy specialized in human interest stories that required the ability to relate to victims, their families, and the agencies involved. 

After leaving the paper, Murphy served as communications director for Arkansas Attorney General’s Office under Dustin McDaniel, then as public affairs director and community engagement director under Leslie Rutledge. She worked briefly as public outreach division manager for Arkansas Energy and Environment before joining the Arkansas Department of Corrections in May 2020. 

Pamela Smith has been the Communications Director for the Little Rock School District, Arkansas’ second-largest district, since April 2012, where she is responsible for guiding internal and external communications, marketing, and public relations efforts.  Smith is a 30-year communications veteran who has enjoyed a career that spans public relations, radio/television broadcast, and print.  

Smith previously served as co-host of Good Morning Arkansas and Weekend Anchor for KATV.  Smith joined KATV’s staff in 1990 as a General Assignment Reporter and was soon promoted to Weekend Anchor, assuming the role of co-host of the station’s popular GMA program in August 2011.  Because she has a keen insight into media relations and is passionate about issues that impact the state’s youth and elderly populations, she is equally excited to now work on behalf of the 22,000 plus students in LRSD and brings a breadth of experience to her role as lead communicator.   In addition to her lengthy television career, Smith also served as on-air talent and news director for the top-rated Broadway Joe Radio Show in Little Rock for more than a decade and was a monthly contributor to AETN and AY Magazine.

Arkansas SPJ to host Sunshine Week events


Your Right to Know


10 a.m. Tuesday, March 12
CALS Cox “Bookstore” Building 3rd floor
120 River Market Ave., Little Rock

Join Arkansas SPJ and the state attorney general’s office for a Freedom of Information Act training, followed by a Q&A session with local journalists. Learn how to use FOIA to access public records and how reporters use the law every day. 

6 p.m. Thursday, March 14
Vino’s Brewpub
923 W. 7th St., Little Rock

Grab a brew and a slice while we test your knowledge of the state’s FOIA history and regulations with a fun twist, of course.

Police, Press and the Public
2 p.m. Saturday, March 16
CALS Main Library – Darragh Center
100 S. Rock St, Little Rock

This panel will feature members of local police departments and professional journalists on public information, transparency, crime, community policing 
and how media and police work with each other.
Officer Tommy Norman
Officer Norman works for the North Little Rock Police Department.
He promotes community policing through his Mission Give Foundation 
and far-reaching social media presence.

Lt. Michael Ford
Lt. Ford runs the Public Affairs Section of the Little Rock Police Department.
He is responsible for releasing police information and responding to FOIA requests.

Mitchell McCoy
McCoy has been a general assignment reporter at KARK.
He routinely covers crime in Little Rock.

Clara Turnage
Turnage is the crime reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
She often works with the paper’s breaking news team and interacts with police.


Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

These events are brought to you by the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. @ArkansasSPJ
$5 donation is suggested at each event to assist with printing costs of the 19th Edition of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook (set to be revised October 2019). A joint effort by the Arkansas Press Association, the Governor of Arkansas, the Attorney General of Arkansas, the Arkansas Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations, the Handbook is the state’s definitive and most up-to-date resource on the FOIA.

Reporting in the Midst of Tragedy


After the shooting deaths of five staff members at the Capital Gazette just over a month ago, reporter Chase Cook said “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper.”
Join the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9 for a panel discussion about covering the news during even the toughest of times with moderator Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.

Christina Muñoz, former anchor for KATV Channel 7
CORRECTION: Christina had just had her first baby in 2008 when her colleagues had to go on air with the news that their friend/co-worker Anne Pressly was murdered.
George Jared, author and investigative journalist
George has written two true-crime books and more news stories about WM3 than any other journalist.
Cathy Frye, former award-winning journalist
In 2013, Cathy became the subject of the kind of tragic stories she was known for writing after she and her husband, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photographer Rick McFarland, spent days lost in the Chihuahuan Desert.

*This event is free and open to the public

Arkansas SPJ will be selling T-shirts with proceeds to benefit the Capital Gazette Families Fund, which was set up by the newspaper’s owner to provide immediate relief and long-term recovery support to employees and their immediate family members affected by the tragedy.

Send questions and comments for discussion to @ArkansasSPJ #ReportingTragedy


Annual report: Look what ArkansasSPJ did in 2016-2017

Chapter name: Arkansas Pro
Region: 12
Name of person submitting report: Jennifer Ellis
Email of person submitting report:
When did you most recently conduct officer elections? 06-08-2016
Chapter president: Chelsea Boozer
Chapter vice president: Jennifer Ellis
Chapter secretary: Sarah Campbell
Chapter treasurer: Kelly Kissel
Additional board members: Sonny Albarado, Sonny Rhodes, Sarah Morris, Syd Hayman, Iveta Imre, Rob Moritz, Bobby Ampezzan
How many programs and projects did you complete between 5/1/2016 and 4/30/2017? 11
Was your chapter represented at Excellence in Journalism 2016? Yes
If yes, who represented your chapter? Chelsea Boozer, Kelly Kissel, Sonny Albarado, Jennifer Ellis, Sarah Campbell, Syd Hayman
Was your chapter represented at your regional conference? Yes
If yes, who represented your chapter? Kelly Kissel, Sonny Albarado
What is the name ofyour financial institution? Arvest Bank, Little Rock, Arkansas
What is the total balance of your account(s) as of April 30, 2017? $729.48
Reviewer #1 name and email: Board member Calton “Sonny” Rhodes,
Reviewer #2 name and email: Board member Sonny Albarado,
Reviewer #3 name and email: Chapter President Chelsea Boozer,
Did your chapter file a 990? No
If yes, are you submitting a copy of your 990 with this report? No
Are you submitting copies of bank statements with this report? Yes
Are you submitting copies of your bylaws with this report? Yes
If yes to any of the above, please use the “Upload File(s)” button to the right to upload your 990, bank statements and/or bylaws. Arkansas Pro SPJ Bank Statements.pdf

Arkansas Pro SPJ Bylaws.pdf

YOUR PROGRAM OF THE YEAR: What was your signature effort this fiscal year? What was the event that drew the biggest audience and the most attention? #BlackLivesMatter in the Media

This event — which had about 400 people in attendance — was sponsored by the SPJ Arkansas Pro Chapter and the National Park Service/Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, in partnership with the Philander Smith College chapters of Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta.

The keynote address was by Shaun King, a senior justice writer for New York Daily News and a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement.

King’s talk was followed by a panel discussion on how the Black Lives Matter movement has been covered in national, regional and local media. The panel was moderated by Little Rock’s Malik Saafir, president and founder of the Janus Institute for Justice.

The panelists included Ashley Yates of the the St. Louis area, who was an early on-the-ground organizer in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown; Richard Thompson of Memphis, the founder and lead writer of Mediaverse, an online publication that covers local media, as well as past president of the Memphis Association of Black Journalists; Rae Nelson, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Little Rock chapter; and Shahidah Jones is a represenative of the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter.

SPJ OUTREACH: What did your chapter do to train or engage the public? We’re looking for anything you did to teach non-journalists about journalism. Campaign Finance and Transparency

This Sunshine Week event hosted by the SPJ Arkansas Pro Chapter and Arkansas Public Media drew about 40 people. Many were not journalists, but were lawyers or citizens interested in the legislative process. We had a discussion on proposed FOIA exemptions and journalists got the chance to tell lawmakers face-to-face how FOIA laws help the public and how their proposed exemptions were harmful.

Local journalist Benji Hardy moderated the discussion, which included talks by Reps. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, and Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, who each sponsored bills to make Arkansas elections and government more transparent, and Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, who believes in protecting the privacy of political speech through private organizations, and Alicia Bannon, who leads the Brennan Center’s fair courts work and will discuss dark money in judicial elections.

STUDENT OUTREACH: Did your chapter present sessions at scholastic press association conferences or college media conventions? Did you visit high school or college classes as guest lecturers? Our chapter has made an effort to reach out to the local colleges’ student chapters. We partnered with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s SPJ chapter on our Black Lives Matters event and our Women in the Media event. The school’s film club also partnered with us to film one of the events. Our chapter president has spoken to the college’s student newspaper and SPJ chapter. We have three professors on our SPJ Arkansas Pro board, so they keep in contact with the student groups.
SCHOLARSHIPS: Did your chapter offer high school and/or college scholarships to students pursuing a career in journalism? We funded one $1,000 scholarship to a college student pursuing a career in journalism.
ETHICS: Did your chapter teach journalism ethics to journalists or the public in your service area? Law School for Communicators

This event sponsored by the SPJ Arkansas Pro Chapter, the Arkansas Press Association and the Public Relations Society of America included a full day of training and lunch with a $25 registration fee for members of the sponsoring organizations and $40 fee for non-members. About 50 people attended. The professional development focused on legal issues that affect the practice of public relations and journalism. The keynote address was by West Memphis 3 attorney Blake Hendrix on “What Attorneys wish Communicators Understood about the Law” and sessions included Understanding & Covering Civil, Criminal Cases; HIPPA; Photography Law & Fair Use; Free Speech & Employment Law; FOIA Rules & Procedures; and Working with Legal Teams in Crisis.

FOI: Did you offer FOI programs? Did you partner with other organizations to defend press freedom in your service area? Did you lobby or protest for FOI? Our Campaign Finance and Transparency event focused on proposed FOIA exemptions that were currently in the legislative process. Our SPJ chapter also works with the local Arkansas Press Association, which has an FOI Coalition. Several of our SPJ board members serve on the Coalition, which lobbies against FOIA exemptions. We also successfully lobbied for the creation of a new legislative committee that would review any proposed changes to the FOIA in future sessions before the bills are allowed to go to committee or the floor. The SPJ Arkansas Pro chapter will have a representative on that committee. We also revived our chapter’s FOIA committee this year, which is off to a great start.

We also sponsored the SPJ AFTER DEADLINE mixer this year, which had a discussion focus on FOI.

DIVERSITY: Did you teach diversity to journalists or partner with diversity media groups to promote the concept? We sponsored two diversity programs including Journalism and Islam: Halal Food for Thought and Women in the Media.

About 60 people attended Journalism and Islam: Halal Food for Thought. At the event we offered a free halal dinner and frank discussion about how Muslims are covered in the news at home and abroad. When should reporters mention the faith of a source? Are there stories that aren’t being covered? What terms should be avoided and more. 

Imam Mahmoud Al-Denawy Hassanein of the Islamic Center of Little Rock gave us a tour of the mosque and several of the center’s members shared information about Islam and their thoughts on coverage of Muslims in the media. Participants had the chance to ask questions and mingle with members of the center. 

Our hope was that we would learn from each other, and that we come away with a better understanding of how to cover the Muslim community.

About 40 people attended our Women in the Media event. The SPJ Arkansas Pro Chapter partnered with Arkansas Press Women to present a Women in the Media panel Saturday, March 11, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus. The event included four panelists and one moderator, all women, who shared their various experiences working in print, broadcast and radio. 

The panelists were Gwen Mortiz, editor of Arkansas Business; Raven Richard, weather anchor and reporter at THV11, a CBS affiliate; Jill Bleed, breaking news reporter at the Associated Press; and Ibby Caputo, who provided the keynote presentation on pay and whose work has aired on NPR and appeared on Mariel Ruiz, meteorologist at THV11, moderated the panel.

Topics of discussion for the panelists included which roles in media feel closed to young women, instances when gender was blatantly an issue in the newsroom and what advantages women may have in the newsroom.

SPJ SUPPORT: Did your chapter help judge the Mark of Excellence or Sigma Delta Chi awards? What about regional and other chapters’ awards? Contests from other organizations? Yes and we fund our own regional awards program – the Diamond Journalism Awards – which honor journalism excellence in Arkansas (the Diamond State) and bordering media markets in West Tennessee, East Oklahoma, South Missouri and North Louisiana.

We also help several other groups judge their contests, including 2017 Heart of America Awards by the Kansas City Press Club, the Sunshine State Awards, SPJ Green Eyeshade Awards and contests in Texas.

MEMBERSHIP: How many members did you gain or lose this fiscal year? What specific actions did you take to retain or recruit members? Any innovative efforts? We currently have 34 members as of May 17, but we usually gain members at our annual mixer in June when we have a membership table set up and tell people about our events. We have eliminated local chapter dues in an effort to make joining more enticing.

We also hosted the SPJ After Deadline mixers.

COMMUNICATION: What did your chapter do to keep members informed about chapter activities? Do you publish a newsletter? Communicate via an email string? Can you provide links to a chapter Web site(s), Facebook page, Twitter account, or other ways you reach members? We do monthly email blasts announcing our events as well as send email reminders about the event the week or day before the event. We have an active Facebook page and create event pages. We also have a Twitter account and website.

Our website is:

Twitter: @ArkansasSPJ


FUNDRAISING: Did your chapter conduct any fundraising activities this year? Explain your efforts and the results. We use proceeds, about $5,000 annually, from our $100,000 investment account to fund our programs and scholarships.
Did your chapter complete any other activities during the year not explained above? Do any of the above activities require elaboration? If desired please provide no more than 250 additional words to support your annual report. Another event the Arkansas Pro Chapter hosted was Math for Journalists. Let’s face it: 80 percent of journalists are bad at math and the other half are good at it. There were about 40 people who attended this lunchtime refresher. The topics presented by Kelly P. Kissel included

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics; Outliers; Percentage vs. Percentage Point – There is a difference; Household Math Tricks (Try This At Home); and Beware The Decimal. Kissel has been Arkansas news editor for The Associated Press since 1994 and Oklahoma news editor since 2009. He’s had to deal with a lot of numbers, including Election Day vote counts, government budgets, political polling and the checkbook for the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.