Brenda Blagg, an award-winning Arkansas journalist, syndicated columnist, and a longtime member of Arkansas Press Women, died Dec. 14, 2022, in Fayetteville. She was 75.
Blagg served in various leadership roles for the organization, including APW president. She also was for many years APW’s representative in a state coalition aimed at advocating for government transparency and protecting the state’s Freedom of Information Act. She was a key leader of the Freedom of Information Arkansas Project in 1999, which sent reporters and other volunteers to government offices in all 75 Arkansas counties.
“What stands out most vividly about Brenda was her commitment to Arkansas’ sunshine law,” said Mary Hightower, also a former APW president and chief communications officer for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “There were few people who were so steadfast in its defense or keen to ensure everyone understood its power to help the public. Her toughness on the FOIA front was balanced by her genuine kindness and concern for others. She will be missed.”
Blagg, from Newport, was a graduate of the University of Arkansas, serving as editor of the UA Traveler, the student newspaper, and earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She was the student newspaper editor when the Traveler’s campus home, Hill Hall, caught on fire. In the wake of the fire’s destruction, she marshaled forces and led the charge to produce a newspaper issue that was distributed on campus the next day. More of the story of the staff’s perseverance is captured in the documentary “If This Walk Could Talk.” Larry Foley’s interview with Blagg and Skip Rutherford is available at about the 52-minute mark at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rnf8B1xBrY
Blagg is also remembered for her sense of humor clearly displayed as a writer/actress in sketch comedy routines that were a part of the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show. One of her creations was that of Letitia Mae Stufflebeam (Aunt Titty), in which she portrayed a rural Arkansas woman commenting on the events of the day with several malapropisms sprinkled in. Her partner in the act was Elmer, who wore denim overalls, held a pitchfork, and remained silent during the bit, even as Letitia would frequently inquire, “Ain’t that right, Elmer?” Video from a 2010 skit providing commentary on the financial crisis is available at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYQFd7bhThw&t=3s
The veteran journalist served as a mentor to many colleagues, students and younger professionals.
“Brenda was incredibly talented in so many ways, but the quality that stood out to me was that she was always willing to help and to mentor,” recalls Debbie Miller, who worked with Blagg at the Morning News and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “I learned so much from her about journalism and writing in general. She made me a better journalist and a better person.”
Blagg worked as a government and political reporter for the Springdale News and other iterations of the paper and then for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after a merger in 2009. Her syndicated column, “Between the Lines,” ran in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and newspapers statewide from 1979 until October of 2022, reportedly making it one of the longest-running weekly columns in the state’s history. She authored the book, “Political Magic: The Travels, Trials and Triumphs of the Clintons’ Arkansas Travelers.” In 2021, Blagg was chosen for the inaugural class of the Great Plains Journalism Hall of Fame. Among other honors, Blagg received the Arkansas Press Association Golden 50 award, the APA Freedom of Information Award, and the Ernie Deane Award from the University of Arkansas. She was inducted into the Lemke Journalism Alumni Society Hall of Fame in 2011. Blagg also was a frequent winner in the annual Arkansas Press Women professional communications contest, and in 1989, was the national sweepstakes winner in the National Federation of Press Women’s contest.
Family and friends desiring to honor Blagg’s memory have asked about creating a scholarship at the University of Arkansas. Those interested in donating can send a check payable to the University of Arkansas Foundation with the notation of Brenda Blagg Journalism Scholarship in the memo line. This is the mailing address:
School of Journalism and Strategic Media
205 Kimpel Hall
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Those with additional questions may email Professor Larry Foley, chair of the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at firstname.lastname@example.org.