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Joe Sonka joins Louisville Public Media, Kentucky Public Radio Network, to cover state politics

Joe Sonka stands in alley with blue sidewalk, colorful wall on left, brick wall on right.
J. Tyler Franklin
Joe Sonka has joined the Kentucky Public Radio network as the enterprise statehouse reporter.

The Kentucky Public Radio Network (KPR), a collaborative of public media outlets in the bluegrass state, has hired veteran political journalist Joe Sonka as its first enterprise political reporter.

Joe comes to KPR from the Louisville Courier Journal, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s controversial pardons on his way out of office in 2019.

Joe is a Lexington native and attended Transylvania University and University of Kentucky. He currently lives in Louisville and has covered Frankfort for more than a decade.

In his new role, Joe will explain relevant issues to everyday Kentuckians, hold public officials and institutions accountable and take a longer view of policy decisions.

The new position is part of an expansion of KPR’s statehouse team supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is investing $2.25 million in seven states to enhance state government coverage and reach new audiences through in-depth reporting, investigations and innovative content.

The KPR Network includes Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKYU-Bowling Green, WKMS-Murray and WVXU-Cincinnati and reaches all 120 Kentucky counties.

As a result of this investment, KPR will have four dedicated journalists covering what goes on in Frankfort.

Get to know Joe:

How’d you get into covering Kentucky politics?

I broke into this field during the heyday of the “blogging” era, when anybody could create their own free website and write about whatever they wanted. As a Lexington-raised political junkie – inherited from my MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour-watching dad – with a political science degree, the topic I chose was Kentucky politics. My site gained enough of an audience that I was offered a job in 2011 covering city and state politics for LEO Weekly in Louisville. In 2019, I was hired to be a part of the Louisville Courier Journal’s politics team, eventually taking over their statehouse reporter position after Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame inductee Tom Loftus retired.

What excites you about working in public media?

I’m very impressed with the team that has been built by Kentucky Public Radio and Louisville Public Media, and I’m looking forward to joining them in pursuing their mission of shining a light on Kentucky government officials, agencies and policies. I am also thrilled to produce news that is free and accessible to all audiences of the state, whether they are reading online or listening on the radio.

What’s it like being a Cayuts (UK Wildcats) fan living in Louisville?

Look, I’m going to say this as nicely as possible – for the past decade, it’s been pretty easy. I have to assume the University of Louisville basketball program will eventually turn this slide around – it looks like Brohm has on the football side – but for now these bragging rights are pretty lopsided on the blue side.

Favorite book you read this year?

The best book I read this year is an old one: What it Takes: The Way to the White House – Richard Ben Cramer's meticulously reported book (it’s over 1,000 pages, folks) on the 1988 presidential election that took him four years to write. Someone has to be a little “off” to begin with if they think they should be the most powerful elected official on Earth, and what Cramer managed to do was get inside the heads of six of the top candidates for the office that year and paint a picture of what makes them tick, their character strengths and weaknesses, and how they grew to be so full of themselves. From Gary Hart’s “Monkey Business” to George Bush’s “wimp factor,” the book is vital for an understanding of each man (including a young fella named Joe Biden) and what it’s like to run for president.


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