By editorial board • 

Small-town newpaper’s Pulitzer  celebrated by peers everywhere

As if 21st century journalism weren’t challenging enough already, community newspapers frequently have to battle being lumped in with national web, broadcast and print outlets.

As President Trump spews vitriol toward the media, his followers consider all elements of the media the same. It’s like learning of ill acts in the National Football League and taking to task the high school football team.

So it’s with pride and admiration that we discovered this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing was going to a newsroom even smaller than ours.

The 3,000-circulation, bi-weekly Storm Lake Times in Iowa beat out two co-finalists, The Wall Street Journal and Houston Chronicle.

The jovial character of winning writer Art Cullen, who serves as the paper’s editor, makes the story all that much better. He celebrated with his co-publisher brother, John, reporter son, Tom, and photographer wife, Dolores.

Cullen earned the most prestigious award in journalism for a series of editorials. The prize committee said, “Fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing, (they) successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

The issue at hand was legislation redirecting voter-approved school infrastructure funding to restoration of waterways fouled with fertlizer from ag industry giants.
“The agri-industrial community has tried to convince us it will take $6 billion or $10 billion or $15 billion to protect Iowa’s surface water from nitrate pollution. It scares the bejeebers out of taxpayers, especially in defendant counties,” the paper told its readers.

“The truth is that it won’t take $6 billion. It will take judicious stewardship of what the good Lord gave us, something more than chasing another 10 bushels on a 200-bushel corn yield for a commodity that has declined in real value since the Civil War.”

Like most papers its size, The Storm Lake Times fills its pages with the stuff of community journalism — recaps of local government meetings, reports from the classroom and so on.

To be sure, community papers aren’t afraid to tackle complex issues or take unpopular positions when they feel such actions are in the best interest of their readers. But challenging agribusiness giants from the rural Iowa heartland requires a special brand of courage, not to mention a very sturdy hide.
Cullen and his crew have scored one for all the little guys in an industry often defined solely by those hogging the national limelight.

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