The State of The Times



Every January since we founded The Storm Lake Times in 1990, we have presented a report on our stewardship of this community newspaper.

We do this because we feel a newspaper, while a privately owned business, has a special responsibility to the people because of the unique protections granted to the press by the Founders of this nation in the First Amendment to our Constitution.

It is with special pride this year that I give this report, because editor Art Cullen and The Times were awarded journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, in a ceremony in May. The country editor from rural Iowa stood on the stage in New York City with fellow honorees from papers like The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. The Storm Lake Times, with a circulation of about 3,000, is one of the smallest newspapers to win in the 101-year history of the Pulitzers.

Art received the award for, in the words of the judges, “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing.” It’s a reason why Art’s voice is heard in Des Moines all the way to Washington, D.C., and he has become one of the most influential journalists in the state.

It’s validation for what we have believed in the 29 years we have published this newspaper: that quality journalism can be practiced throughout America, in cities large and small, if there is a commitment to doing it right.

The award not only brought honor to Art and The Times, it also brought worldwide recognition to the community we call home. It’s the kind of favorable publicity that money can’t buy. Storm Lake has been the subject of favorable stories from newspapers from New York to Los Angeles to Tokyo, in television reports from Japan to Australia, and from radio reports as far away as Ireland. Because of The Storm Lake Times reputation, The New York Times featured The City Beautiful on its front page, while television journalist Katie Couric came here last fall to report how our remarkable community is growing with diversity, in a documentary special that will air this spring on National Geographic Channel.

Art shares this great achievement with the entire staff of The Times, whose cheerful work and loyalty have made this office at the corner of Geneseo and West Railroad Streets a great place to do great work.

In a time in which most newspapers are challenged by falling circulation, The Storm Lake Times was able to grow our circulation by 2.5% in the past year and widen our circulation lead over all other newspapers in Buena Vista County. The Storm Lake Times has nearly 70% more readers than our closest competitor, with more Buena Vista Countians reading The Times each week than all other newspapers combined.

The Times, like all newspapers, faces challenges. It’s harder to sell advertising in a small community because of the shrinkage of the retail base. When The Times began publishing 28 years ago, there were five drug stores, a couple men’s clothing stores, and more than a dozen farm supply stores that enabled us to publish a 16 to 24 page monthly FarmTimes. With consolidation in the ag industry, nearly all of those independent farm businesses have closed. The pharmacies have consolidated into two chains and much of the other retail business has been taken over by Walmart. Hog and turkey production are consolidated, the local cattle industry is a fraction of what it was 30 years ago and dairy, once common in Buena Vista County, is now extinct. Coupled with that is the population loss in rural areas as young people leave the farms of Northwest Iowa for cities. Fewer families mean fewer subscribers. Fortunately, our circulation base remains strong and we reach a large proportion of readers in the area with paid circulation that’s guaranteed to be read.

Newspapers aren’t alone in catching eyeballs. Radio and television face similar challenges. Three television networks have morphed into hundreds of cable channels plus internet streaming. Local radio must contend with commercial-free satellite service, streaming music and podcasts.

In a year in which the press is being attacked for telling the truth, The Times has remained steadfast in printing what we believe is right. Too many people nowadays only want to read what they agree with, refusing to open their eyes to the wider world. It’s fashionable by some to label truth as “fake news.”

Denying facts is not a new concept. President Harry Truman faced a similar problem during the 1948 presidential campaign. During a speech criticizing his opponents in Harrisburg, Ill., a supporter yelled, “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” Truman replied, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s Hell!”

Sometimes the truth is hard to determine. That’s why in our news stories we try to present both sides of the argument and let the readers come to the conclusion after studying all the facts. But the editorial page is a different matter. There we review the facts and suggest remedies for the problems facing our society in Northwest Iowa. That’s why the Pulitzer Prize judges singled out Art and The Storm Lake Times.

We realize that not everyone will agree with all of our opinions, so we welcome opinions that challenge our thinking. What other business welcomes criticism? We print all Letters to the Editor — as many as 200 per year — as long as they are signed and not libelous or obscene. We even published a lengthy criticism from a county supervisor who felt we were undeserving of the Pulitzer.

In May 2016 we bid a sad goodbye to our mighty old Harris newspaper press. It was getting old and so were the people who were operating it. We were probably the smallest newspaper in the state that still operated its own press, and we realized that it was time to change. We hesitated because we had we wanted to be in complete control of our quality. We prided ourselves in having the best-looking newspaper in the state, because Art and pressman Jim Robinson took so much pride in the finished product. Keeping the 45-year-old press going took a lot of money and effort, as well as a lot of aspirin for the headaches it caused. We found worthy successors to our printing operation in the folks up at White Wolf Web in Sheldon, who have maintained the quality standards we expect. And while they print dozens of other newspapers, they treat The Storm Lake Times as if it’s their only project. We appreciate them.

We could not produce this newspaper without all the great work of our newspaper family: Mary, Dolores, Jon, Jamie, Whitney, Tom, Jen, Jennifer and, of course, Mabel the News Hound, our four-legged ambassador of good will who makes friends everywhere she goes. She even got her picture in the Los Angeles Times last April!

Winning the Pulitzer Prize is the capstone of a lifetime in journalism. While we don’t seek awards, they are nice affirmations that our work means something. It’s gratifying to know that our work finds its way as clippings on refrigerators across four counties, in scrapbooks at high school graduations, in memorial books celebrating the lives of loved ones at their funerals. Newspapers occupy a unique role in preserving our memories.

More significant, though, is our work to make lives better for the people of our community. We will continue to fight for a clean lake, a vibrant economy, good schools, public safety, freedom from fear and freedom from want. We will continue to be a voice for the parents, the children, the farmers, the working men and women, the business people — all the men and women who make our community “The City Beautiful.”