Community journalism at its best

Published May 18, 2017 at 4:00pm

He didn’t mince words, and those words have landed the editor at a small Iowa newspaper the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, putting him in the company of winners from the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Art Cullen, the winning editorial writer from the Storm Lake Times, caught the notice of many media and their followers for being the little guy who made the big time. His prize was tied to opinion pieces he wrote for the 3,000-circulation newspaper that helped unveil the corporate donors behind a lawsuit over nitrate pollution in local rivers. The topic is a familiar one in farming country, and taking on big ag as Cullen did is not for the faint of heart.

Aside from prompting journalists who work at small newspapers to stand up taller, Cullen’s award stresses the crucial importance of local journalism. His editorial writing was based on impressive expertise that came from lots of solid reporting.

It is the public that suffers if reporters aren’t poring over data, attending meetings, and combing through court documents. Not knowing what’s going on in your community because no one is paying attention or bothering to dig below the surface hurts society in general on a number of levels, including economic.

Community newspapers the size of Storm Lake’s don’t have a corps of investigative reporters who can spend a year on one topic. But they know their communities and the serious publications, no matter what their size, aren’t afraid to shed light on the good, the bad and the ugly.