Storm Lake Times staff work to keep the small town newspaper alive

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STORM LAKE, Iowa (NBC News) – As the old saying goes: News travels fast in a small town. But these days, many small towns in America are losing an important piece of this news, and the Storm Lake Times is trying to avoid that ending.

“We want to tell accurate stories and be honest,” said Art Cullen.

Art is the editor of the Iowa Storm Lake Times. Its edition is 3,300 copies. And Art’s brother, John, is the publisher.

“We always wanted the newspaper to be a mirror of the community,” said John Cullen.

They have worked together at the newspaper since the 1970s. Both have stopped receiving salaries to keep their newspapers alive.

“I went to Social Security early in May,” Art said.

Meaning Art works for free.

“Sort of, yeah, you know? But the benefits are good. I get health insurance and a free membership,” Art said.

Art is fun, but journalism is serious business here. Her son Tom is a journalist. his wife Delores writes articles. And his editorials have won him a Pulitzer Prize, but it certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

“I have paychecks, you know, from years ago that I never cashed,” Art said.

Some would think of looking out across Iowa’s endless green fields if any news gets here. But the state has one of the dirtiest waters in the country and its packaging factories were hotbeds of the spread of COVID.

“I take this paper at random and it’s dated June 10, 2020. And it says, ‘With four dead, expert says BV is not near peak’ in the pandemic. The Covid pandemic. People don’t just wouldn’t know people were dying here, ”Art said.

BV is the county of Buena Vista. The Times is his proud watchdog. But on a short financial leash.

“You know, we’re three hours away from anywhere. So that’s what – that’s what you’d lose. And you’d lose the high school athletic scores. And you’d lose the new baby photos. And you’d lose the new baby photos. –and- – engagement photos. And – obituaries, ”Art said.

Newspapers like the Storm Lake Times are the bond that unites small towns. And while some of what they cover may seem odd. What else they cover has consequences.

Where there is a wasteland of information, i.e. no local newspaper, tax rates tend to rise. Corruption cases tend to increase. Even crime is on the rise, ”said Art. “Because there is a certain shame that a local newspaper does when you are arrested for something. “

Many small towns in Iowa bear little resemblance to their portrayal in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man”. Immigrants have come here by the thousands. Attracted by jobs in packaging plants. Lots of Hispanics.

“Denison is 50% Latino now,” said Lorena Lopez.

Lorena Lopez runs La Prenza, a free bimonthly newspaper.

“La Prensa is the only newspaper in Spanish. It is the only newspaper they need, able to read it in their own language,” Lopez said.

In 15 years of existence, La Prensa has acquired a precious credibility. In an age of disinformation and disinformation.

“Because even when they read it on Facebook, they have to confirm it, call La Prensa, because we know that we are always as a journalist who will seek the truth and will inform people, you know, with facts, with the truth, ”Lopez said.

But Covid crushed La Prensa’s advertising sales. Same as Storm Lake Times.

“It’s bad enough. You know, we lost money in the first quarter. We lost money throughout the pandemic. Without the PPP, we would have closed,” Lopez said.

Cullen and his colleagues took to the road to ask for funds to build foundation support for their papers. This may be the only way for them to continue to serve.

“Well, someone has to tell the story of Storm Lake. We always wanted the newspaper to be a mirror of the community. Bad things happen here, just like there are bad things happening everywhere.” , said Art. “But there are a lot more good things, and we have to tell people that, we have to remind people in the community, that this is really a great place to live. And we want to tell the world about it.


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