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Neighbors Growing Together | May 24, 2018

A well-deserved honor

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News | Apr 28, 2017

A friend and former co-worker of mine — Art Cullen — recently won a Pulitzer prize.

The oddity in the win is that he doesn’t work for some large newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune or the New York Times. He works at the same place he has for a quarter of a century or so — The Storm Lake Times.

If this were sports, his win might rank as the upset of the season because the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle were the other two finalists.

Not mentioned in the article was that his brother, John, another friend and co-worker at one time, also won a Pulitzer in photography. That’s keeping the Pulitzers in the family.

Probably the most refreshing aspect of Cullen winning the Pulitzer is that it showed small newspapers (The Times has circulation of about 3,000, probably a one hundredth of the two other semi-finalists) can compete and triumph over the big boys.

Good newspapers and writers aren’t confined to big cities.

Cullen won in editorial writing, submitting a series of editorials concerning the Des Moines Waterworks’ lawsuit against farmers in Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties over water-quality issues. The plaintiff claimed that chemical and nitrate runoff from farm fields in northwest Iowa was polluting water in the Des Moines River, one of the City of Des Moines water sources.

I worked with the Cullens at the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance, a twin-weekly in Algona. The newspaper at that time was regarded the best in Iowa. Another photographer on staff had been a photographer for National Geographic magazine.

Since that time my contact with Cullen has been sporadic, partly due to my relocation twice to southeast Iowa. We had a few conversations after I criss-crossed the state back to northwest Iowa but have only had one conversation since returning to southeast Iowa.

The Cullen brothers own the Times, a start-up publication by John in their hometown. From what I’ve gleaned from the story on the Pulitzer win, it is a family newspaper. Art’s wife and son work at the Times as well.

What wasn’t related in the article is that besides being the editor, Art also is the pressman, or at least was several years ago.

Neither the win nor his reaction to it surprises me.

Art never let it bother him for a moment if his writings irritated people. In fact, I think he was more happy when they did. It wasn’t that his stories weren’t accurate, it was that he was not overly diplomatic in his prose.

Secondly, he liked to push the envelope and fortunately, worked in places where he could do so. Being a co-owner of a newspaper affords you much more latitude than that of a rookie reporter.

It is obvious he has mellowed somewhat over the years. According to the published reports on the Pulitzer win, he fairly much took the honor in stride. In one story, he said he doesn’t enter state or national newspaper contests because the awards don’t have that deep of a meaning.

This is from a guy who used to spend hours studying his articles after the newspaper was printed.

But the guy I knew in his 20s is pushing 60, a time when most of us mellow. Obviously that mellowness hasn’t yet extended to his editorial writing.

One of his comments hit home — the true meaning of community journalism. “The Pulitzer Prize is nice. It recognizes good work and vindicates us to a jury of our peers,” he said. “What matters to our readers is that we are being honest with them and giving them the news they need.”

I’m happy for him. He has worked long and hard in the trenches and received due recognition for his top-notch reporting.

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