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A Conversation with the Cullens: Storm Lake’s Own Pulitzer Prize Winners

Dee Friesen, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, is the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for Editorial Writing. He was awarded the honor for a series of ten editorials published in 2016 following the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties. On Sept. 28, Art Cullen was joined by John and Tom Cullen for an ACES event on campus. John Cullen is Art’s brother and the publisher of the Storm Lake Times. Art’s son, Tom Cullen, is a reporter for The Times and contributed to the award-winning pieces through his news reporting. BVU senior  Madeleine McCormick moderated the conversation.  

The Cullens covered many topics related to journalism with students, faculty, and community members during the one-hour event. McCormick started the conversation by asking the three to discuss the role of a community newspaper and challenges they face.

“Our operating principle, and I think it’s true for most community papers, is we’re just a mirror of the community and a marketplace of ideas. We just record what’s going on in the community, good or bad, and we comment about those situations, good or bad,” said John Cullen.

Tom Cullen noted that 15-35-year-old individuals rarely grab a physical newspaper.

“People get their news on Facebook. Not a lot of people think about picking up a paper,” Tom said.

The Cullens also emphasize that the media can be a powerful tool for change, or at least a conversation starter. Art Cullen discussed how the Pulitzer Prize winning articles may have initiated dialog in the Storm Lake community.

“I’m not sure if we influenced public opinion, frankly, because everybody has an opinion,” said Art Cullen. “The function of an editorial is to advocate and to challenge. And I don’t know if you necessarily change the world, but at least you can get people to stop and think about it.”

Journalists across multiple mediums have been scrutinized and heavily criticized for their work lately. John and Art Cullen commented on how journalists should handle such pushback. The answer? Integrity.

“We’re no good if we don’t have our integrity. That’s all a newspaper has to sell. We have no other product besides our best efforts to get at the truth, despite what people may say about fake news or anything else. We are actually in search of the truth,” said John Cullen. “We try to gather the facts as best we can and present them as best we can and hope that the truth comes from that.”

To end the conversation, John Cullen encouraged young professionals in pursuit of a journalism job.

“You can make a difference in your community,” he said.

See more information about the Pulitzer Prize here.

Dee Friesen
John, Art, and Tom Cullen

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A Conversation with the Cullens: Storm Lake’s Own Pulitzer Prize Winners