Art Cullen

Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, is shown at the newspaper in this 2012 file photo. Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing after Buena Vista County was sued over farm pollution. 

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 this week 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.

Years ago when Blue Earth County was filling its landfill at an alarming rate because its low fees attracted haulers from elsewhere, this newspaper covered the issue and the practice stopped. When the county fell behind on updating its property assessments and expensive houses weren't on the tax roll, this newspaper wrote about it and the problem received attention.

When the project to improve Highway 14 from North Mankato to Nicollet was passed over repeatedly because government officials argued it wasn't a high priority, this newspaper challenged those assumptions and proved the stretch was one of the most dangerous highways in the state. The report drew notice and legislators approved the Corridors of Commerce program; the $40 million project from North Mankato to Nicollet received corridor program funding.

Community newspapers the size of Storm Lake's or Mankato'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.

This editorial appeared in the April 14 edition of the The Free Press of Mankato (Minnesota).

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