'Storm Lake' At Orpheum Theater Monday
CHATHAM – Local journalism is dying, the conventional wisdom goes. More and more community newspapers are closing or getting bought out by hedge funds that strip them of their assets and leave them a shell of their former selves.
But there are exceptions. Such as The Cape Cod Chronicle, and The Storm Lake Times.
Next Monday, Nov. 8, The Chronicle will sponsor a screening of a new documentary about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Storm Lake Times which details the 3,000-circulation, twice-weekly Storm Lake, Iowa newspaper's effort to preserve both itself and its community.
The documentary will be shown free of charge at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, beginning at 7 p.m. It will be followed by a discussion and question and answer session with members of The Chronicle staff.
At first blush, the two newspapers – The Storm Lake Times and The Cape Cod Chronicle – couldn't be more different. The Chronicle covers three well-off seaside communities on Cape Cod and has more than twice the circulation of The Times. In Storm Lake, Big Agriculture is the chief industry, and immigrants looking for work make up a large share of the community's population. But the two newspapers share a dedication to covering their communities and a fierce independent streak that relies more on the energy, dedication and talent of its staffs than the outside direction of corporate owners.
“We're both family owned, independent newspapers working hard to not only provide local news to our readers but also stay afloat in a challenging economic environment,” said Chronicle publisher Henry C. Hyora.
Times editor Art Cullen won the Pulitzer Price in 2017 in Editorial Writing for a series of editorials about agricultural corporate money being used by a public utility to fight a federal lawsuit over nitrogen pollution of drinking water. The award recognized the power of local journalism and its impact on the community. Cullen's book, “Storm Lake: Change, Resilience, and Hope in America's Heartland,” tells the story of the newspaper and the conspiracy he uncovered that led to the Pulitzer.
Cullen heads a 10-person team at The Times that includes his 27-year-old son Tom, his wife Delores, his brother John – the publisher – and John's wife Mary. The film details the paper's travails from March 2019, when Cullen moderated the first multi-candidate Democratic event of the 2020 election, to mid-2020, when the region became a COVID-19 hotspot focused on its meat packing plants and the pandemic threatened the continued operation of the newspaper.
Director and director of photography Jerry Risius said Cullen's tenacity drew him to the story. “If Art's writing had earned him a Pulitzer, he must have something important to say,” Risius said in a press release. “I started reading his paper and immediately felt in sync with its Iowan voice: this at a time when local perspectives are seldom heard. Once I started to spend time with Art, I came to appreciate not only his own challenges as a newspaperman, but those of his tight-knit family.”
After the screening, Chronicle editor Tim Wood and staff members will talk about their experience working on an independent weekly newspaper and take questions from the audience.