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Debate: Those Pulitzer winners and me ...

Published April 11, 2017 5:21 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

[Video: The Announcement. Tribune bit at about 6:30. Storm Lake Times part at 7:58.]

I am among those who are deliriously happy for the team of editors, reporters and photographers who did the hard, long and often gut-wrenching work that led to Monday's awarding of the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting to The Salt Lake Tribune.



I only bask in their glory. I did exactly none of the work. About the only things I have to do with their award is that I know these folks, I got to drink some of their sparkling wine and — accidentally, I assure you — photobombed the picture of the staff that ran on the front page of today's paper. Standing in, I guess, for the ghost of Joseph Pulitzer. (We are both bearded, liberal newspapermen. And I've been to St. Louis a few times.)

Almost as fun for me was the news that this year's Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing went to someone I don't know but sort of used to be.

The editorial writing prize is the one that often goes to some of the smaller newspapers. That's because it doesn't depend on having an investigative staff or a network of worldwide bureaus. It's about the writing, pure and simple.

Or, as the Pulitzer Board itself puts it every year. "For distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction..."

This year that prize went to Art Cullen, a jack of all journalistic trades at The Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa, "For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa."

Like the articles that won the Tribune its prize, Cullen's point was to speak truth to, and about, power. He called out the state's agribusiness giants for secretly funneling money to local governments, money used to fight off the downstream Des Moines Water Works and others who were trying to halt the continuing excess of agricultural chemicals and other runoff.

Cullen and his family run the twice-weekly paper with a circulation of 3,000. They do everything. Report. Edit. Take pictures. Lay out and proof pages. And, before they contracted that out to another publisher, run the press.

I empathize. I spent a few years reporting, writing editorials and, on Friday nights, helping to pull the newspapers off the press, for newspapers almost as small in Kansas. At one of the larger of them, I was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1998. The winner that year ran a neighborhood weekly in the Riverdale area of New York City, and the other finalist wrote for the Colorado Daily in Boulder.

The three of us did a panel discussion a few months later and talked about how, as writers for small newspapers, we had both the burden and pleasure of saying whatever we wanted without having to sit through editorial board meetings or win consensus from upper management.

As one observant writer put it that day, we had room but no board.

— Salt Lake Tribune wins Pulitzer for campus rape coverage, praises victims for sharing their stories — David Noyce | The Salt Lake Tribune

"What began with a brave college student and continued with a band of tenacious journalists resulted Monday in a Pulitzer Prize for The Salt Lake Tribune and its groundbreaking investigation of rapes at Utah colleges.

"The award for local reporting marks the second Pulitzer for Utah's largest daily in its nearly 150-year history.

"Paul Huntsman, the paper's owner and publisher, called the award a "great tribute to the professionalism and outstanding work of our staff."

" 'The world now knows the quality and commitment of The Salt Lake Tribune, something many of us have been aware of for some time,' said Huntsman, who bought the newspaper last May. ..."

— Pulitzer Prize is recognition that there are stories only The Salt Lake Tribune can tell — Tribune Editorial

" ... One definition of journalism is information that someone else doesn't want published. Watchdog reporting, by its nature, involves a lot of digging, time-consuming and often frustrating research and questioning that can take many weeks or months to come together and involve numerous public records requests and legal action.

"In this case, the reporters and editors went above and beyond even that difficult call by showing great sensitivity to the victims they wrote about, incredibly brave young people who wanted their stories told but whose pain could easily have been intensified yet again by journalists who took any less care and showed any less humanity in their work. ..."

— Tribune's Pulitzer shows the wisdom of keeping Salt Lake City a two-daily town — Paul Rolly |The Salt Lake Tribune

— Editor's column: A Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech — Jennifer Napier-Pearce | The Salt Lake Tribune

" ... Our reporters and editors have spent hour upon hour interviewing young women and men about their experiences with campus officials, family, peers and local police. They've talked with experts about campus rape, consent, law enforcement and the cultural and psychological barriers that often prevent sex assault victims from coming forward. They've asked for public records, and, when officials refused, they've fought for them at the State Records Committee and in court. In fact, our lawyers are still battling on two fronts to get records that will help inform the public. ..."

— Trib's Pulitzer Prize doesn't guarantee future survival — Bob Burnick | Utah Policy

[Well, no, actually, it doesn't. I was a Pulitzer finalist in 1998 and got fired in 2001.]

— Tiny, family-run newspaper wins Pulitzer Prize for taking on big business — James Warren | Poynter " ... Big-paper editorial writers, perhaps laboring in well-appointed individual offices in relative urban splendor, be apprised: Writing editorials is merely one of a multiple daily duties of Art Cullen, Monday's Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial writing.

"Sitting in an office he calls a 'gray metal wreck,' he's de facto city editor, part-time reporter and editorial writer at the twice-weekly, 3,000-circulation Storm Lake, Iowa Times.

"He won for editorials that confronted the state's most powerful agricultural interests, which include the Koch Brothers, Cargill and Monsanto, and their secret funding of the government defense of a big environmental lawsuit. His "tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing" were quite self-evident if you've seen his labor (which actually spanned two years, though he won for last year's efforts). ..."

— Pulitzer winner took brave stand — Des Moines Register Editorial

"Art Cullen may have lost friends over his powerful editorials, but he's no "enemy of the people." So it's inspiring to see the colorful editor of a small-town, family-owned newspaper honored with the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

"The editor and co-owner of the Storm Lake Times won for 10 editorials he wrote last year on Iowa's water quality, including the Des Moines Water Works' lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa. His work no doubt offended local officials, farmers and advertisers.

"Cullen, however, was fighting for taxpayers in Buena Vista County. He worked with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to obtain public records disclosing how his home county and two others financed the defense of the lawsuit. ..."

— The Storm Lake Times wins the Pulitzer Prize — The Storm Lake Times

— Pulitzers show that layoffs haven't sapped the heart of local news — James Warren | Poynter

" ... 'All an editor has is time and people, and how you use them is crucial to excellence,' says Tom Kearney, editor of three Vermont weeklies, including the Stowe Reporter, with a total staff of 23. ...

" ...

Or maybe it just helps that you have the word "Lake" in the name of your newspaper.

 

 

 

 

 

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