Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Art, I'm proud to say I knew ye ...

Golly, I've never been able to write, "I knew him when he was a pup," before in relation to a Pulitzer Prize winner. But there's his photo --- Art Cullen's --- on the front page of The Register's web edition this morning.

Art, editor of The Storm Lake Times since 1990, received the award --- for editorial writing --- on Monday. Here's a link to the Register's story.

The award resulted from a series of editorials "fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa," according to a Pulitzer news release.

The editorials involved a lawsuit, since dismissed in Iowa courts, filed by Des Moines Water Works against drainage districts in Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties alleging that the districts  were channeling dangerously high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, source of Des Moines' water supply. A secretive organization called the Agribusiness Association of Iowa was formed to pay legal defense costs incurred by the three counties. Storm Lake is the seat of Buena Vista County.

Art, his colleagues and others wanted to know who was channeling funds into that association; those doing the channeling, not surprisingly, didn't want to be known.

The editorials dealt with efforts to unravel the threads of what Art calls a "dark money account" as well as many of the issues related to the deplorable state of Iowa's surface water, including the complicit-ness of industrial-strength ag interests and the Iowa Legislature. You can read the editorials by following the links published here.


I knew Art more than a quarter century ago (that sounds like an awfully long time) after his arrival in The Globe-Gazette newsroom in Mason City. He stepped into a newsroom staffed, at the time, by many talented and dedicated journalists accustomed to doing things one way. Art, apparently, was tasked with doing some things in other ways, but sadly no one --- including those who hired him --- ever figured out exactly what. Nor did he receive much support, from anyone.

He moved from there, during 1990, to Storm Lake where his brother, John, had just founded The Times --- an almost unheard of venture even then as the underpinnings of print journalism were beginning to crack.

I wish I could say that we recognized Art's Pulitzer potential back then, but truth be told he could be extraordinarily annoying --- as talented but strong-willed people can be --- and I'm guessing he found his time in Mason City frustrating. For better or worse, so did we. Although I think it was obvious even then that he was very talented and that despite the fact he was built like an emaciated greyhound, his tenacity resembled that of a pitbull. 

I'm afraid my buddy Doug and I, once considered --- believe it or not --- best-dressed in the newsroom, occasionally mocked his wardrobe, which could veer unexpectedly from bibs to a three-piece pinstripe suit. How shallow is that? And I do not mean to imply by this that Doug is no longer a fashion plate, but I certainly am not.

Whatever the case, the Pulitzer serves a reminder that there still are dedicated and fearless journalists out there in small-town Iowa, even though their ranks have been sadly depleted. So good for you, Art; I'm proud to say I knew ye.


Another extraordinary piece of journalism that caught my eye this week was Rekha Basu's excellent piece in Sunday's Register that waded into the issues surrounding the suicide last year of Mason City's extraordinarily bright and dedicated city councilman, Alex Kuhn.

I thought I'd write about that, too, but I'm out of time. So perhaps another day.

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