A day for brotherly love
BY JOHN CULLEN
“Flabbergasted" isn't a strong enough word to describe our reaction to the announcement Monday afternoon that brother Art had been awarded this year's Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
Art was at his computer 10 feet away from me about 2 p.m. when he leaped from his chair screaming. At first I thought he smashed his fingers in the desk drawer, until he screamed repeatedly "We won! We won!" I knew then he was talking about the Pulitzer, journalism's highest award. By then he was all over me, hugging me. It had to be big, because Cullens don't normally hug.
Within minutes the phone was ringing off the hook and our Twitter and Facebook pages exploded with congratulations from around the world. Everyone on our small staff, who were already busy putting together our Wednesday issue, did double duty answering the calls as Art was besieged by interview requests from media across the nation. Our kids, who live in Chicago and Washington, DC, couldn’t get through because the phones were constantly busy. Our internet page, www.stormlake.com, froze for a while Monday afternoon because it was getting so many hits. We’ve even received pitches from TV and movie producers who want to do a reality TV series and a movie about The Times. I’m thinking Tom Hanks or George Clooney would be good to play my role.
Well-wishers who called ranged from Art and Dolores’ kids to former Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Senator Tom Harkin.
Art’s wife Dolores was besieged with media requests from newspapers and television networks across the nation. Her picture of Art hugging son Tom in the office was seen nationwide. Art said Tom should share in the award because he was instrumental in doing research for the editorials through his reporting about the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties, the subject of the editorials.
No one deserved this honor more than Art, who has been regarded for years as the best editorial writer in Iowa. He’s the backbone of the paper and a strong voice for the community. The Storm Lake Times enjoys an outsize influence in state politics because of the force of Art's well-reasoned thoughts. He has been a constant booster for the community. With his connections in Des Moines, he was instrumental in getting King’s Pointe built and also supported lake dredging efforts by jawboning state leaders for funding.
Critics may question his progressive views, but they can't challenge the facts he uses to buttress his arguments. That's what impressed the Pulitzer judges who elevated his work above the biggest names in journalism, including runners-up Washington Post and Houston Chronicle.
People have told me for years that while they may disagree with Art’s views, they enjoy reading his editorials nevertheless and appreciate his insight on issues. There have even been a few editorials that caused me to wonder about the consequences, but I knew that Art knew more about the issue than I, and if we’re going to be a credible news source, we have to be straight with our readers. A newspaper is built on its integrity, and when you sacrifice that for money, you’re finished.
Although a handful of weekly newspapers have won the Pulitzer over its 101 year history, The Storm Lake Times may be the smallest newspaper to have achieved this great honor. Since founding this newspaper in 1990, our staff has been dedicated to providing the best journalism possible for our community, and this honor proves you can achieve excellence regardless of your size or means. All you need is dedication. Art's great editorials have borne this ideal out.
There are awards and then there is the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a big deal — a huge deal — not just for Art and The Times but also for our community. It has brought favorable international publicity to Storm Lake and Buena Vista County and will be a useful selling tool for Storm Lake United in pitching the community to new businesses and residents. Only a few cities in the nation can boast of having a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper. It shows Storm Lake is forward-thinking.
Our readers and advertisers have been instrumental in building The Storm Lake Times into one of the best newspapers in the nation. We couldn’t have done it without your support. Art and I thank you and promise to keep those editorials coming.
I realize that this bragging may be unseemly, but as our dad always said, “If you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else will.” We are sure that Pat and Eileen Cullen are looking down from their perch at the Elks Lodge in the sky and bragging to St. Peter over a highball that their son won the Pulitzer Prize.
Congratulations, brother. I couldn’t be prouder.