The Times celebrates our 30th anniversary

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

How time flies when you’re having fun!    

It sure doesn’t seem like it was 30 years ago when the first issue of The Storm Lake Times rolled off the press. There we were, all cramped together in that 20x20 foot office at 521 Michigan St., putting together that first issue on three vintage Macintosh computers after months of planning.

That motley crew included Tim and Marty Gallagher, Jay Miller, Betty Schmidt and Jeff Myers, plus for our first issue we were joined by Don Gallagher and my sister from Omaha, Ann, and her daughter Kathleen.

That first issue grew to be much larger than we had expected, so in order to put everything together we missed our deadline by eight hours. We had planned to be on the press at Buena Vista Stationery and Printing by 4 p.m., but we didn’t make it until after midnight. Thankfully the Davis family was understanding and kept their crew on standby — and we paid for the overtime.

The first front page of The Storm Lake Times.

The next week we were four hours late, and the third week we were two hours late. Overtime gets expensive. After that, we never missed a deadline again.

With our success we outgrew the ability of our friends at BV Stationery to print us and we headed to the Le Mars Daily Sentinel for a couple years, which had a larger press with the ability to print color. We decided we needed our own press to control quality and costs.

We came out weekly for the first three years, then in spring 1993 decided to go daily, followed three weeks later by our competitor. For 10 months we were the smallest town in the nation with competing daily newspapers. After 10 months and $100,000 in losses, we came to our senses and in early 1994 adopted our successful twice weekly format that we have maintained since.

After we outgrew our original office on Michigan Street, we moved to 210 E. Fifth Street, across from the courthouse, which served as Julius Cleaners, Abner Bell’s bar, and Benchmark Woodworks, before we took over in 1991. When we decided we needed our own press in 1993, we built our current office at Times Square and have operated out of here ever since. In May 2016, with a heavy heart, we shut down our press operation because the equipment was getting old and so were the people who were operating it. We sold our big old rambunctious Harris press and with it gave up a certain amount of stubborn independence. We traded some of our Iowa stubborn for fewer headaches and an easier workload. Now we are printed on a bigger, newer, more sophisticated press in Sheldon, joining the trend of newspapers produced in central plants, which are more efficient than every publisher running his own operation.

The Times has always been a technological leader in the publishing industry. We were the first newspaper in Iowa to be composed entirely on Macintosh computers, which ushered in the era of affordable desktop publishing in the 1990s. Then we were one of the first newspapers of any size to produce finished pages on a computerized imagesetter, which allowed us to introduce color photos, and we were the second newspaper in the state — after the Des Moines Register — to produce aluminum printing plates on a computerized platesetter. This device greatly reduced the manpower needed to assemble the newspaper pages for printing, reduced waste and substantially improved the color reproduction.

Even though we were a small newspaper, we were recognized for our quality printing. One of the main reasons for our quality was Brother Art, who also ran the press — with the assistance of able pressmen like Jim Robinson, who could fix anything — in addition to his editorial duties. Art made sure only quality work came off our press. While other publishers scrimped on press maintenance, we kept ours in tip-top shape and we spent a lot of money on new rollers, bearings, motors and such. When we decided to outsource our printing, we chose White Wolf Web in Sheldon because we felt they could maintain our reputation for quality printing.

Our first issue 30 years ago started with a circulation of 1,800 and grew consistently over time. In a year we had surpassed the circulation of our competitor and today we have more readers than all other newspapers in Buena Vista County combined. Our print edition also has more readers than any Facebook page from Storm Lake.

As much as we love print, we haven’t ignored the trend toward digital publishing. Our website, www.stormlake.com, has exploded in traffic, particularly since Art won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Our website attracts more than 38,000 page views per day and over 1.1 million page views per month. People from around the world are coming to our website to read Art’s columns and editorials as well as news and features about Storm Lake and Buena Vista County.

And maybe my Fillers as well?

Now more than ever, if you want to reach people in Buena Vista County, you need to advertise in The Storm Lake Times, both in our print and digital editions. We just started a free daily email newsletter that is going to nearly 2,000 readers every morning. We’ll sell you an ad on it if you want to bring more people to your business. Call our sales manager Whitney Robinson at 732-4991.

So that’s a brief roundup of our first 30 years as Buena Vista County’s Hometown Newspaper. Thanks to all of our loyal readers, advertisers and GoFundMe patrons who have made it all possible through these challenging times. We plan to continue serving you for decades to come.

And I hope I‘m here to review our progress 30 years from now.

Three-year-old Bridget Cullen helped her dad John cut the ribbon to open the first Times office at 521 Michigan St.​​​​​​​

John and Art Cullen with the big newspaper press at Times Square.​​​​​​​

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