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Storm Lake Times buys Pilot-Tribune and Ad Guide


The Storm Lake Times Company on Friday purchased the Pilot-Tribune and Advertising Guide from Hallmark II Publishing of Charles City.

Included in the purchase are the Cherokee Chronicle Times and Area Advertiser.

Hallmark II purchased the newspapers from Rust Communications of Cape Girardeau, Mo., the same day, and then immediately sold them to Storm Lake Times owners John and Art Cullen.

Hallmark II bought the Spencer Daily Reporter, the Dickinson County News and the LeMars Sentinel, with their associated shopping guides, from Rust. Hallmark II is owned by Gene Hall, a Spencer native whose family formerly owned the Northwest Iowa Shopper, and his son Christopher, publisher of the Charles City Press.

The Times and Pilot-Tribune will be merged into a single, twice-a-week publication: The Storm Lake Times Pilot. Art Cullen will be editor and publisher. John Cullen is president of The Storm Lake Times Company.

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The newspaper will be published on Wednesdays and Fridays, delivered by mail. All Pilot-Tribune subscriptions will be honored and pro-rated to The Times’s subscription price. Times subscribers who also subscribed to the P-T will have their subscriptions extended accordingly. The newspaper will carry the GreenSaver.

The Advertising Guide will continue to blanket the Storm Lake market area every Tuesday.

The Cherokee operation will run as is, except the newspaper will be published on Wednesdays and Fridays as The Times Pilot will be.

All staffers were offered jobs at the same or better pay. Readers will enjoy a stronger news report with more advertising and pages. The Pilot-Tribune website will redirect readers to www.stormlake.com.

A combined digital and print subscription to The Times Pilot in Buena Vista and adjoining counties will cost just $6.99 per month. The phone number is 732-4991, and the fax is 732-4331. Please email: times@stormlake.com.

For the Cullens, it marks the end of a 32-year contest with Storm Lake’s oldest continuous business, the Pilot. John Cullen founded The Storm Lake Times in 1990 in competition with the Pilot-Tribune. Then, the Advertising Guide was owned by the Davis family. Rust Communications bought the Pilot-Tribune in 2003 and later purchased the Ad Guide from the Davises.

“We’re grateful to Gene and Christopher Hall, longtime friends, for the opportunity to purchase the Pilot-Tribune and Ad Guide,” said John Cullen. “This concentration of resources will allow us to put out an even stronger newspaper that helps build The City Beautiful. It’s been a long time coming.”

“We’re happy that we could help the Cullens realize their ambition to consolidate the local newspapers into one product that better serves Buena Vista County and is locally owned,” Gene Hall said. “We look forward to working together in Northwest Iowa to strengthen communities through better journalism.”

The Cullens will transition their printing from White Wolf Web in Sheldon to the Halls’ printing operation in Spencer.

“We’re grateful to our friend Jeff Wagner at White Wolf and his crew for providing such gorgeous printing for us over the past six years since we shut down our press,” said Art Cullen.

The sale price is not being disclosed.

The purchase closes a chapter in local journalism history. John Cullen was working in public relations at Buena Vista University when he tried to buy the Pilot-Tribune from then-owner Edwards Publishing, which rebuffed him. That motivated him to start The Times in June 1990. Art moved home to Storm Lake that September to assist. The launch of the weekly started a mini-newspaper war that escalated into both The Times and the Pilot-Tribune going to daily publication — Storm Lake was the smallest town in America with competing daily newspapers — and then reverting to twice-weekly. The competition was fierce.

Eventually, the war took a toll on each newspaper. In 1990 the Pilot-Tribune’s circulation was more than 5,000 copies. It was under 1,000 by the end of 2021. The Times, likewise, hemorrhaged money during the pandemic although it was able to hold its circulation near 3,000 copies.

“To provide strong journalism, you need a strong business model. Neither of us had one,” Art Cullen said. “Now, I think we do.”

The Times Pilot will have a combined paid circulation of about 3,500.

The Times has pushed digital subscriptions at www.stormlake.com in recent years as print circulation faced headwinds. Going forward, news will be published online for subscribers as it happens, Art Cullen said, instead of waiting for a print publication date. The website will be deepened in the next year. New services like news and sports text alerts will be added. Also, The Times Pilot staff is expected to expand with circulation growth and philanthropic support.

The Times Pilot’s work will be supported by the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation, a non-profit organized to promote independent public interest journalism in the region. Learn more at www.westerniowajournalismfoundation.com.

John and Art Cullen were graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Storm Lake. John earned a degree from the University of Notre Dame, and returned home where his first job was sports editor at the Storm Lake Register and Pilot-Tribune. He worked at newspapers in Washington state and Algona before taking a job at Buena Vista. Art Cullen earned a degree from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and joined John at the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance. He went on to edit newspapers in Ames and Mason City before returning home. Each is an Iowa Master Editor-Publisher. Art Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for editorial writing.


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