Reminding us that you don’t have to be The New York Times or The Washington Post to receive recognition for passionate, influential journalism, a family-run Iowa newspaper has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. Operated by brothers Art and John Cullen and featuring reporting from Art’s son Tom, The Storm Lake Times boasts articles about cat sanctuaries and Easter egg hunts, a subscription base of about 3,300, and, now, the most prestigious prize in journalism.
The Cullens were recognized by the Pulitzer Prize board for their work reporting on agricultural and environmental issues, topics that are often taboo in farm-dependent Iowa. Art Cullen technically won the award for his editorial writing, specifically on the question of whether Iowa county governments were taking money from big agribusiness in a lawsuit centered around farm-based pollution of the state’s water supply. But Cullen—who apparently talks exactly the way you’d want a small-town newspaper editor to talk, mixing “bejeebers” in with hard questions about the state’s dependence on big businesses—notes that his son Tom did most of the actual reporting.
He’s also remarkably blase about the whole Pulitzer Prize thing, telling The Washington Post, “They give you 15 grand. That’s worth it. I don’t need a wooden plaque or a piece of paper.” Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that the recognition will change the paper’s normal formula—“We strive to have a baby, a dog, a fire and a crash on every front page”—or its usual woes: the ongoing “headache” of online publishing, and the accusation that the paper is “anti-farmer,” despite its rural roots. “My wife grew up on a farm,” Art Cullent notes. “I got shit on my boots. I ain’t anti-farmer, but I’m anti-pollution.”