I was asked recently if there was a publication I’d want to model Clay & Milk after. So I thought if we can turn Clay & Milk into The Storm Lake Times then we would have something special.
We’re going to run a website like a community newspaper.
Because for me it all started at The Storm Lake Times in June of 2013. And The Times has a traditional startup story with its publisher – John Cullen – starting a newspaper in his hometown with his brother Art Cullen.
The first issue was published on June 29,1990 in a 20 by 20 foot office; 27 years later the family business seems to be stronger than ever.
My first employers have been getting national and international attention lately because Art just won the 101st Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. A newspaper with over 3,000 subscribers won the highest honor in the profession.
And both Art and John Cullen were in Des Moines Friday night, along with fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Gartner to take part in an evening sponsored by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
Over 150 people attended the hour-long event. Afterwords, I had to wait in line to talk to my former boss. I even saw people taking pictures of Art. It was unbelievable.
Art told me, “It seems surreal.”
Why start a newspaper?
It seemed like destiny when I found out that the first issue of The Times was published on my birthday a year earlier. With a staff of three, The Times first issue was published on June 29, 1990 and when I joined the staff in June of 2013, the paper had a reputation in town and around Iowa for being one of the best community newspapers in the state.
Art shared what it was like in the early days of being a startup newspaper in the 1990’s.
“We used to print out page proofs and paste them on our hands and knees on the floor because we didn’t have any composing tables,” Art explained. “And farmers would come in wearing their hog boots and step on the front page.”
The newspaper would go to print on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and we had to have it to the post office by 4, so it would be in our readers mailboxes by the next morning.
Before each story was placed on the page, Art would call me back to his desk so I could receive my daily, “Lashings” as he would call it. Art would go over each story with me, line by line, asking me questions to make sure everything in each story was correct.
My goal was to always keep him quiet; But during my first few months those conversations would last 15 minutes.
And as I got more comfortable covering Buena Vista County and everything involved in it, our conversations would get shorter. The shorter those conversations became, the more confident I felt as a writer.
Easily one of the highlights of my career came when he gave me a high-five for a lede I wrote about the City of Storm Lake and Buena Vista County disagreeing on who would pay for yard waste pickup.
Can a website be like a community newspaper?
Art told me on my first day that what’s important in community journalism is to be accurate, fair and honest with the readers. Because you have to see the people you cover at the local grocery store and in the restaurants.
But, Cullen said his newspaper should cover the news the same way The Des Moines Register would back then.
“People want a good newspaper in Storm Lake as badly as they do in Des Moines,” Cullen says. “There’s often a misimpression held by community journalists that we have to somehow soft pedal the news just because we don’t want to offend anybody. We don’t buy that.”
With so much going on in the entrepreneur, startup, tech and arts community here in Iowa, we want to tell you about it.
If something fails, we will talk about it, but we will ask why? And what can the next entrepreneur do so they don’t fail?
We’re all in this community together.