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From the editor: Following The Storm Lake Times blueprint

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.”

An audience member takes a picture of 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen Friday night. I never thought I would see such a thing.

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 Storm Lake Times newsroom at 220 W. Railroad in Storm Lake. It’s also known as “Times Square.”

Editorial philosophy

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.


Me and Art
2017 Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen and my first boss with the Managing Editor of Clay & Milk.

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.



From the editor: Following The Storm Lake Times blueprint | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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