Storm Lake is screening in dozens of city beginning September 17, 2021, leading up to a national TV debut in November on PBS.
The Storm Lake Times has been publishing twice a week in the small Iowa community of 11,000 residents since 1990. This family-owned newspaper is run by John Cullen, the publisher and founder; Art Cullen, the editor, a liberal who espouses fact-based journalism and won a Pulitzer-Prize; Art’s wife Delores who loves taking pictures and covering special interest stories; and their son, Tom, a staff reporter.
While passengers in airplanes may think nothing much is happening in farm country which is derisively called “flyover country,” this newspaper proves them wrong. Storm Lake’s citizens enjoy local events such as the Fourth of July parade, cheering for a local Latino in a singing contest, and keeping up with births, marriages, and deaths. The paper functions as a watchdog keeping track of what’s happening in local government, and by covering the gamut of news, they stitch the community together.
The Storm Lakes Times covers the February 3, 2020, Iowa Caucus where Democratic candidates including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, and Pete Buttigieg talk about their solutions to the problems plaguing farmers thanks to an economic downswing. The only ones making money in the area are the executives at the Tyson pork packing plant.
But the pork industry and the rest of the town are soon to be hit hard by COVID-19. The Cullens watch the newspaper’s revenues dry up since all their ads come from main street Mom and Pop businesses. Looking at the media marketplace, Art laments the fact that “people want their news free on Facebook over breakfast.” It’s no wonder, we realize, that one in four newspapers has closed down in the United States in the past 15 years.
Storm Lake is one of the best documentaries of the year with its rounded embrace of community, politics, and ethics during these tough times. Resius and Levinson give us much to think and talk about in this salute to local journalism.
“The reporter is the cornerstone of democracy.”
— James Madison
Storm Lake was screened at the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.