The Pulitzer Prizes for 2017 were announced this week and among the usual nods to The New York Times and The Washington Post was a surprise winner. The Pulitzer for Editorial Writing went to The Storm Lake Times, a small town rural Iowa paper with a circulation of about 3,000.
Art Cullen (shown at center of the picture to the right), the owner and editor of this paper based out of Buena Vista County in northwestern Iowa, was honored by Pulitzer, the most prestigious award for journalism in the U.S., for his editorials in 2016 about agricultural pollution impacting local waterways. This was one of three counties sued by Des Moines Water Works, the local drinking water public utility, for failing to prevent nitrogen pollution to drinking water sources from farm drainage ditches.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Cullen discovered that the county’s legal defense was paid for by the local Farm Bureau, revealing close ties between powerful ag interests and the county that was supposed to be regulating them. Another case where local government appears to be working for big ag, not for the citizens they are supposed to represent. As Cullen baldly puts it in a September 2016 editorial, “at least we know who our boss is. The Farm Bureau and the commodity groups.”
Mr. Cullen received high praise from Pulitzer along with his prize and cash winnings, stating that he received the award “for editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”
Although the lawsuit was recently dismissed, handing a victory to the Farm Bureau, we at Hygeia are impressed by Mr. Cullen’s moxie in taking on such a controversial issue deep in the heart of farm country. It’s refreshing to hear local arguments for reasonable regulation that would reduce the environmental impacts of growing food in America.
Art Cullen, “Farm Bureau County,” Editorial in The Storm Lake Times, September 16, 2016.
the Guardian, “Tiny, family-run Iowa newspaper wins Pulitzer for taking on agriculture companies,” April 10, 2017.