A 152-year legacy of community journalism continues


With the purchase of the Pilot-Tribune last Friday, my 50-year career in journalism came full circle.

It was with the Pilot-Tribune, and its sister newspaper at the time, the Storm Lake Register, that I began my career as a journalist half a century ago. That’s a long time!

John B. Anderson was the publisher in 1972, having taken over the Storm Lake journals a few years earlier from the legendary WC Jarnagin and his son, Phil. Anderson tried to hire this recent college grad as a summer sports reporter/photographer. I had other plans, and they didn’t involve working that summer. One day dad came home from work and said he met JBA, who had bad luck trying to get me to return his calls. “I know,” I told Dad. “I thought I would calm down this summer after four years of college.”

“None of my sons are going to stay in my house without work,” he informed me.

That’s how I became a journalist. And it was a great run, culminating in the merger of The Times and Pilot-Tribune.

Our purchase of the Pilot-Tribune continues a legacy established 152 years ago when the Pilot was founded as Storm Lake’s first newspaper. The Times Pilot continues its distinction today as the oldest business in Buena Vista County.

Colonel WL Vestel, after whom a street in Storm Lake is named, and his brother-in-law, SW Young, founded the Pilot in 1870, three years before the town was founded. Vestel, a Civil War veteran, was an aggressive and fearless writer who is credited with much of the city’s early progress.

The Storm Lake Tribune was founded in 1877 by Jerome “Posey” Rose and, after changing hands several times, was consolidated with the Pilot in 1896. WC Jarnagin, who had been editor of the Des Moines Tribune, l bought in 1922. His son, Phil, joined him in 1943 after publishing the Sheldon Sun.

In the early days of journalism, newspapers were often fiercely partisan. The Pilot-Tribune was a Republican newspaper, so Democrats found an organ when The Storm Lake Vidette was founded by C. Everett Lee in 1885. Like the Pilot-Tribune, the Vidette changed hands several times until that John Bell bought it in 1917 and changed the name on the register to Storm Lake. He published it until the end of World War I when it was acquired by ELC White of Spencer. LB Watt became director in 1923. He was a community leader and prominent journalist in Iowa. In 1944 he sold his interests in the register to ELC White and moved to Grinnell to buy the Herald-Register.

By a twist of fate, Mary and I live in the house built by Watt in 1936 when he was editor of the Register. He was the father of the late Liz Elk, a prominent Storm Laker and one of the founders of the Star Spangled Spectacular.

The Buena Vista Herald was founded by Paul Noble in July 1935 and lasted just over a year. Community leader Kermit Buntrock was the editor of the Herald before joining the Pilot-Tribune. After World War II, Buntrock partnered with fellow veteran Duane Salie to open his Buntrock-Salie photography studio.

John Anderson and his partner, Leo Mores of Harlan Newspapers, bought the Register and Pilot-Tribune from Jarnagins in 1970. They sold to Jerry Wiseman in 1980, who sold to the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1985. In 1987, the newspapers were sold. at Edwards Publications, a chain based in South Carolina. Under Edwards ownership, the registry name was dropped entirely.

During the Jarnigans’ tenure, the Register was published on Tuesday and the Pilot-Tribune on Thursday. Many towns in Iowa had twin weeklies with different names under the same owner so that they could publish legal opinions twice, as counties were required to publish their minutes in the two larger newspapers.

After being rebuffed by Edwards in my attempt to buy the Pilot-Tribune in 1989, Mary and I decided to start our own newspaper, and on June 29, 1990, The Storm Lake Times was born as a weekly. Art and Dolores joined our growing business in September from the Mason City Globe-Gazette, where he was editor. By 1993, the circulation of The Times had exceeded that of the Pilot-Tribune.

Then we got arrogant. We decided to go every day, and three weeks later the Pilot-Tribune followed suit in an unfortunate decision by both newspapers. For 10 months we were the smallest city in America with competing dailies.

By January of the following year, we had lost $100,000, but had regained our sanity and adopted the bi-weekly format that has sustained us ever since.

After operations began, the Pilot-Tribune and sister newspapers of Spencer, Spirit Lake, Le Mars and Cherokee changed hands several times under corporate management. Edwards sold to Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI), an investment division of the Alabama Public Employees Retirement System; which sold to Rust Communications of Cape Girardeau, Mo. We tried five times over the years to buy the Pilot-Tribune but were unsuccessful until this week.

TO DO WHAT we call it the Times Pilot? We wanted to acknowledge the Pilot’s long tradition as Buena Vista County’s premier newspaper and longest continuous operation at 152 years. And we wanted to give The Times the headliner of the name since it is the survivor of this long competition. There’s no hyphen because we think it’s better that way.

Our success would not be possible without the support of our loyal readers and advertisers. Thank you for your confidence in the newspaper designed to reflect the welcoming community we represent.

On our editorial pages, we as Democrats, Republicans and Independents can discuss competing political ideas, but we have one thing in common: we all want the best for our community, and the Times Pilot will always fight for our hometown. , as we did. for 152 years – and counting.

John Cullen is the retired founder and publisher of the Storm Lake Times. He can be reached at [email protected].


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