A small town is about as strong as its newspapers and banks, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of Storm lake weather, Art Cullen. Her family’s diary, and what it means to her city, is at the center of the documentary “Storm Lake,” which is screened on October 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Guyon Auditorium inside the Morris Library.
The film kicks off this season’s Indie Lens Pop Up series, which brings people together for in-person and virtual film screenings, and community-led conversations about documentaries that will air on the PBS Independent Lens show.
This particular conversation about small town newspapers is certainly relevant to the people of Carbondale and the surrounding area. Nearly 2,000 local newspapers have been closed over the past 20 years, leaving many communities without the stories that connect its residents and without the spotlights that shine in the darkest corners.
âWithout strong local journalism to tell the story of a community, the fabric of the place is unraveling,â Cullen said in the film.
Hundreds of counties in the United States are currently without a newspaper, according to journalism expert Penelope Muse Abernathy, who describes these areas as “information deserts.” She said this left communities “limited access to the kind of credible and comprehensive news and information that fuels democracy at the local level.”
The remaining newspapers face a financial crisis. As more and more people turn to their phones for the news, more and more newspapers are left on the shelves. Fewer people are signing up to receive their paper, and online subscriptions make only a fraction of the money.
Likewise, as readers shift to online viewing, fewer and fewer advertisers are paying for print ads, which have traditionally been the financial lifeblood of a newspaper. The rate differences between print ads and online ads are so extreme that they are known as the money-for-dime dilemma.
No small-town community journalist gets rich from their work, let alone the Cullen family, who were happy to make a mere $ 2,000 profit for the year of filming this documentary. After all, a profit, no matter how small, is infinitely better than a loss. The Storm Lake Times is, by and large, a profitable business, Cullen said in the film. It really is a labor of love.
Journalism is a labor of love for most of the people who practice it. Grassroots journalists do it for the love of history, love of their community, and love of an informed democracy.
Democracy in Action is a highlight of the documentary, which focuses in part on how the Storm Lake Times covered the 2020 Iowa caucuses. We also see how the newspaper continued even as the city was caught up in it. the COVID crisis, becoming an epicenter of the epidemic.
âFortunately, the people of Storm Lake are luckier than so many other communities across the country. Despite their struggles, they are bound by their bi-weekly newspaper, in part because journalism in their hometown is nothing less than a mission for all Cullens, âsaid film director Jerry Risius. .
Then there are the little stories, the ones that capture the essence of small town life. These include the profile of a factory worker trying to be successful as a singing candidate, and the pig who went to school wearing a diaper to help children learn all about a producer of pork which is an essential part of the city’s economy.
Articles like this may seem strange to those who live in big cities, but they are the kind of stories neighbors bring together. They are a far cry from the coverage so easily and unfairly disparaged as âfake newsâ.
Journalists like Art Cullen and his family are not planning the demise of one political candidate or another. They are not deeply rooted in a conspiracy theory to control the masses. They focus on the facts, not the fear; on the truth, not on a corrupted version of it.
“Our hope is that, through the story of the Cullens and their newspaper, we can inspire viewers to care more deeply about their own local news source, if they are fortunate enough to have one, and of their community, âsaid Beth Levison, director of Storm Lake. noted. “Maybe a journal is really something that can unite us, not divide us.”
Storm Lake’s Indie Lens pop-up screening is open to the public. The documentary will air on PBS on November 15 and air on video.pbs.org from November 15 to December 14.