Your support of great journalism builds our community

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At the start of the year, we weren’t sure what the future held. The past five years have been difficult for independent community newspapers like ours, as digital disruption has turned our industry upside down. More than 80 newspapers have closed during the pandemic, including half a dozen in county seats across Iowa. It erodes the foundations of a community, it weakens informed democracy, and it turns neighbors into strangers.

At the end of the year, we are delighted to report that The Storm Lake Times is experiencing strong growth in paid subscriptions, both print and digital, reversing a stagnant trend seen recently across the country. Publicity started to rebound in the second half of the year after the shock of 2020. Storm Lake’s economy is strengthening, and that’s helping us. Losses at the start of the year turned into profitable months later in the year. We are relieved and grateful.

You could see the freight train on the tracks before the pandemic. Craigslist blew up newspaper classified ads years ago. Facebook and Google capture retail advertising. The grocers stop their weekly flyers. We knew small, rural papers like ours would need some extra help and started talking about it with our friend Doug Burns, owner of the Carroll Times Herald, in 2019 after running a successful GoFundMe campaign for his paper. It was foreign territory for us. We came to understand that giving should be part of our future survival. We decided to create the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation, which was approved for nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year. Kyle Munson, former Iowa columnist for The Des Moines Register, chairs the independent board. Dr. Andrea Frantz, a journalism professor at Buena Vista University, is the director.

The Western Iowa Journalism Foundation has received enough tax-deductible donations to award grants this year to the Storm Lake Times, the Carroll Times Herald and Denison-based LaPrensa of Iowa. He also gave his support to the Jefferson Herald and the Coon Rapids Enterprise.

The foundation received checks ranging from $50 to $100,000. Support has come from a successful lawyer who lives in Los Angeles but loves his hometown Carroll, the Schmidt Family Foundation’s 11th Hour project (dedicated to food, agriculture and environmental journalism), a Chinese immigrant computer entrepreneur in California, a local bank in Carroll and another banker in Coon Rapids, and a few estates with ties to Storm Lake or other large communities in Iowa.

These donations helped us, mired in this pandemic, out of the worst financial hole we had all fallen into.

They have allowed us to continue our regular and robust reporting on agriculture, sports, community clubs and campaigns, schools, town councils and the board of trustees. Your subscriptions and donations enable us to champion our community, agriculture, and healthy and tolerant civic life in Iowa. This kind of journalism won the Pulitzer Prize and was featured in an acclaimed documentary, “Storm Lake,” this year that explores grassroots civic engagement. After the film aired on PBS last month, subscriptions poured in.

We are grateful beyond words.

Our staff is experienced and dedicated. They know Storm Lake and Buena Vista County because it’s their home. The owners of this newspaper grew up six blocks from our office on Geneseo Street.

We are committed to providing you with the same honest reporting and informed commentary that has been a hallmark of The Storm Lake Times since its founding by two local brothers in 1990. We could not make this commitment without your subscription and support. No doubt we will need more in the coming year. We want to release a better information product with an even stronger staff. We intend to invest more in our digital site, www.stormlake.com, as eyeballs are glued to cell phones. We cannot do this without your support.

We need more subscriptions to make up for the forever lost ad revenue that was once the foundation of community publishing. We are confident that we can achieve this with a deeper digital product and more local news. Subscription trends indicate that people are willing to pay for information as an investment in democracy and stronger communities.

We also need philanthropic support as we move into the digital age. Apps cost money, and so does the power of reporting. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation. It will be a boon to rural Iowa. The higher this is, the more rural voices can be served. See westerniowajournalismfoundation.com for details.

Thank you.

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