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Even with a Pulitzer in hand, local journalism remains imperiled in Iowa

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

If we believe that a strong press is key to a thriving democracy, what does the shuttering of local newspapers and shrinking of staff necessitate from Iowans looking to stay informed?

If you asked your average American, local news is doing great. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 71% believed local news was doing well financially. But that's not reality.

Since 2004, more than 1,800 papers have stopped publishing. This is accompanied by a 45% cut in newsroom staffs between 2008 and 2017. And as papers turn away from sinking advertising revenue, they are finding subscribers are diffuse with just one in six Americans subscribing to a local newspaper.

When Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his "tenacious reporting ... (challenging) powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa" it was high for local journalism; a testament for what a small town newspaper can do. But Pulitzer in hand, a new documentary shows that the Times remains in a precarious position.

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with the documentaries directors and with Cullen himself about just what the value of local reporting is. Last, we hear from The Atlantic's Elaine Godfrey about her story on the Burlington Hawk Eye and what communities lose as corporate giants pull resources from local newsrooms.


  • Beth Levison and Jerry Risius, codirectors of “Storm Lake”
  • Art Cullen, Storm Lake Times
  • Elaine Godfrey, staff writer covering national politics for The Atlantic
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa