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‘STORM LAKE’

Watch now: Documentary on journalism to show in Normal

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Storm Lake plays at the Normal Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

NORMAL — A documentary detailing the fight for one small-town newspaper in Iowa to keep watchdog journalism alive is hitting the big screen in Normal.

The film "Storm Lake", which premiers Wednesday at Normal Theater, tells the story of Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Art Cullen and his family-run newspaper as they confront a changing political landscapes and the challenges that come with it amid financial struggles facing all local papers.

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A film crew follows Art Cullen on his day as the editor of the Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa. The film, "Storm Lake," is playing 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Normal Theater, and will be followed by a panel discussion of journalists from The Pantagraph and other area media.

"This is a new documentary exploring the power and importance of local journalism, especially in the future of democracy," said Normal Cultural Arts Director Beth Whisman. "What journalists offer is something that is unique and professional, and we need the public to understand that there is a cost for doing these things.

She added, "As people are paying for the news, as businesses are investing in advertising, what they're really doing is providing a resource to the community."

The film follows Cullen, 63, and his 10-person team at The Storm Lake Times in the wake of uncovering a 2017 "conspiracy between big agriculture and local county officials," which led to Cullen receiving a Pulitzer Prize. It follows Cullen starting in March 2019 as political debates ramp up and into 2020 as COVID-19 began to spread across the country.

The 85-minute-long documentary will have a one-time showing at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a panel discussion featuring local journalists, editors and photographers on the importance of local journalism. 

Tickets are $7 general admission and $5 for students. They can be purchased at normaltheater.com or at the theater's box office 30 minutes prior to the showing.

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Art Cullen interviews a source as he prepares to write a story for his Storm Lake Times newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa. Cullen's biweekly newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2017.

Guest panelists include Chris Coates, Central Illinois editor of The Pantagraph; David Proeber, Pantagraph photojournalist and editor; Ryan Denham, content director for WGLT/WCBU; and Collen Reynolds, a freelance journalist. Whisman will serve as moderator.

Coates was the editor of the Sioux City Journal, about 90 minutes from Storm Lake.

"The story of Art Cullen and his team in northwest Iowa shows the significance of journalism to a community," he said. "It also shows why journalists do what we do — and why community support is so important."

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The film, Storm Lake, is based in part on Art Cullen's book about the small newspaper that tells the story of the people of Storm Lake, Iowa.

Issues facing local journalism highlighted in the documentary will serve as a jumping off point for the panel discussion, said Whisman. The hope is to highlight the importance of local journalism and its future.

"It's not just the big headlines, it's not just the national stories, it's the every day run of the mill stories about local government that should matter to people, she said. "It is our local journalism that keeps that clear and present, and that is vital to us in a community to understand who we are, where we're going, and what we're investing in."

Contact Sierra Henry at 309-820-3234. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_sierrahenry.

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