Brothers John (left) and Art Cullen review a copy of The Storm Lake Times hot off the presses.

Community journalism – Brothers John (left) and Art Cullen review a copy of The Storm Lake Times hot off the presses. A documentary highlighting the struggles the family-owned newspaper faces and the future of local journalism is Oct. 26 at SIU Carbondale. (photo credit: Gary Fandel)

October 19, 2021

Film, discussion to examine the future of local journalism

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A film screening that highlights the struggles of a family-run newspaper and a community conversation on the future of local journalism is set for Oct. 26 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The screening and panel discussion is from 6 to 8 p.m. in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. The event is open to the public and admission is free. SIU is committed to protecting the community, so all those attending must follow current campus and state pandemic safety protocols and wear masks in shared indoor spaces.

Screening highlights plight of local journalism

Hosted by WSIU Public Broadcasting Service, the SIU School of Journalism and the Carbondale Public Library, the Independent Lens film “Storm Lake” focuses on challenges facing The Storm Lake Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning community newspaper in Iowa where family members comprise half of the newspaper’s 10-person team. According to filmmakers Jerry Risius and Beth Levinson, the film looks at the Cullen family “where against tight deadlines and slimmer margins” they wonder “how the paper will survive as readers cease to support journalism like they used to.”

The film notes more than 2,000 local newspapers have closed in the last 20 years, a crisis accelerated by COVID-19.

Media advisory

Reporters, photographers, and camera crews are invited to cover the screening of the “Storm Lake” and the conversation on the importance of community journalism. The event is from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26 in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. For more information, contact Beth Spezia, WSIU Public Broadcasting field representative, at 618-453-5595.

Discussion follows screening

A discussion moderated by WSIU Public Radio’s Jennifer Fuller will explore topics addressed in the film, such as the national decline of local news and reporting. The conversation will include panelists Annie Hammock, managing editor of The Daily Egyptian newspaper at SIU Carbondale, and Renee Trappe, group editor of the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group and deputy managing editor of The Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights.

“We can never talk enough about how important trained local media is in the lives of citizens, and how without it, the very framework of democracy is in danger,” Trappe said. “It's also critical that those of us in the media are reminded what is still possible in an era of cutbacks, closures and a disinterested public.”

The film “should be a must-watch documentary for anyone who decries the state of ‘mainstream media’ and declares most news ‘fake news’,” Hammock said.

“The Storm Lake Times shows journalism in its purest form. Small town residents telling the stories of their communities to keep their neighbors informed about what’s happening around them,” she said. “These journalists and their work are the backbone of democracy. I’m a passionate believer in the need for communities to have their own dedicated journalists. This film captures the power of the local press while highlighting the crucible small town journalists are facing.”

WSIU will also broadcast the film

“Storm Lake” will broadcast on WSIU/WUSI-TV and WSEC/WMEC/WQEC-TV at 9 p.m., Nov. 15, and will stream online at and via the PBS video app. A national virtual screening featuring the film’s directors and producers is planned for Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. Learn more about the local and national screening events at

“WSIU is excited to produce this new season of Indie Lens Pop-Up,” said Beth Spezia, screening event host and field representative for WSIU. “This opportunity to premiere Storm Lake on the SIU campus highlights WSIU's aim to foster discussion that imagines the future of local news and explores ways to support journalism as it transforms our understanding of the world.”