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Quad-City Times reporters Alma Gaul and Jack Cullen were recognized by their peers on Friday when representatives of Iowa’s daily and weekly newspapers gathered for the annual Iowa Newspaper Association convention at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Des Moines.

Gaul received the prestigious Harrison “Skip” Weber Investigative Reporting Award for the work she did in 2015, following the closure by Illinois financial regulators of Valley Bank locations. The award recognizes work that supports open government and freedom of information in Iowa.

“Alma is the kind of reporter every editor dreams of having in her newsroom. She’s persistent, meticulous and has a deep sense of duty to our readers,” said executive editor Autumn Phillips. “She spent four months chipping away at Valley Bank story, searching documents and leaving no stone unturned.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. provided a one-page news release reassuring depositors that their money was safe, and the next morning bank operations continued almost seamlessly under new ownership. The closing looked to be a one-cycle news story. Gaul heard from community members that there was more to the story.

She tracked down lawsuits and court records and searched through documents of the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and state banking regulatory agencies. She filed a dozen Freedom of Information Act requests with federal and state regulatory agencies. She attempted to contact every person named in documents related to the bank, many of whom had long since left the area.

“She deserves all the recognition she is now receiving for that hard work,” Phillips said.

Gaul has worked at the Quad-City Times since 1977 in various capacities, including reporter, copy editor and city editor. Currently responsible for the Sunday Home & Garden section, she also writes news stories and a weekly column. An honors graduate of Iowa State University, Ames, she and her husband, David, live in Bettendorf. They have two grown children.

Cullen, 25, was awarded the Jay P. Wagner Prize for Young Journalists by the Iowa Newspaper Association.

The Jay P. Wagner Prize is given to Iowa journalists 30 and younger. The prize is named to honor the memory Jay Wagner, an Iowa newspaper reporter and editor who had a passion for encouraging and mentoring young journalists.

Cullen has been a Quad-City Times reporter since December 2013. At the beginning of this year, he began a daily column called “Notes @ Noon.” The slice-of-life features are released every weekday at noon and often appear in print the next day on Page A2. In January, he also helped to launch an Outdoors page that publishes every Saturday, highlighting the many opportunities for outdoor recreation accessible from the Quad-Cities.

“Jack has a bright future ahead of him,” Phillips said. “He has an unstoppable curiosity and a drive to create a sense of place for our readers through the stories he’s able to find and share. I couldn’t be happier to see him get this award.”

Before joining the Quad-City Times, Cullen worked as an intern at the Wisconsin State Journal in his hometown of Madison, Wis. He graduated from Augustana College, Rock Island, in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism.

The Jay P. Wagner prize recognized work done in 2015. Among Cullen’s work reviewed by judges were a first-person account of riding a 65-mile leg of RAGBRAI, a story examining the lives of Bettendorf panhandlers, and the story, “Bullying stepping out of the shadows: Community urges kindness after tragedy.”

“We see readers through the Quad-Cities connect with Jack Cullen every day,” said publisher Debbie Anselm. “We are thrilled to have Jack as part of our team and to see his work recognized in this way is an honor he truly deserves.”

Other awards

Also on Friday, the Quad-City Times staff received 12 awards from the Iowa Associated Press Media Editors. Gaul won first place for Investigative Reporting for the Valley Bank series. Photographer Louis Brems won first place for Sports Action photo.

Second place awards given to Brems for Spot News photo; John Schultz for General News Photos; Gaul for General Features; and Jon Alexander for Editorials.

Third place awards were given to Jeff Cook for Sports Feature photo; Thomas Geyer and Brian Wellner for Spot News Reporting; Don Doxsie for Sports Spot News; John Schultz for General News Photos; Jennifer DeWitt for Business reporting; and Wellner for Continuing News Coverage.

The Quad-City Times staff also received nine awards from the Iowa Newspaper Association, including seven first place awards. First place awards went to photographer Jeff Cook for Best Sports Photo and Best Slide Show; to reporter Deirdre Cox Baker for Best Blog, and Matt Coss for Best Sports Feature Story. The news staff received first place recognition for Coverage of Government and Politics, Coverage of Court and Crime and Best Special Section for the annual Wish List project. Sports reporters Matt Dahlseid and Matt Coss won second place for Best Blog.