BEST COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER (2001)
After floods ravaged Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1997, the Grand Forks Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for public service, for not missing an issue despite the fact that its offices were wiped out. In a slightly less dramatic--but no less important--fashion, the Hmong Times in St. Paul is still publishing after a fire destroyed its offices in early March. "We didn't miss a date, because we had just published an edition," explains Cheu Lee, the 37-year-old founder and publisher of the biweekly paper. "We were able to move across the street the next week and continue working and get the next issue out." Even so, he estimates damage at about $20,000, as computers, scanners, and 20 years' worth of clippings and files Cheu had accumulated went up in smoke. For nearly four years, the 13,000-circulation paper has served some 80,000 Hmong in St. Paul, as well as subscribers from around the United States. (The English-language newspaper is the only Hmong newspaper in the nation.) Though Cheu, who came to St. Paul in 1979, began publishing with no previous experience in journalism, the Hmong Times quickly garnered attention as a feisty community newspaper, even being cited in the Economist as an example of "the future of Laos." The reason his paper flourishes where other Hmong publications have failed, Cheu surmises, is that he runs it like a business. "We do not just show off and say, 'The Hmong are here.' We are providing a service to our people."