Employees of the Grand Forks Herald, whose press and building were swamped by floods, then scorched by fire, celebrated in a still-temporary newsroom after winning the paper's first Pulitzer Prize.
"We're walking on air," publisher Mike Maidenberg said on Tuesday. "It's just a wonderful feeling for us to be recognized for what we did."Editor Mike Jacobs said the award brought recognition to a staff that overcame impossible odds. "It's an important tribute to what this staff was able to do under tremendous stress," he said.
The newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its work in covering the flood and fire that devastated the North Dakota community and the paper's own news-room a year ago this week.
Through the ordeal, the Herald never missed a day of publication. Its banner headline two days after the fire seemed to say it all: "Come hell and high water."
The Herald's main building was flooded by the Red River when a fire broke out in downtown Grand Forks on April 19, 1997. With 4 feet of water in the streets, fire-fighters were helpless as flames destroyed several blocks, including the Herald building that contained its newsroom, press, nearly all its computer equipment and its extensive library.
Staff members regrouped and had a newspaper out the next day, distributed free to flood victims.
They borrowed work space at the University of North Dakota - one of the few areas not completely under water. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press, a fellow Knight Ridder newspaper more than 300 miles away in Minnesota, printed the the Herald, which has a daily circulation of 37,000. Other Knight Ridder newspapers loaned reporters and photographers.
"I think the greatest service that the Herald did was being able to put a paper out at all," said Jacobs, noting that nearly all of the 57 newsroom employees suffered their own losses in the flood.
Today, the Herald has a new press and is printing its own pages again. The staff still is working out of temporary space, awaiting a $3.2 million reconstruction of its downtown building.
"It would have been worth it, even if we hadn't gotten the prize," said news editor Jeff Beach. "People in the community are starting to talk about remembering the Herald again and how very important it was to people. I think that meant more than the prize."