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Sahan Journal planned Tuesday to announce the hiring of accomplished journalist Chao Xiong as the new managing editor of the nonprofit news site. But the announcement had to wait a day. Xiong, a courts and policing reporter, was too busy doing what he has done for 18 years at the Star Tribune: filing a breaking story on deadline.
Xiong, a pioneer in Hmong American journalism in Minnesota, said he was excited to help lead Sahan Journal’s growing news team, which serves immigrants and people of color. But the press release and photo shoot would have to come after he finished live tweeting from a Minneapolis courthouse.
For the past three and a half weeks, Xiong has helped cover the trial of former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng for their roles in the 2020 killing of George Floyd. The responsibility felt familiar to Xiong, who for five years has reported on every trial involving Minnesota police officers who’ve killed civilians while on patrol.
Xiong’s reporting on the unrest that followed Floyd’s murder contributed to the Star Tribune winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. While those stories stood out for their impact and urgency, they follow decades of outstanding journalism.
Xiong, a reporter’s reporter, is known to readers for his thorough and expert reporting on policing and criminal justice. In recent years, for example, he has investigated the traumatic effects of police-dog bites–often incurred during the apprehension of non-violent suspects.
Xiong, 41, started his career with internships at Newsday, in New York, and in the San Francisco bureau of the Wall Street Journal. He has received awards from the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to team awards from the Online Newspaper Association and the George Polk Awards.
‘A tenacious reporter’
Xiong has volunteered in the past with the Minnesota chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, organizing fundraisers for college scholarships and professional grants, and has volunteered with ThreeSixty Journalism, which trains Minnesota teens in news and reporting.
“I’m grateful for my time at the Star Tribune and all the opportunities I had to meet stellar journalists and to cover interesting stories, big and small,” Xiong said.
“I’m thrilled to be joining Sahan Journal as managing editor to help carry out its visionary goals of telling the stories of the underrepresented.”
Xiong added, “As a Hmong American born and raised in Iowa, I know that too many stories are overlooked and underappreciated. I’m excited to work together on ambitious journalism that turns a critical eye on the status quo and that connects readers to our shared humanity.”
Sahan Journal founder and executive director Mukhtar M. Ibrahim first met Xiong while the two worked together at the Star Tribune.
“Chao is a dogged reporter with a keen interest in breaking news, high-impact stories and holding the powerful accountable. He embodies all the qualities of a tenacious reporter,” Mukhtar said.
“I have long admired Chao’s ubiquitous reporting for the Star Tribune and saw first-hand how gracefully he balances covering breaking news and deep investigative stories. I am thrilled to have Chao as part of our growing team.”
New revenue helps Sahan Journal add to its editorial team
Xiong comes to Sahan Journal during a period of rapid growth. A three-person newsroom at the beginning of 2020, Sahan now comprises 12 employees (or 13, including Xiong). Sahan’s diverse reporting and photojournalism team has produced singular coverage of education, elections, health care, climate, and immigration. This year, Sahan Journal has led local media coverage of the food fraud investigation involving the nonprofit Feeding Our Future.
Sahan’s journalism reaches audiences across many platforms, including its website, social media, video, and community events. To reach new audiences, Sahan shares its stories with small community papers and with the state’s biggest mainstream newsrooms, including the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.
In the past 18 months, Sahan Journal’s budget has roughly tripled, driven by the support of individual donors, foundation and corporate contributions, and advertising.
Xiong’s hiring represents the expanded scope of Sahan Journal as a news source with a unique commitment to communities of color. And it will see him take on a new role, editing the reporting staff and mentoring new journalists, including younger journalists of color.
But Sahan’s new managing editor has informed his future colleagues to expect one thing: Xiong intends to keep reporting and filing stories.