When Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey was fatally shot in broad daylight near his office, members of the local minority and journalism communities were shocked that someone wanted to silence his reportage. In the aftermath, more than 20 reporters, editors, Web producers and journalism educators formed a team to continue and expand the story he’d been pursuing.
Now, four years since his death, the work of the Chauncey Bailey Project arguably serves as a reminder of how journalists inform and educate the public. Among other things, project journalists uncovered sloppy police work in the investigation of the death of Bailey. The 57-year-old veteran journalist was investigating financial troubles of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a longtime Oakland business once known for economic self-empowerment, when he was shot on Aug. 2, 2007, while walking to work.
“The Project reminded us of our role as community watchdogs,” says Dori Maynard, chief executive officer of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and one of the project conveners. “We had to not only uncover who murdered Chauncey, but uncover the bad deeds he was investigating when he died. Thankfully, the mastermind was forced to face justice.”
In June, bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV and getaway car driver Antoine Mackey were convicted in Bailey’s murder and now face sentencing. In exchange for a plea deal, bakery employee Devaughndre Broussard had confessed to shooting Bailey on the orders of Bey IV. According to trial testimony, Bey IV wanted to stop Bailey from publishing his findings.
Bailey, 57, had assumed the Post editorship only two months before his death, having written for organizations such as the Detroit News, United Press International and the Oakland Tribune.
“It’s not OK to kill a journalist,” Maynard says. “We couldn’t let that go unnoticed.”
She and others organized staff from several news outlets, nonprofit entities and college journalism departments, mostly in Northern California, into the project. Journalists who normally compete against each other instead collaborated on multi-media stories that published on not only a project website but also in local newspapers and aired on TV.
Their examination of property deeds, mortgages and government loans revealed how the bakery had slid into financial chaos and bankruptcy. Their scrutiny of mountains of police documents revealed that Bey IV was connected to two other slayings—and a friend of the lead detective in the Bailey case. Project stories described what appeared to be intentional foot-dragging by police in the investigation of Bailey’s death before Bey IV and Mackey were indicted.
Yumi Wilson, a San Francisco State University associate professor of journalism, says the work of project members shows students that “anyone who cares about something can demand information.”
“With today’s technology,” Wilson says, “you don’t have to wait to get permission to pursue meaningful stories. You can go into the world and work with nonprofits and community organizations to do citizen journalism, community journalism, call it what you like. We as instructors need to think about new collaborations.”
Adds Maynard: “This was an incredibly important endeavor at a time of shrinking resources in which we pooled everything into a new model.”
In July, the Newseum in Washington, D.C., opened a permanent exhibit about the murders of Bailey and Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter investigating organized crime who died in 1976 from a car bombing. The exhibit includes Bailey’s laptop and one of his press passes. A museum focused on news, the Newseum contains displays documenting five centuries of news history.
“First Amendment protection cannot always protect the people reporting the news,” says Cathy Trost, director of exhibit development at the Newseum. “Both men paid a terrible price for doing their jobs.”
Trost praised the four years of work by Project journalists “in uncovering so many questionable dealings by so many people.” That Project members kept the case in the public eye also factored into museum officials establishing the exhibit, she said.
To learn more about Chauncey Bailey and the Chauncey Bailey Project, visit http://www.chaunceybaileyproject.org
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