Chauncey Bailey Project

The Chauncey Bailey Project: Media coalition reinvents Arizona Project model

Project reporters and editors: Center, Mike Oliver; left to right, Josh Richman, Thomas Peele, Robert Rosenthal, Martin Reynolds
Project reporters and editors: Center, Mike Oliver; left to right, Josh Richman, Thomas Peele, Robert Rosenthal, Martin Reynolds

Project reporters and editors: Center, Mike Oliver; left to right, Josh Richman, Thomas Peele, Robert Rosenthal, Martin Reynolds

By Thomas Peele, Chauncey Bailey Project

Late on a Thursday afternoon in early December, the Oakland Tribune’s newsroom crackled with work on the Chauncey Bailey Project.

Two reporters yelled back and forth about shotgun shells and a statement in a deposition about a 25-year-old unsolved murder. At another desk, a journalism professor and a retired reporter hunched over a laptop, working on a database that contained thousands of bits of information that graduate students had culled from public records like deeds, liens and mortgages.

Across a partition, fellow investigative reporter A.C. Thompson and I poured over police documents, tightening a story to be published the next morning. Behind us, a writer from an alternative weekly tapped out paragraphs for a story about sketchy government loans that were never repaid.

Around the corner, editors requested extra space in the Sunday papers for a 93-inch narrative. Hours earlier and a few miles away at the University of California-Berkley’s Graduate School of Journalism, students held their weekly meeting with one of the country’s top editors, planning what they could do next to help.

All that work was in response to the killing of a newspaper editor on a busy street in an American city.

If anyone thought his work-in-progress would die, too, they were terribly wrong.

The Chauncey Bailey Project is dedicated to finishing Oakland Post editor and writer Chauncey Bailey’s work investigating Your Black Muslim Bakery; the legacy of its founder, Yusuf Bey; and Oakland, which was recently ranked the fourth most dangerous city in America.

In a time of reporting-staff reductions across media, the collaboration for a story of this magnitude made sense. The lead investigative team of freelancer A.C. Thompson, G.W. Schulz of the San Francisco Gay Guardian, the Tribune’s Josh Richman and me has brought more reportage to the story than any one news organization could. The collaboration of radio, television and Web sites in addition to print has presented a  unified journalistic effort to cover Bailey’s death and continue his work.

Within weeks of Bailey’s shooting in August of 2007, work began under the leadership of Dori Maynard of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and Sandy Close of New America Media in San Francisco.

Maynard commented that because Bailey’s murder happened in Oakland, the project “should have a very strong Oakland presence. We have to let people know it is not OK to kill a journalist. It has very obvious implications for democracy.”

Quickly joining the project were The Oakland Tribune and The Contra Costa Times, which are sister papers in the Bay Area News Group; The San Francisco Bay Guardian; The Bay Area Association of Black Journalists, KQED radio; KTVU-San Francisco; IRE; the Society of Professional Journalists; the journalism schools at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and San Jose State University; and volunteers, including retired Santa Rosa Press Democrat business reporter Mary Fricker and veteran radio reporter Bob Butler.

Robert Rosenthal, recently named director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and the former San Francisco Chronicle managing editor, is serving as the Bailey Project’s top editor.

“When a journalist is killed, we’re all one family,” Rosenthal said.

Bailey was the first journalist killed on American soil for his or her work since Miami radio reporter Dona St. Plite in 1993 and the most prominent since Don Bolles was fatally wounded by a car bomb in 1976.

A dangerous subject

Chauncey Wendell Bailey, 57, who had put in stints at The Detroit Free Press, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant and Oakland Tribune and who was editing the Oakland Post, a weekly that covered the city’s African-American community, was walking to work early on Aug. 2, 2007.

Bailey “was so synonymous with Oakland that he was Oakland,” said his friend, Tribune managing editor Martin Reynolds. “Everybody knew Chauncey and knew they could go to him. He was a good guy with a great sense of humor.”

As Bailey reached the corner of 14th and Alice streets in downtown Oakland, a man wearing a ski mask carrying a black 12-guage Mossberg shotgun confronted him. He got close enough to his prey that witnesses heard Bailey blurt, “Don’t shoot me.”

Bailey managed to swing awkwardly at the gunman before the gun erupted twice. Pellets ripped through his lungs and into his brain. As the journalist lay dying in the street, the masked man started to walk away, then turned, returned and fired a third, point-blank blast into Bailey’s stomach.

Even before police arrested 20 year-old Devaughndre Broussard the next day, some details were known. Bailey was writing about an Oakland institution called Your Black Muslin Bakery, where Broussard worked. Bailey wanted to report on the bakery’s troubles, including a bankruptcy filing. He had already written a story, but the Post’s publisher ordered it reworked.

Bailey was apparently pursing more sourcing when the story became known at the bakery. Its 21-year-old CEO, Yusef Ali Bey IV, has denied involvement in Bailey’s killing.

Joseph Stephens, a former hairdresser born in Texas, founded the bakery in the early 1970s and changed his name to Dr. Yusuf Bey, although he didn’t hold a doctorate. The business became a symbol of African American empowerment and defiance. It was also a polygamist cult in which Bey took more than a dozen “wives” and fathered more than 40 children. Its religious aspects were dubious. Bey didn’t conduct religious services, but he did amass political and street power and once ran for Oakland mayor. The bakery became home to dozens of ex convicts who took the patriarch’s name.

When he died of colon cancer in 2003, Bey was facing charges of statutory rape and child abuse, including allegations he raped girls as young as 12. His followers fell into a bloody power struggle to succeed him. Bey IV eventually took control. On the day Bailey died, Bey IV was facing nine separate criminal cases stretching over two and half years, most of them involving violence.

Early progress

While it is loosely modeled on the Arizona Project, which brought journalists from around the country together to probe Bolles’ death and continue his investigations, the Bailey project is far different. There has been little national involvement other than the assistance of IRE and grants from SPJ and the Knight Foundation.

The Bailey project involves an often unwieldy collaboration of organizations across the media spectrum: daily and weekly newspapers, Web sites, radio, television and student volunteers. Many of the journalists involved, such as the Guardian’s G.W. Schulz, work full time at their regular jobs while putting in dozens more hours a week as project volunteers.

Early on, the project moved slowly and, at times, awkwardly.

Radio and television sometimes needed additional lead time on stories after they had been prepared for print publication. The Guardian is a weekly and publishes on Wednesdays; it has been unable to print versions of all stories, but has published them on its Web site. The editors of The San Francisco Chronicle chose not to participate in the project; the paper has published several significant stories on its own. “This has been difficult and frustrating at times,” Rosenthal said. “Some stories we should have done much more quickly; others were done by other media. That said, I am very proud of the work that has been done and will be done.” By early December the project had reported significant stories including:

· An examination of why police waited nearly four months to arrest Bey IV after two women accused him and several others of kidnapping and torture. Evidence was found at the crime scene linking him to the assaults. Police claimed they needed time to build a case.

· An investigation of one of Bey’s former Muslim-law wives who is now a real estate broker. She has faced allegations of fraud in a series of land deals, and she represented an Oakland woman who tried unsuccessfully to buy the bakery in bankruptcy court.

· A minute-by-minute narrative of Bailey’s last hours alive.

· An investigative piece that raised questions about whether another bakery employee drove Broussard from the bakery to the corner where Bailey was shot and whether police botched an opportunity to arrest him before he fled the state.

Additional investigative stories are planned for the months ahead. Student volunteers have gathered hundreds of court files and thousands of other public documents on members of the Bey organization to build a database. A Web site, Chaunceybailyproject.org, is scheduled to launch in January.

The project remains open-ended. Major investigative stories about the breadth and reach of the Bey organization are planned for early 2008 as is ongoing probative coverage of the police investigation and Broussard’s claims to have acted on his own.

Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter for the Bay Area News Group, is assigned full time to the Chauncey Bailey Project. You can reach him at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Leave a Reply

Recent Archives

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux