Chauncey Bailey Project

Chauncey Bailey Project gets IRE award for “tenacious reporting”

Yusuf Bey IV, right, is caught on secret police video discussing the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.
Yusuf Bey IV, right, is caught on secret police video discussing the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.

Yusuf Bey IV, right, is caught on secret police video discussing the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.

By Sean Maher, The Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — The Chauncey Bailey Project won a national award Tuesday for its ongoing efforts to uncover the truth behind the killing of an Oakland journalist in 2007 and the police investigation it prompted.

Investigative Reporters and Editors gave the project its award for medium-sized newspapers, those with circulation between 100,000 and 250,000. The award named staff writers Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, along with collaborators Mary Fricker, Bob Butler and A.C. Thompson, praising their continued work in watchdog journalism.

“Under the most difficult of circumstances, the reporters exposed deep flaws in the police investigation of the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey,” an IRE statement read. “Through tenacious reporting and deep source development, (this team) reported on a stunning videotape linking someone to the murder, yet the individual has not been charged in the case and the evidence has been seemingly overlooked or dismissed by police.

“The trail continued in 2008 with reporters looking more directly into a probe of Bailey’s slaying and possible police obstruction of a local organization. The investigation was published in papers owned by the Bay Area News Group, primarily the Oakland Tribune, and aired on KTVU, a participant in the project.”

Editors in charge of the project expressed gratitude and pride but asked that the focus remain on the work itself.

“We’re extremely proud of our leadership and ongoing involvement in this important project,” said Pete Wevurski, managing editor of Bay Area News Group-East Bay. “We’re proudest, though, of the work that’s been generated; the awards are secondary. But we appreciate them because they validate the time, sweat and multiagency cooperation that’s gone into the project.”

Robert Rosenthal, executive editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project and executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, called the award “a great tribute to the reporters who persevered on this and won the trust of innumerable sources. The project is also a testament to the value of investigative reporting and the fact that this kind of work is also a commitment of time. This is also really a tribute to the two people who really got this all going: Sandy Close from New America Media and Dori Maynard from the Maynard Institute, who had the vision to really pursue the work of Chauncey Bailey.”

Richman, who said he was honored and humbled by the award, added that “although only five bylines were cited, this project has involved dozens of dedicated journalists who’ve put great time and effort into ensuring the right questions are asked about the murder of one of our own; all those people share in this honor, too.”

The project has drawn the interest of readers and the attention of awards committees primarily because it speaks to the rights of free speech, Peele said.

“The root of the story is a First Amendment issue,” Peele said. “It’s very obvious: A journalist was killed because of a story he was working on. The conspiracy to kill him has not yet been charged.”

The Chauncey Bailey Project has received support from The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, The Newspaper Guild, Sigma Delta Chi, the National Association of Black Journalists, George Washington Williams Fellowship, UC Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism, San Francisco State University and New America Media.

Honored by IRE Tuesday were:

Below Top 20 Markets – IRE Medal winner: Lee Zurik of WWL-New Orleans for “NOAH Housing Program.” In a rolling investigation of 50 television segments, WWL-TV of New Orleans uncovered corruption in a city agency charged with helping rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Following a source’s tip, reporter Lee Zurik and his team examined New Orleans Affordable Housing records and found that money was paid to contractors to repair homes that never received any improvements—or didn’t exist at all.  WWL’s investigation found close ties between agency managers, Mayor Ray Nagin, and the contractors doing the alleged improvements. The journalist stuck to the story in the face of public intimidation and strong initial denials by Nagin.  In court, WWL forced the city to disclose agency records.  The results were impressive: The program was suspended, the employees were fired and a federal grand jury launched an investigation.

Tom Renner Award: Stefan Candea, Duncan Campbell, Te-Ping Chen, Gong Jing, Alain Lallemand, Vlad Lavrov, William Marsden, Paul Cristian Radu, Roman Shleynov, Leo Sisti, Drew Sullivan, Marina Walker Guevara, Kate Willson, David E. Kaplan of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Center for Public Integrity for “Tobacco Underground: The Booming Global Trade in Smuggled Cigarettes.” Fourteen journalists in 10 countries took great risk to provide a comprehensive and compelling look at the illicit trafficking in tobacco. The reporters found organized criminal activity robbing governments of tax money . Using hidden cameras and computer-assisted reporting, the team uncovered the story of hundreds of billions of contraband cigarettes, many being sold in the U.S. through Indian reservations. The report, which employed a sophisticated multimedia presentation and interactive website, also detailed how one major British manufacturer is encouraging the illegal trade.

FOI Award: Wayne Dolcefino, Steve Bivens and David Defranchi of KTRK-Houston for “The E-Mail Trail.” The newest frontier for freedom on information efforts resides on e-mail servers in government IT facilities across the country.  Wayne Dolcefino and his tireless team at KTRK-Houston combed through 70,000 e-mails from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in Houston to find evidence of racism, secret surveillance, and covert work for campaign contributors to the sheriff.  The station sued the county to stop a sheriff’s policy that called for the deletion of all e-mails after 14 days.  As a result of the series, the county revised its e-mail policy and voters rejected the sheriff’s bid for re-election.

Largest newspapers (Over 500,000 & wire service) (Tie): Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick, David Zeman, Jennifer Dixon and Dawson Bell of Detroit Free Press for “A Mayor in Crisis.” Detroit Free Press reporters Jim Schaefer and M. L. Elrick spent four years trying to get text messages that Detroit’s mayor exchanged with his top aide, eventually breaking stories of their affair, exposing perjury, and the expenditure of $9 million of taxpayer money spent to cover up wrongdoing and vast corruption in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. Through careful analysis of public records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the reporters verified a trove of text messages and then, with the aid of other Free Press reporters, methodically demolished the mayor’s carefully built façade of lies, pay-offs and cronyism – a compelling example of investigative reporting’s ability to reveal abuses of power.

Largest newspapers (Over 500,000 & wire service) (Tie): Tom Lasseter and Matthew Schofield of McClatchy Newspapers for “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law.” McClatchy Washington Bureau reporters Tom Lasseter and Matthew Schofield invested extensive time and resources to track down 66 Guantanamo detainees in 11 countries on three continents over eight months to expose abuses at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Their lengthy interviews, in often dangerous places, allowed the American public to find out what really happened at Gitmo and other American detention camps. Equally impressive was the commitment of the newspaper chain: The thorough findings in a five-part series were published on the front pages of 25 McClatchy newspapers.

Large newspapers (250,000-500,000): Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times for “Culture of Resistance.” Through their skillful reporting, Berens and Armstrong exposed a silent killer epidemic of the antibiotic resistant bacteria known as MRSA, which Washington state hospitals ignored for decades. The reporters analyzed millions of computerized hospital records, death certificates and created their own database to uncover nearly 700 previously undisclosed deaths attributed to the infection. Families were never informed that MRSA was the cause of death. Their extensive analysis provided the first accounting of MRSA infections in Washington hospitals. Because of their investigation, MRSA infections are now being counted and legislators have proposed requiring a $20 MRSA test for all vulnerable patients.

Medium newspapers (100,000-250,000): Thomas Peele, Mary Fricker, Bob Butler, Josh Richman and A.C. Thompson of The Chauncey Bailey Project for “The Chauncey Bailey Project investigation.” Under the most difficult of circumstances, the reporters exposed deep flaws in the police investigation of the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. Through tenacious reporting and deep source development, Chauncey Bailey Project reporters Thomas Peele, Mary Fricker, Bob Butler, Josh Richman and A.C. Thompson uncovered a stunning videotape linking someone to the murder, yet the individual has not been charged in the case and the evidence has been seemingly overlooked or dismissed by police. The project, a collaboration of more than 20 news organizations and journalism nonprofit groups, including the Center for Investigative Reporting, began in 2007 to pursue an investigation Bailey started. The trail continued in 2008 with reporters looking more directly into a probe of Bailey’s slaying and possible police obstruction of a local organization. The investigation was published in papers owned by the Bay Area News Group, primarily the Oakland Tribune, and aired on KTVU, a participant in the project. (The Chauncey Bailey Project has received support from The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, The Newspaper Guild, Sigma Delta Chi, the National Association of Black Journalists, George Washington Williams Fellowship and the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism.)

Small newspapers (Circulation under 100,000): Tim Fields and Joy Blackburn of The Virgin Islands Daily News for “Hospital Corruption.” Reporters Joy Blackburn and Tim Fields took on one of the island’s most powerful institutions, the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, which opened with great promise but ultimately became a financial spigot for its administrators. Through source development and relentless reporting, the paper’s stories led to the ouster of several executives. One former executive took a top job at Memorial Regional Hospital in Broward County Florida, but resigned when his prior criminal background came to light. The report is a clear example of journalism with impact for its community.

Local-circulation weeklies: Joaquin Sapien and Ben Welsh of the Fort Worth Weekly and the Center for Public Integrity for “Hear No Evil, Smell No Evil.” In a story published in the Fort Worth Weekly, Joaquin Sapien and Ben Welsh of the Center for Public Integrity exposed environmental abuses by Texas energy producer TXU by analyzing more than 25 million EPA emissions records over 10 years. The report found an ongoing trail of emission violations and emission levels more than 8 times the federal limit for sulfur dioxide. In community, they tracked down local families suffering from respiratory ailments. But the self-reporting by TXU meant the energy giant was penalized just once for $720.

Network/Syndicated: Jeff Fager, Bill Owens, Scott Pelley, Solly Granatstein, Nicole Young, Lamy Li, Kevin Livelli, Brad Simpson, David Lom and Tom Honeysett of CBS News–60 Minutes for “The Wasteland.” Exposing themselves to extraordinary personal risk, Scott Pelley, Solly Granatstein and the 60 Minutes team tracked a container full of recycled electronic waste from Denver to a small town in China where they discovered archaic methods of breaking apart America’s old computers, televisions and electronic equipment. The outrageous environmental conditions in the village included a river filled with toxic chemicals, children suffering from lead poisoning and pregnant women six times more likely to miscarry. Despite being forced from town by thugs protecting the town, the crew returned to finish the story. The city of Denver canceled the contract with the recycler and the EPA opened an investigation of other companies suspected of shipping old electronics to toxic dumps overseas.

Top 20 Markets: Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg of KNBC-Los Angeles for “Contaminated Water.” Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg embarked on an exhaustive investigation after getting a tip from a parent that students were told not to drink from a Los Angeles elementary school’s water fountain because it contained lead. To see if the problem was widespread, the journalists tested the water at numerous LA schools and found lead levels higher than the EPA standard. The reporters also went undercover for days to capture janitors falsifying records saying they had flushed fountains daily to protect children from lead exposure. This explosive 8-month investigation set off a firestorm and held school officials accountable for breaking promises time and time again. The results: The district tested the water at all schools and replaced lead pipes to provide safe drinking water for children.

Magazine/Specialty Publication: Keith Epstein, Brian Grow, Ben Elgin, Cliff Edwards and Chi-Chu Tschang of BusinessWeek for “Cyber-War.” More frightening to read than a modern techno-thriller novel, BusinessWeek’s real-life series of stories on the growing cyber-war between East and West rivets the reader with dozens of breaches in American security networks. The writers pieced together seemingly unconnected online security problems at several federal departments to reveal a wide-scale problem.  Working at levels where government security made reporting extremely difficult, the stories resulted in a change in Pentagon contracting policy and briefing procedures for military and intelligence officials.   The series shows work on a global scale that reaches the highest levels of government policy.

Book: James Bamford for “The Shadow Factory.” James Bamford does it again – and wins his third IRE Award – for the latest exposé of the National Security Agency. No journalist has invested more time scrutinizing the NSA, one of the most secretive agencies in the world. Among his findings, Bamford reveals that the agency had been targeting the Yemeni home that served as Osama bin Laden’s operations center prior to 9/11 but had never told the FBI that the al-Qaida terrorists were there. This is journalism that influences the national conversation on a vital topic and Bamford has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to penetrate the most secretive of institutions.

Radio: Laura Sullivan, Amy Walters and Steve Drummond of NPR for “36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Injustice at Angola.” Acting on a tip, NPR reporter Laura Sullivan spent months investigating the 1972 murder of an Angola prison guard Sullivan dug through public records and patiently persuaded prisoners, guards and others who had long kept quiet to open up about the murder. The reporters turned up such compelling new evidence that the guard’s widow now doubts that two men who spent 36 years in solitary were even involved in the crime.In a graceful and compelling way, Sullivan tells a chilling tale of injustice.

Online: Will Carless, Rob Davis and Andrew Donohue of voiceofsandiego.org for “The Redevelopment Investigation.” Voiceofsandiego.org reporters Will Carless, Rob Davis and Andrew Donohue work for a new breed of news organization, but have executed with aplomb a classic old-style investigative story of civic graft, insider dealing and tax-dollar abuse. Working for the nascent online news publication, the reporters exposed the questionable activities of two multimillion-dollar San Diego redevelopment agencies. The rolling yearlong investigation ultimately forced out the presidents of the agencies and prompted criminal investigations and reforms.

Student (All Media): Kristen Coulter, Brian Hughes, Carolyn Crist, Matthew Grayson and Melissa Weinman of The Red & Black (University of Georgia) for “Sexual Harassment at UGA.” For two decades professors who sexually harassed students at the University of Georgia continued to teach or were allowed to move on quietly. Then an anonymous tip sent reporters Kristen Coulter, Brian Hughes, Carolyn Crist, Matthew Grayson and Melissa Weinman digging. Despite threats of lawsuits by some professors, they produced such compelling reports that the university now requires extensive anti-harassment training for both faculty and all administrators.

IRE, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to training and supporting journalists who pursue investigative stories and operates the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a joint program of IRE and the Missouri School of Journalism.

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