The Oakland Post pushes forward despite loss of its prolific editor
By Thomas Peele, Josh Richman, Bob Butler and Martin G. Reynolds, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — Two years after he was gunned down at 14th and Alice streets, Chauncey Bailey is still listed as editor of the Oakland Post in the newspaper’s masthead.
His name is still eye-level on a gold plate attached to the door to what was his office in the Post’s 14th floor suite in the Financial Center Building. Photos of him adorn the walls. No one at the Post wants to let him go.
“We see and think of Chauncey every single day,” the newspaper’s publisher, Paul Cobb, 65, who has owned the weekly since 2004, said recently.
From a window in the room where he lays out the newspaper, production editor Jack Naidu can look out and see where Bailey fell in a hail of buckshot. He remembers seeing a sheet-covered body out of the same window the morning of Aug. 2, 2007, and then hearing the phone ringing with the news.
“The room with a view” is what he calls his office now — a view he cannot forget.
“I look out the window and think I am going to see Chauncey walking down the street. “… He was gone just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers sharply.
Bailey’s slaying by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery nearly destroyed the paper. Bakery follower Devaughndre Broussard has admitted to the killing, telling a grand jury that bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV ordered the hit because Bailey was working on a story about the organization’s finances and internal struggles.
Bey IV and Antoine Mackey, another follower who Broussard testified accompanied him to the killing, are awaiting trial.
Bailey, 57, an Oakland native, worked for United Press International in Chicago, the Detroit News and as a congressional press secretary for a year before returning to his hometown as an Oakland Tribune reporter and columnist. He also hosted a television program on local cable.
Managers at the Tribune fired him in 2005 for a succession of ethical lapses. He then became a contributor to the Post. Cobb named him editor shortly before the killing.
Bailey told friends he was jazzed about shaping a community newspaper as he thought it should be. In late July 2007, Bailey received information that Your Black Muslim Bakery was about to collapse under Bey IV’s failed leadership.
He saw the story as vital to the Post’s readers, but Cobb wanted the information in it to be better attributed. Bailey was hurrying to work to do just that when Broussard ambushed him two blocks from the newspaper’s offices.
“We really struggled” after Bailey’s killing, Cobb said. Advertising revenue dropped. Rumors circulated that the paper would fold, causing some to stop paying bills, Cobb added.
The paper, which reaches deeply into the city’s African-American community, survived. A recent eight-page edition was full of ads placed by local ministers promoting upcoming sermons. The front page carried photographs of 18 people, many posed, ranging from President Barack Obama to a 111-year old Oakland resident.
Bailey was a prodigious reporter. Cobb called his knowledge of Oakland and local issues “encyclopedic.” Ken Epstein, a retired teacher, knew when he accepted Cobb’s offer last year to succeed Bailey as editor that he could match neither the output nor the knowledge bank. He said he does not even try to.
Epstein, who is white, called editing the African-American weekly “the best and most exciting job I’ve ever had.” Others reiterated the importance that the Post survived.
The newspaper “plays a vital role in the community” and has retained its credibility even after losing its editor, said Marvin Tate, acting executive director of the Oakland African-American Chamber of Commerce.
“Any impact that Chauncey’s death might’ve had on the Post would’ve been very, very minimal if any,” he said. “I think at this point the facts are understood that his death was a result of his profession, not of his particular employer.”
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, city editor of the Globe, one of four other African-American newspapers in the Bay Area, added, “If anything, (the Post) has tried to have a greater presence in the community but they still face certain challenges, as many ethnic newspapers do, in reporting stories and issues that are important to its readers.”
Of those, the San Francisco Bay View ceased its print edition last year and publishes online only.
“If the black community was doing better financially, the papers would be doing well, too. Times are tough, but they’re always way tougher for black folks than anybody else,” said Mary Ratcliffe, who owns the Bay View along with her husband, Willie.
She said she thought the Post is “not doing all that well financially. There aren’t a lot of ads, and the paper is rather thin. But at least they’re still in print weekly, which is better than we can do.”
Cobb, Epstein and Naidu said they expect the Post to remain in print. The paper, they said, still reaches residents and provides information that others news organizations do not.
Cobb called the Post “a struggling Negro newspaper,” but one that isn’t going any place.
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-Yusuf Bey IV grew up in prominent yet troubled bakery
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-The Oakland Post pushes forward despite loss of its prolific editor
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