Chauncey Bailey Project

The Project

Media coalition to finish stories begun by slain editor Bailey

“I believe this will be the most important work any of us have ever done and ever will do.”
Pete Wevurski, managing editor of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay

Chauncey Bailey Project editors and reporters at work
Chauncey Bailey Project editors and reporters at work

Chauncey Bailey Project editors and reporters at work

If anyone thought Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey’s work would die when he was gunned down on Aug. 2, 2007, they were terribly wrong. Within weeks, about three dozen reporters, editors and other volunteers gathered in Oakland to finish his work.

Our goal is to hammer home this point: “You can’t kill a story by killing a journalist.”

Here’s what it looks like in the Chauncey Bailey Project corner of the Oakland Tribune newsroom on a typical day:

Two reporters yell 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 hunch over a laptop, working on a database that contains thousands of bits of information that graduate students have culled from public records such as deeds, liens and mortgages.

Across a partition, investigative reporters pore over police documents, tightening a story to be published the next morning. Behind them, a writer from an alternative weekly types out paragraphs for a story about sketchy government loans that were never repaid.

Around the corner, editors are requesting extra space in the Sunday paper for a 93-inch narrative, and a few miles away at the University of California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, students hold their weekly meeting with one of the country’s top editors, planning what they can do next to help.

The Chauncey Bailey Project is loosely modeled on the Arizona Project, which in 1976 brought journalists from around the country to Phoenix to finish the work of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, who was killed by a car bomb while he was investigating the Mafia.

In Oakland, we’re finishing Bailey’s investigation of violence and financial fraud at Your Black Muslim Bakery, an institution in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost 40 years. Following the bakery string, we’re also being led into an examination of the bakery’s relationships with local politicians, city and business officials and the Oakland Police Department.

Unlike the Arizona Project, we aren’t mainly newspaper people who have come from all over the country. Instead, we’re a collaboration of local journalists across the media spectrum, from daily and weekly newspapers, Web sites, radio, television, journalism associations and universities.

In a time of staff reductions across all media, collaboration for a story of this magnitude makes sense. It also shows the unity and resolve that drives our response to this outrageous crime.

‘We will not be bullied’

Within weeks of Bailey’s shooting, work on the project began under the leadership of Dori J. Maynard, president and CEO of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, and Sandy Close, executive editor of New America Media in San Francisco.

“We cannot stand for a reporter to be murdered while working on behalf of the public. Chauncey’s death is a threat to democracy,” Maynard said. “We will not be bullied.”

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 Public Radio; KTVU-TV; the Center for Investigative Reporting; the journalism schools at UC-Berkeley, San Francisco State University and San Jose State University; and volunteers.

Funding from the Knight Foundation, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the George Washington Williams Fellowship, the National Association of Black Journalists, The Newspaper Guild and The California Endowment, and technical assistance from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., make the work possible.

The investigation is being coordinated by Robert “Rosey” Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, formerly editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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

A dangerous subject

Early on the morning of Aug. 2, 2007, Chauncey Wendell Bailey, 57, was walking to work at the Oakland Post, where he edited several newspapers that covered African-American communities in the Bay Area.

Bailey had been a prominent journalist in Oakland for many years.

He “was so synonymous with Oakland that he was Oakland,” said his friend, Tribune 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 and carrying a black 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun confronted him.

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 to the body and fired a third, point-blank blast into Bailey’s stomach.

The next day police arrested 19-year-old Devaughndre Broussard, who said he killed Bailey to stop him from writing a story about a power struggle and financial problems at Your Black Muslim Bakery, where Broussard worked. A few days later, Broussard recanted his confession, saying the bakery’s CEO, Yusuf Bey IV, told him Allah wanted him to take the fall for others at the bakery.

Your Black Muslim Bakery was founded in the early 1970s by Joseph Stephens, who became a black Muslim and took the Muslim name Yusuf Bey. His business was a symbol of African-American empowerment and defiance in Oakland. It also was a polygamist cult in which Bey fathered more than 40 children with at least 14 women. Bey amassed 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 Bey died of colon cancer in 2003, he was facing charges of statutory rape and child abuse, including allegations that he raped girls as young as 10. His followers fell into a bloody power struggle to succeed him, and his son, Yusuf Bey IV, eventually seized control.

A spree of violence erupted. On the day Bailey was gunned down, Bey IV was facing nine separate criminal cases stretching over two and a half years.

This is hard

Early on, the Chauncey Bailey Project moved slowly and, at times, awkwardly.
Reporters and editors accustomed to competition, not collaboration, gritted their teeth and forced themselves, haltingly at first, to share their best sources and their best scoops with others.

After stories were ready for print publication, they sometimes had to be held while radio and TV prepared their reports, and vice versa. The Guardian is a weekly that publishes on Wednesdays, which is a schedule that conflicts with daily newspapers’ preference to publish their big stories on Sunday. Sometimes stories have been held for Wednesday, and sometimes the Guardian has published Sunday on its Web site.

While awkward, the power of the collaboration shows in its staying power. Long after the daily news has been reported and forgotten, we’re still here digging.
Stay tuned. There’s much more to come.

“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.

“This is a unique collaboration, and we hope our work goes beyond Bailey’s murder and reveals broader issues that impact the lives of Oakland’s citizens,” Rosenthal said.

Pete Wevurski, managing editor of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay, said the project is important to Oakland and to all journalists.

“Chauncey Bailey was a colleague and friend to many of us, and we want to honor his work and our profession by picking up the standard that fell the morning he was assassinated. I’m extremely gratified by the numbers and caliber of journalists who have joined this coalition, and I’m astounded by the work they are turning in.

“I believe this will be the most important work any of us have ever done and ever will do.”

By project members Dori Maynard, Thomas Peele and Mary Fricker

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