Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: Bailey called a spark that inspired journalism education

Chauncey Bailey (Oakland Tribune)
Chauncey Bailey (Oakland Tribune)

Chauncey Bailey (Oakland Tribune)

I will always remember Chauncey Bailey as a dedicated journalist, a live-wire guy and the sharpest dresser in any newsroom. I will also remember him and his 1974 summer classmates as the inspiration for the launching of what today is the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Chauncey wore a dapper tweed sports jacket and a big smile when he checked in at Columbia University for the 1974 Summer Program,┬áthe Michele Clark Fellowship Program. He had been selected with 13 other young people of color for the 11-week reporter “boot camp” that led to a staff position at a daily newspaper.

This print program had been established in 1969 by former CBS News President Fred Friendly. His initiative followed the Kerner Commission report on the causes of urban rioting, which criticized the news profession for being “shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training and promoting Negroes.”

Chauncey’s classmates that summer in New York included many talented journalists, including Milton Coleman and Steve Holmes, now Washington Post editors; Alexis Scott, publisher of the Atlanta World; and David Tong, a longtime San Francisco newsman.

I was in awe of my fellow faculty members, a journalistic all-star team consisting of Bob Maynard and Roy Aarons of the Washington Post, John L. Dotson Jr. of Newsweek, Earl Caldwell of the New York Times and Walter Stovall of the Associated Press. I was in my fourth year as a Los Angeles Times editor and, at 31, not much older than many of the program reporters.

Through that Watergate summer, we put the 14 through the paces of writing news stories on deadline and prepared them to enter nearly all-white newsrooms. As the program headed toward a close, we lined up jobs for each of them; Chauncey was ticketed for the Hartford Courant.

Then we were stunned to learn that the Columbia program was being killed. Friendly said the job had been done – that blacks and other minorities were making their way into America’s newsrooms. We looked at the situation nationwide; reliable statistics were not available, but it is safe to say that 98 or 99 of every 100 newspaper journalists were white. Clearly, the job was not done.

We lacked fundraising experience but we felt there was no choice but to keep the program alive. We had been energized and inspired by the young reporters’ enthusiasm for journalism. Like Chauncey Bailey and his classmates, too many other people of color were having little luck cracking open the newsroom door. Newspaper editors gave the lame excuse that they could not find ‘qualified’ minorities. In truth, some were afraid to hire their first minority journalist or were just plain racist. The Summer Program, we knew, would give aspiring journalists the mainstream credentials they needed to jump-start their journalism careers.

John Quinn and Jerry Sass of Gannett Newspapers gave our ad hoc group a small grant to get started, and Earl Caldwell went on the road to raise other funds. In the next year we found a hospitable new home: the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

The first Summer Program for Minority Journalists in Berkeley took place in 1976 and in the following year, our group was incorporated as IJE – the Institute for Journalism Education. Three journalists joined us as founding board members: Dorothy Gilliam of the Washington Post, Nancy Hicks Maynard of the New York Times and Steve Montiel of the Associated Press.

IJE put pressure on the news business to hire and promote journalists of color. To fulfill the media’s responsibility for accurate news coverage, Bob Maynard first said, newsrooms had to more fully reflect the population of their communities. Bob was so committed to the diversity mission that he left his job at the Washington Post to chair the IJE board and his wife, Nancy, became the institute’s first president in 1977.

Over the years, as Chauncey Bailey moved to the Detroit News and later returned to his hometown to work for the Oakland Tribune, IJE continued to develop. It became the premier training ground for journalists of color and added a copy editing program at the University of Arizona and the Management Training Center at Northwestern. Some program graduates became editors, publishers and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Along with achievement and joy, there has been profound sadness in the family. Our visionary and most eloquent spokesman, Bob Maynard, editor and later owner of the Oakland Tribune, died in 1993. The institute immediately renamed itself in Bob’s honor. And in 2004, Roy Aarons, founding president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, passed away.

Today, of course, the institute is led by Bob’s daughter, Dori Maynard, who has been successful in launching new initiatives while carrying on the organization’s mission.

The ruthless murder of Chauncey Bailey is a tragic loss for his loved ones and the community, and it represents a crime against all journalists. After I heard the news, I went through photos from 1974. There, at a table amid those vintage typewriters, is Chauncey, no doubt offering one of his passionately held opinions to David Tong. Even in those days, he was never at a loss for words.

Reading Chauncey’s sad obituary, I was impressed to learn about his mentoring of young journalists and his determination to make a difference as the new editor of the Oakland Post. We mourn the loss of Chauncey Bailey, still in the prime of his life. He loved his community and he loved his work. He was still, as I remember him in 1974, a seeker of truth.

Frank O. Sotomayor is associate director of the University of Southern California Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism. The piece was published by The Maynard Institute.

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