Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: Project renews pledge to keep slain journalist’s story alive

James Grimaldi
James Grimaldi

James Grimaldi

By James Grimaldi, president, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.

Commentary

By now you probably know the story of Chauncey Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post, who was gunned down as he walked to work in August. Police believe he was murdered because of his investigation into a business called Your Black Muslim Bakery.

The parallels to the slaying of Don Bolles are chilling. Bolles was a founding member of IRE, and his murder by a car bomb in 1976 led to the Arizona Project, in which a team of IRE members from across the country continued and expanded his investigation into public corruption and organized crime.

Bob Greene, the Newsday investigative editor who led the team, called the Arizona Project an insurance policy: No journalist’s work could be stopped by a bullet or a bomb.

Every insurance policy has a premium. On Aug. 2, 2007, that premium came due.

Two prominent Bay Area nonprofit organizations, New America Media and the Maynard Institute, sent out a clarion call for an array of journalists to continue Bailey’s work. The effort was borne out of a shock at the lack of coverage by national mainstream news outlets and calls for an investigation modeled after the Arizona Project.

The Chauncey Bailey Project is a clearinghouse for information and home for more than two dozen editors, reporters, students and news organizations. It is an unusual collaboration of journalists who are picking up where Bailey left off on the investigation of Your Black Muslim Bakery. (A handyman for the bakery was ordered to stand trial on a murder charge in the Bailey slaying.) They expect the investigation to go much further.

IRE and our Bay Area members are contributing too. One leading member is Mary Fricker, who modestly says she is heeding the lesson of Bob Greene. She has long been one of my IRE heroes. Retired last year after 20 years as an award-winning business reporter at The Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat, Fricker is working on the Bailey Project four days a week while living in a room above a friend’s garage. A member since 1985 and a frequent speaker, she is one of the people whose knowledge, expertise and skill inspired me as a young journalist.

Now she’s part of the team led by Robert “Rosey” Rosenthal, the new director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and former managing editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. The center, too, is part of the project, along with the Society of Professional Journalists’s Northern California Chapter, the Knight Foundation, which has donated $125,000, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Bay Area Association of Black Journalists, and many others.

Spurred on by calls from members, former IRE executive director Brant Houston contacted Dori Maynard of the Maynard Institute and Sandy Close, leader of New America Media. IRE and New America Media have collaborated on IRE’s new training initiative for ethnic media newsrooms. That effort takes on greater significance after the murder of Bailey, a prominent voice in Oakland’s African-American media.

Print, electronic and broadcast journalists in the project have pored through hundreds of real estate records, civil and criminal files and government documents in numerous counties. IRE is providing data analysis and computer services, particularly a cyber place where the team can compile and share information.

IRE is proud to help. But the real work is the shoe leather and data work by committed journalists and IRE members such as Mary Fricker.

“Our goal is to send this message far and wide,” Mary said. “You can’t kill a story by killing a journalist.”

Contact James Grimaldi at irepresident@ire.org.

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