Commentary: Unusual partnership helps bring justice for Chauncey Bailey
This commentary was published by the Center for Investigative Reporting
The first meetings of the Chauncey Bailey Project in the summer of 2007 were unruly, sometimes angry and for many of the journalists in the room saturated with grief.
There were reporters and editors from across the Bay Area who knew Chauncey Bailey, had worked with him, and knew his young son.
There was also some fear. A journalist had been targeted, assassinated, shortly after breakfast one morning, as he walked to work. Why? From that moment on, other journalists in the Bay area wanted to answer that question and they wanted to make sure that those involved in killing Bailey were brought to justice.
Nearly four years after Bailey’s killing, there is justice. Former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV — who a prosecutor said terrorized Oakland — was convicted today of three counts of murder for ordering Bailey and two other men killed in summer 2007.
From the beginning the Chauncey Bailey Project wanted to send the message that when a journalist is killed because of their work, other journalists will step forward and make sure there is accountability.
The best investigative reporting exposes, reveals and explains issues or situations that are frequently hidden from the public for a huge range of reasons. Investigative reporting is slow, often painstaking work. Leads are followed that go nowhere. Sources must be developed. Your facts must be iron clad.
The CBP project start was complicated. There were volunteers and staffers from many news organizations. There were differing values, competing platforms, and reporters working together who had been competing. But the CBP project was formed because no single newsroom in the Bay Area had the resources or staff to commit multiple people to the story over a long period of time.
But together the group could succeed.
The three key reporters on the project were Tom Peele, who was detached from the Bay Area News Group; Mary Fricker, a retired investigative reporter from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat; and Bob Butler, who had recently been laid off by KCBS radio. Three different reporters and personalities who formed a trusted and relentless reporting team right out of central casting.
They stuck with the story over nearly two years. One key factor in the success of the project was a commitment to the story and time. A key moment in the investigation occurred more than a year after Bailey was killed.
A source was ready to divulge key information to the reporters. But there was one stipulation and concern. The source feared that the reporters would leave the story and that the project’s commitment would falter.
If you go away the story goes away, the source told the reporters. Without you, they were told, there will not be justice.
The reporters stayed on the story, there was commitment from the CBP, and they were committed.
There is a broader lesson in the success of CBP. In today’s journalism world, collaboration is frequently essential. The CBP epitomized that. These verdicts and the work of the CBP are a powerful reminder that investigative reporting plays a crucial role in our democracy.
It’s a form of journalism that is costly and time-consuming. It can be risky and it is hard work. But it’s essential work that when done well protects all of us and those who really have no one else to protect their rights.
Robert Rosenthal is executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and executive editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project.