Commentary: Chauncey Bailey Project – A Journalistic Collaboration
By Dori Maynard, The Chauncey Bailey Project and the Maynard Institute
At a time when two reports are heralding the importance of journalistic collaboration in this age of rapid media transformation, an Oakland, Calif., jury succinctly made just that point when it convicted Yusuf Bey IV and Antoine Mackey of murdering journalist Chauncey Bailey.
“I would especially like to recognize and acknowledge the Chauncey Bailey Project, (which) worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure that the defendants responsible for these senseless murders were brought to justice,” District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley said shortly after the verdicts were announced.
Bailey, who had worked at the Hartford Courant, the Detroit News and the Oakland Tribune, was the editor of the Oakland Post when he was gunned down on an Oakland street while walking to work in August 2007.
It was the first murder of a U.S. journalist working on a domestic story since Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was killed in a car bombing 35 years earlier.
Fearing it could have a chilling effect on democracy if killing the messenger results in silencing the message, journalists do not look kindly on the murder of one of their members in the pursuit of their job.
Bolles’ colleagues almost immediately mobilized, forming a journalistic coalition representing news organizations throughout the nation. Dubbed the Arizona Project, it produced a multi-part series that continued the work that led to Bolles’ murder.
In the days following Bailey’s murder, journalists across the country referenced the Arizona Project and called for a similar effort on Bailey’s behalf.
A dinner was held at a Chinese restaurant, a meeting was convened at the Oakland Tribune, and the Chauncey Bailey Project was born.
Those early days were fraught.
With a coalition of nearly three-dozen Bay Area news outlets, freelance journalists, journalism schools, local and national media organizations, the initial meetings were massive and the stumbling blocks and questions seemingly unending.
Competitors were being asked to put aside long held rivalries and collaborate. Print, TV and radio reporters with differing deadlines needed to find a way to coordinate the release of each piece so no single organization got the scoop.
And then there was the question of mission.
The Arizona Project focused on finishing Bolles’ work.
We knew Bailey had been looking into Your Black Muslim Bakery, once a respected Oakland, CA institution that had since devolved into a hub of criminal activity.
Would the Bailey Project finish his work or investigate his murder?
Ultimately, it became clear we had to do both.
Out of the messy chaos that was our beginning, a structure began to emerge.
With the support of the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, the John S and James L Knight Foundation, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Newspaper Guild and The California Endowment, the finances were raised to create a hybrid news organization.
A Bailey Project editor was hired.
The heads of three local non-profits provided the project’s administrative backbone.
With the encouragement and financial support of the Knight Foundation, a website was built to serve as a central repository of the project’s work.
Over time, the core reporting team boiled down to three journalists – an investigative reporter, an out of- town retired investigative reporter and an independent radio reporter.
A modern day Mod Squad – one white, one black and one grandmother – their diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise combined to give the team a broad reach.
Together they dug through documents, occasionally they argued, and they always regrouped and went back at it if a competitor got the best of them.
Then came the videotape of a jailhouse conversation between Bakery head Bey IV and his compatriots.
A portion of the video had been previously reported on by a rival news organization that had opted out of the Bailey Project.
Undeterred, the Bailey Project reporters repeatedly reviewed the tape, sent it to a lab to enhance the sound and uncovered what they reported to be evidence that linked Bey IV to Bailey’s murder, apparently angry that Bailey was going to report on the Bakery’s shaky finances.
Almost four years after Bailey’s murder, a jury agreed.
Bey IV, the man who ordered the murder, and former Bakery employee and getaway driver Mackey are facing life sentences.
The confessed gunman, Devaughndre Broussard, who agreed to testify against Bey IV and Mackey, received a 25- year sentence.
And the power of journalism was reaffirmed.
It was the pursuit of journalism that got Bailey killed, and it was the pursuit of journalism that helped bring his assailants to justice.
This is a disruptive period in the media. Journalists, news organizations and technically savvy citizens are experimenting with a range of new models.
The Chauncey Bailey Project proved that collaboration, no matter how initially messy or uncertain, is one model that works.
Dori Maynard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.