Remembering Journalist Chauncey Bailey
Remembering Chauncey Bailey, newspaper editor, mentor and friend.
By Kwan Booth
Deadline nights in the newspaper business are sacred. Nothing compares to that last minute rush of writing, editing and designing, trying to squeeze in that last crucial detail before going to press. When I heard that Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, was killed yesterday morning, “deadline night” was the first thing that came to mind.
For the last 2 ½ years I’ve been a writer and editor at the Post and Chauncey and I worked together on several occasions. Some of my best memories are from Tuesdays in the production room at 2am: huddled around a computer screen-shirt sleeves rolled up, bags under everyone’s eyes, cups of stale coffee littering every counter top. I remember some nights looking over at Chauncey and seeing the fatigue on his face. But more than that there was the joy-the man was addicted to the news and the business associated with it.
These were the times he relished. These were also the times when he opened up the most. Reports from the last 24 hours have repeatedly mentioned his hallmark aggressive style and brevity, and for good reason. Chauncey wasn’t one for small conversations. From the way he answered the phone-”This is Bailey. What?” to his habit of writing stories in the body of emails or dictating them to layout designers directly to speed the process-he was all about getting it out quick, hard and correct.
But his style always came across as more tough love than “tough shit.” Late nights he’d open up about the screenplays and movies he was working on and his frustration trying to get movie studios to read scripts that showed real life black characters. He’d tell stories of his years chronicling the African American community in the Bay Area and Detroit and the roadblocks he encountered trying to increase the presence and credibility black people in the media. The man truly loved people and he was the first person to really drive home the importance of knowing the people you write about. He would always say “how can you report on the community if you’re not in the community?”
We’d have long debates on media and the best way to reach under served neighborhoods. I’d call him a dinosaur for his unrelenting faith in the power of print news and old school TV broadcasts. He thought I put too much emphasis on all this “new media.” His rationale: you’ve got to reach people where they are and most poor folks aren’t checking for the Daily Kos. Understandable coming from a man who never figured out how to send an attachment in an email, but from those late night conversations I learned a lot about the inner workings of the news industry.
Chauncey taught me everything from how to really grill public officials to how to score a spot on the coveted “press junket.” We often joked about it in the office, but Chauncey really was the James Brown of Bay Area reporting-”the hardest working man in journalism.” He refused to have a computer in his house, explaining that he’d “never stop working.”
It was a regular thing for staffers to make late night and early morning runs to the office to find Chauncey sitting there, hunched over his computer, ballpoint pin in his mouth, eyes three inches from the screen surrounded by mountains of press releases, phone numbers and story notes. Chauncey had a great feel for what people wanted and was a big fan of short, tightly written stories. He liked to tease the reader and make them come back for more next week.
He regularly chided contributing writers for their verbosity “I wrote about the entire state of black people in California in 300 words, why do you need 800 for a record review?” This article-756 words written in his memory-would have probably driven him nuts and I can imagine him over my shoulder with a red pen in hand, slashing copy. Like most journalists he didn’t like to be the center of attention and I could see him bumping his own memorial for something more “newsy.”
For just this once though, long winded or not, I hope he’d agree that the length of the article fits the occasion. Chauncey you were a good dude, a trusted mentor and a hell of a newspaper man. Your contribution to the community will be greatly missed. End of story.