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Slain black journalist wins posthumous Polk Award

Amy Westfeldt

NEW YORK — A California newspaper editor who was killed while investigating a Black Muslim splinter group’s financial dealings is a posthumous winner of a George Polk Award.

Chauncey W. Bailey Jr., editor of the weekly Oakland Post, was shot last August while walking to his job. Bailey had been investigating the Your Black Muslim Bakery chain. A handyman from the bakery was charged with killing Bailey and is awaiting trial.

Bailey won the annual Polk award for local journalism.

Other 2007 winners include Shai Oster of The Wall Street Journal for reporting on the landslides and other environmental damage caused by China’s construction of a $22 billion dam, and Joshua Micah Marshall of the political blog Talking Points Memo for his coverage of the Bush administration’s firings of federal prosecutors around the country.

The 14 awards, among the top prizes in U.S. journalism, were announced last Tuesday by Long Island University and will be presented at an April 17 luncheon in New York.

The awards were created in 1949 to honor CBS reporter George W. Polk, who was killed while covering the Greek civil war.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Bailey’s death was the first targeted killing of a journalist in the United States since 1993. Seven men — including the handyman charged with shooting Bailey — were arrested after the shooting on charges including real estate fraud and kidnapping.

Bailey, 57, had started writing about the Your Black Muslim Bakery chain, which was founded as a haven for struggling urban families and sold natural baked goods, when its founder was charged with rape. Most charges were dropped.

John McPhee, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1965 and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Annals of the Former World” about the terrain surrounding Interstate 80, received a career achievement award.

Other winners were:

• Senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto, producer Angus Hines and cameraman/producer Tom Murphy of “ABC World News with Charlie Gibson” for television reporting. The team penetrated a news blackout in Myanmar to cover the government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations against rising fuel prices.

• Reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of The Washington Post for political reporting. The team wrote four stories describing Vice President Dick Cheney’s influence over major U.S. foreign policy on torture, military tribunals and other issues.

• Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief of California-based McClatchy Co., for foreign reporting for her coverage of Iraqi families in ethnically torn neighborhoods and the victims of a deadly car bombing.

• Reporter Charles Duhigg of The New York Times for medical reporting for a series on unethical practices involving billing of the elderly for long-term health care.

• The Chicago Tribune for consumer reporting, for a seven-month series documenting children’s deaths and injuries from magnetic building sets, lead-tainted toys and defective cribs.

• Jeremy Scahill won the Book Award for “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” about the North Carolina-based military services contractor.

• Freelance writer Joshua Kors won for magazine reporting for his two-part series in The Nation on a former U.S. Army specialist who was refused disability or medical benefits after suffering hearing loss and depression from a rocket explosion in Iraq.

• Edward Chancellor won for financial reporting for his piece “Ponzi Nation,” published in Institutional Investor magazine, about the dangers subprime mortgages and lightly regulated hedge funds pose to the world economy.

• The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer won for economic reporting for a yearlong series on the causes of the high rates of housing foreclosures in the community.

• Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., for state reporting on how the Mississippi State Department of Health didn’t report several major health problems, including increases in tuberculosis and a highest-in-the-nation infant mortality rate.

(Associated Press)