Charles Bailey set a high bar at the Minneapolis Tribune.
Charles W. Bailey II could be a charmer.
But the erudite, Boston-born, Harvard-educated Bailey, who died Tuesday in New Jersey at 82, was also a tough-minded, thoroughly professional journalist who could inspire a little fear and a lot of respect in reporters at the Minneapolis Tribune, where he was editor from 1972 to 1982.
Those were tumultuous years for the nation and for this newspaper, and Bailey applied his considerable talent to the service of both. He had been the Tribune’s Washington correspondent for 18 years, traveling the globe and covering presidential campaigns.
That means that when the Watergate story broke in 1972, he understood its significance, and made sure his newspaper’s readers did, too. He believed that readers of a regional paper were as deserving of a steady diet of national and international news as any reader in Washington or New York.
He also believed that women were as journalistically capable as men. On his watch, women moved for the first time into news leadership positions and beats that had formerly been male bastions.
He considered the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston news big enough to assign a young reporter (me) to accompany the Minnesota delegation and spend weeks doing the homework such an assignment required.
Bailey held that quality reporting made for a quality newspaper. He didn’t hesitate to dispatch reporters to the scene of the news, no matter where, right now. They could worry about buying overnight toiletries after they’d filed their stories.
When the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune merged amid a flurry of cost-cutting in 1982, Bailey became editor of the combined enterprise. But when the red ink kept flowing and the company slashed another 75 positions later that year, Bailey resigned in protest.
He didn’t want to be the head of a news enterprise too depleted to function up to his high standards.
The cuts he resisted were made. But the standards he set persisted in the Star Tribune’s institutional conscience long after Bailey left.
A lot of us who earned our journalistic stripes in his newsroom coveted his praise, and in some ways, we never stopped seeking it. Occasionally I’d get a note with a kind word from him years later.
Those notes, and his memory, are keepers.
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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.