The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is coming to UNC. Here's what this means for students in the School of Media and Journalism.
The society itself is devoted to promoting the recognition of editors and reporters in the investigative journalism field. The founders hope it will educate news organizations and professionals on how increased diversity is important for elevating the impact and visibility of investigative journalism. The new chapter will be housed in the MJ-school's Reese News Lab.
The organization was brought to fruition by three veteran journalists. Nikole Hannah-Jones is a member of UNC’s class of 2003 and is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. Ron Nixon is the international investigations editor at the Associated Press, and Topher Sanders reports on race, inequality and the justice system at ProPublica.
Hannah-Jones is excited that the society is moving to the South, according to an MJ-school press release. She said having a presence in a region where so many Black journalists and people of color live is important to the society’s mission.
Topher echoed this belief, saying that the South is a “natural home” for the society. He recalled his own personal experience being a Black reporter in a field that is dominated by white people.
“I was told that I couldn’t do this work," Sanders said. "I was told that I wasn’t ready for this work, and so I was not brought along by some benevolent senior executive who ushered me into the business of reporting. I had some very committed and integrity-filled colleagues who would wrap their arms around me, and I’m certainly grateful for their support, but when I got my chance to do investigative work, I was told I wasn’t ready."
MJ-school Dean and John Thomas Kerr Distinguished Professor Susan King is also involved in the organization. She said she is proud the society is being housed at UNC because it will bring even more recognition to the renowned MJ-school, which can be overlooked nationally because it is in the South. She also said she thinks the implementation of the organization at UNC is especially prominent now in the aftermath of the Silent Sam protests in 2018.
“Last year was a difficult year for this campus, and particularly for our students, and particularly for journalists, who are wrestling with maybe what their moral position is, but also their role in society to help tell the story of what’s going on and try to bring understanding to it,” King said.
King said she feels the Ida B. Wells Society’s values coincide with the University’s values, and she believes it is a great opportunity for UNC students of color to be able to find a journalistic home on a campus that was overwhelmed with stories covering racism and confederate monuments not long ago.
Nixon said his hopes for the society are to produce the best journalism possible, while also giving a voice to people who are often excluded from the investigative journalism field. Overall, he wants people to understand the importance of investigative journalism and why it is so imperative to have top-notch reporters in the field. He also said that even though the Ida B. Wells Society is directed toward investigative reporting, he wants to see more diversity in the journalism field as a whole.
“Part of it is, you know, a lot of non-white students don’t see it as a profession for them, or you don’t know people who look like you who are (in the field)," Nixon said. "But again, journalism is no different from the rest of society, in that there are disparities in all different fields, no matter what you look into.”
With the society making its new home in the South at the MJ-school, students can expect to see workshops and seminars organized to help better educate the public on the importance of racial diversity in newsrooms. King said they are expecting the first workshop to be held in November.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.