California Polytechnic State University senior Roselyn Romero thought she’d be doing nothing this past summer.
That was until she stumbled upon the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which helped her land a funded summer internship.
Housed at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the Ida B. Wells Society is an organization dedicated to training reporters and editors of color, particularly in investigative journalism. Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand's Black Community Commitment recently donated a $1 million grant to the society, which will help fund future opportunities for Romero and other young journalists.
In addition to expanding summer internship offerings like Romero's, the grant will fund two new programs. The first is an All-Star Investigative Summer J-Camp, where high school students from majority-Black and Latinx schools will participate in a training program in partnership with a North Carolina historically Black college. It will also support a year-long investigative reporting project at Riverside High School in Durham, with local and national reporters coaching students through the process.
When considering what she wanted to do this summer, Romero knew she wanted a new challenge. She started searching for internships with national media.
But she ran into trouble while filling out applications.
“I didn’t have the connections, basically,” Romero said. “I didn’t know who the hiring managers were. I didn’t know who to address my cover letters to.”
Something as simple as the Ida B. Wells Society listing internship opportunities on their website was a revelation, she said. She was amazed that the society tweeted job alerts for investigative opportunities, making the tools she needed much more accessible.
Through the society, Romero applied for and received an internship position with the Associated Press Global Investigations team.
Finally, her new challenge had come — but how would she navigate it?
Enter Ron Nixon, head of the AP’s global investigations team and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society. Romero remembers Nixon checking in on her almost every day during the internship.
It was Nixon who suggested Romero change her original story on heat-related deaths among California farmworkers and instead pursue an investigation into fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards.
“Working on investigative stories, it takes weeks and tons of spreadsheets to gather enough data or information to have a story idea,” Romero said. “So I was like, pivot? What do you mean pivot?”
That pivot got Romero her first byline with the AP. In response to her story, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on the counterfeit cards.
Romero’s internship experience illustrates the high-quality opportunities the Ida B. Wells Society aims to create for young journalists of color. The $1 million grant from the Jordan Brand will help the organization continue what it's been doing — and then some more.
Ida B. Wells Society Director Rhema Bland said the new programs’ focus on engaging youth was what excited Jordan Brand representatives the most when hearing the society’s proposal.
Riverside High School was picked because of its racial diversity — the school is 29.9 percent Black, 37.7 percent Hispanic and 26.1 percent white — and it offered a local option for the project to be pursued in person.
But what struck the society, Bland said, was Riverside journalism teacher Bryan Christopher’s passion for student journalism and commitment to diversifying the investigative reporting pipeline.
Christopher has seen the school’s demographics shift and has tried to build a newspaper staff representative of the school’s diversity. He said he felt the project could have an immense impact on his students, giving them role models who looked like them.
“I think it just hits different than when they see me, a 37-year-old white male,” Christopher said. “It hits different when they see really outstanding reporters who look like them and get to develop a personal relationship.”
Bland said expanding these new programs will take a while, but the grant allows them to plan for multiple camps and projects at different high schools across the country.
That kind of reach, Nixon feels, is key to the Ida B. Wells Society’s mission.
“We talk about diversity, it can't be about just numbers,” Nixon said. “(It) means broadening the pool of people that you are recruiting from. So you hit up not just Yale or Columbia. Hit up (City Universities of New York) and hit up the HBCUs like Howard and Morgan State.”
Romero felt the lack of reach when searching for internships. She thinks this is because higher-ups aren’t really looking to cast their nets wide and are content with giving the position to their close connections.
“If we want to make newsrooms more diverse, then we need to have work like the Ida B. Wells Society to give those opportunities to journalists of color and to encourage people from historically disadvantaged communities to pursue investigative work,” Romero said.