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The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting celebrates five years

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The Ida B. Wells Society's yearlong project with Riverside's journalism program kicks off at Riverside High School in Durham. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Meglin.

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting – a national journalism organization committed to supporting journalists of color – is celebrating its fifth anniversary. 

"It's come a long way," Rhema Bland, director of the Ida B. Wells Society, said. 

The organization was founded by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and Hussman School of Journalism and Media alumna Nikole Hannah-Jones, Associated Press international investigations editor Ron Nixon and ProPublica race, inequality and justice system reporter Topher Sanders. 

Bland said the society doesn't have a specific date attributed to its founding, but it identifies its official debut as being during the National Association of Black Journalists conference in 2016. 

She said in an email that the Ida B. Wells Society hosted no specific anniversary events this fall due to the pandemic, but hopes to celebrate sometime next year.

Bland added that she's proud of how far the organization has come. The society's leadership began with Hannah-Jones, Nixon, Sanders and Tampa Bay Times reporterCorey Johnson brainstorming ideas of potential helpful resources to getting attention from major news organizations and celebrities, such as Michael Jordan.

"We're getting attention from Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand," Bland said. "People are talking about us all over the place.”

She said the founders are also very proud of all the people they have been able to help through  resources and their internship program, which connects its members to career opportunities at prominent newsrooms and brands. 

Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand's Black Community Commitment recently donated a $1 million grant to the society to help fund the internship program and other resources. 

Candace Montague, a freelance journalist from Washington, D.C., has taken advantage of many Ida B. Wells Society resources.

“They've been wonderful ever since they started, and they've helped distribute information that those of us who are Black journalists need to know,'' Montague said. "They have been very inspiring to me on getting into investigative journalism because I've always had a kind of curiosity about that field, but I never knew how to start, where to start or even how to inquire.”

She said watching what the Ida B. Wells Society has built over the years and taking advantage of the articles, workshops and the webinars they share have motivated her to pursue investigative journalism as a career. 

Zshekinah Collier, a journalist who recently graduated from American University, was a part of the first class of the Ida B. Wells Society internship program. She worked at USA Today on the investigative team. 

“It was an experience like no other," she said. "Although it was virtual, it was one of the best internship experiences I've had. One, because it was very hands-on, I was able to work on a range of projects and work on different teams.”

Collier was able to build many relationships through the program. She still receives help from her internship mentor on job applications.

Bland said she's heard the founders say that's what it's all about — paying it forward. They are already successful journalists, and they want to extend that to the next generation.

Bland said the initial failure of the UNC Board of Trustees to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones over the summer made the dynamics between the society's founders and the University awkward, but said the Hussman School and its faculty have always been supportive.

"They've stood behind us," she said. "They are amazing allies in all of this. So that did help, but from outward-facing that was difficult, and also had a lot of uncertainty, which makes it difficult."

Montague said she is grateful that the society's founders brought their idea to fruition because it was needed.

"I would like to tell the founders thank you for providing these resources and being there for those of us," she said, "especially those of us who are freelancers who need their support and are out there on their own." |

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