A national investigative reporting organization cofounded by a celebrated journalist with deep roots in the Triangle has found a new home at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting will be housed at the university’s School of Media and Journalism, school officials announced last week.

Its new website is already up and running.

The society’s mission is to help all journalists improve their investigative skills, but it especially wants to help increase and retain reporters and editors of color in the field while working “to educate news organizations and journalists on how the inclusion of diverse voices can raise the caliber, impact, and visibility of investigative journalism as a means of promoting transparency and good government,” according to an M-J School announcement.

School officials also note that while newsrooms across the country are seeing slight increases in the number of journalists of color among their ranks, the organizations remain less diverse than the communities they cover.

“That lack of a diverse perspective can be a hindrance in covering important stories that have nuances of race, culture, and ethnicity,” Carly Miller, a UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman, told the INDY in an email.  

M-J School dean Susan King says a newsroom armed with multiple perspectives is good for the country—and for the press.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the media and journalism are essential to a healthy democracy and a relevant industry,” King said in the press release. “We’re proud to support an initiative of this caliber to help make newsrooms more reflective of the communities they report on.”

The society was named in honor of Ida B. Wells a fiery, crusading journalist who, in the face of constant death threats, achieved landmark investigating reporting in the 19th and 20th centuries while chronicling the domestic terrorism of lynching.

Wells was also a civil rights peer of Frederick Douglass and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The organization bearing Wells’s name was spearheaded by three veteran journalists, including Nikole Hannah-Jones, a 2003 UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school graduate and former staff writer with The News & Observer. She currently works as a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, where she envisioned the magazine’s landmark 1619 Project, a groundbreaking collection of essays, news features, photos and historical analyses that have sparked a conversation about the legacy of slavery four hundred years after the first  kidnapped Africans were brought from Angola to America. 

In the press release, school officials note that Hannah-Jones was a Roy H. Park Fellow while enrolled as a graduate student from 2001 to 2003 and delivered the journalism school’s commencement address in 2017, the same year she was named a MacArthur “Genius” Grant Fellow.

“It’s such a place of journalistic excellence,” Hannah-Jones said of her alma mater in the press release. “It means so much to me. And I love that [the Ida B. Wells Society is] moving to the South. Having a presence there—where so many black journalists are and the people we write about live—is critical.”

The society’s co-founders, along with Hannah-Jones, are Ron Nixon, the international investigations editor at The Associated Press; and Topher Sanders, who covers race, inequality, and the justice system for ProPublica.

The organization offers investigative reporting training workshops throughout the United States and is developing a yearlong fellowship program based in New York City. The co-founders will visit the Triangle to advise and mentor MJ-school students and share their investigative journalism expertise in classroom settings.

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com. 

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