News about the Ida B. Wells Society

Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting receives record $1 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

At a time when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and tumultuous political climate underscore the importance of vigorous investigative journalism, a new $1 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation will support the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting in its efforts to strengthen and support the work of journalists of color seeking to hold power accountable.    

The one-year grant — part of the Foundation’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and the largest the Society has received since its founding in 2016 — will create an endowment to ensure the long-term financial stability of the nonprofit news trade organization dedicated to increasing the ranks, retention and profile of investigative reporters and editors of color.

Housed at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the Society has served approximately 2,500 journalists and students through initiatives such as reporting workshops, data trainings, mentorship programs, internships and fellowships.

Co-founded by prominent journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones (M.A. `03), Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders, the Society works to educate news organizations and journalists on how diverse voices can raise the caliber, impact and visibility of investigative journalism as a means of promoting transparency and good government.

Hannah-Jones is a 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner with The New York Times and was named to the 2017 class of MacArthur Foundation Fellows, also known as the “genius grant.” Nixon is a global investigations editor for the Associated Press, overseeing teams of reporters around the world and helping to infuse the AP’s global news report with accountability reporting and a strong investigative ethos. Sanders is an award-winning reporter covering race, inequality and the justice system for ProPublica. In 2019, he was part of a team that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist

“We are proud to support the Ida B. Wells Society and their commitment to journalists of color across the nation,” said Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. “Our hope is that this unrestricted grant will give the organization the flexibility to build on their important work toward racial justice and equity while educating others on the importance of diverse voices today.”

The Hilton Foundation was established in 1944 and provides funds to nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of individuals experiencing disadvantage throughout the world.

“The founders of the Ida B. Wells Society are ecstatic and deeply grateful for this incredible grant from the Hilton Foundation,” Hannah-Jones said. “Black journalists, in particular, have long served as this nation’s conscience even as they have been denied opportunities in mainstream news organizations to do the investigative reporting that holds power accountable. Our democracy is in a crisis, and we will use this grant to continue to train and support all journalists of color to do the critical work that reveals the challenges of the multiracial nation in which we live.”

The grant comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement and contentious 2020 U.S. election have broadly exposed racial disparities both in newsroom numbers and in societal trends, disparities the Society has long highlighted.

Overall, people of color represent 21.9 percent of the salaried workforce among newsrooms that responded to the 2019 News Leaders Association Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. However, 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that nearly four of 10 Americans identify with a race or ethnic group other than white.

“We are grateful to the Hilton Foundation for believing in our mission to diversify the field of investigative reporting. This grant will allow us to expand the specialized trainings and other programs at the Ida B. Wells Society that will help create a pipeline of journalists of color,” Nixon said.

The Society has remained focused and committed to creating that pipeline during a year marked by COVID-19 by offering virtual workshops such as the “Covering COVID-19 Reporting Series,” which addressed best practices of reporting during the pandemic.

During the summer of 2020, the Society launched the Ida B. Wells Society/OpenElections Summer Program, which recruited students from historically Black colleges and universities to gather precinct-level election results and convert them into data to help create a free, comprehensive data set of federal, statewide and state legislative election results for the U.S.

“We’re so honored to house the Ida B. Wells Society at UNC Hussman,” said Susan King, dean of the school. “It is so clear with a grant like this from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation the importance in our country of producing journalists of color to tell the story of the 21st century.” 

Future projects for the Society include an intensive investigative fellowship program in New York providing 12 journalists with training in in-depth investigation techniques four times a year at no cost; expanded investigative reporter trainings, including a pandemic-focused series with drill-down topics like investigating nursing homes; and management-specific programs for investigative journalists seeking to advance to leadership positions.

Essentially, the grant will allow the Society to continue living up to its namesake, Ida B. Wells (1862–1931), a pioneering Black investigative journalist who chronicled the virulent lynching of Black Americans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and who innovated investigative reporting techniques still in use today.

“The Society was birthed from the idea that for too long news organizations have relied on the same tired excuses for why investigative reporting and opportunities were reserved almost entirely for white reporters,” Sanders said. “We decided to remove the excuses by training, cultivating and promoting the plethora of talented journalists of color who can do the work if only given the right tools and opportunities. This grant will ensure Ida’s mission will thrive through an endowment and help bring about a sea change in investigative reporting.”

About the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help individuals throughout the world living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage. The Foundation invests in 11 program areas, including providing access to safe water, supporting transition-age foster youth, ending chronic homelessness, hospitality workforce development, disaster relief and recovery, helping young children affected by HIV and AIDS, and supporting the work of Catholic sisters. In addition, following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $2.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to reduce human suffering. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.8 billion in grants, distributing $110 million in the U.S. and around the world in 2019. Foundation assets increased from approximately $2.9 billion to $6.6 billion following the 2019 passing of Barron Hilton who, like his father, pledged virtually his entire estate to the Foundation. For more information, please visit

About the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is a news trade organization dedicated to increasing and retaining reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting. Founded in 2016 by veteran journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders, the organization seeks to provide free/low-cost training, skills-building and support for journalists of color pursuing investigative work. The Society is open to journalists of all backgrounds who support the mission and work of the organization. Since its founding, it has served more than 2,000 journalists through its programming. For more information, visit

Rhema Bland named first Ida B. Wells Society Director

Rhema Bland, director of the Ida B. Wells Society

As a Black, female journalist rising up the ranks, Rhema Bland couldn’t name what she was experiencing. She saw other journalists with the kinds of investigative reporting skills she wanted, but she often felt passed over for opportunities to learn more.

“More than once, stories or beats I was vying for would go to younger, white reporters who didn’t have my education or level of experience,” she says. “It took longer for me to achieve those things, even when I worked harder. There was something unwritten that didn’t make sense to me.”

She saw journalists of color tracked into lifestyle reporting and breaking news. When she left the industry to work in higher education, she saw something similar: few students of color doing investigative journalism.

“When I started working with student media, there was a dearth of students of color. And they weren’t doing deep-dive journalism, the comprehensive, investigative stories,” said Bland. “When I learned about the Ida B. Wells Society, I realized – this gets to what I couldn’t name so long ago.”

Bland is the new director of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Co-founded by award-winning journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones (M.A. ’03), Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders, the society seeks to increase the ranks, retention and profile of reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting. They host trainings year-round for journalists of all skill levels, led by media professionals from around the country, and focusing on everything from reporting about racial inequality and schools to COVID-19.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” says Bland. “2020 struck a lot of chords that needed to be struck. The society is needed more than ever as we bolster and elevate journalists who are marginalized in an industry that is often marginalized itself. I’m excited to be part of this great mission and help propel the ideals of the cofounders, and come up with my own, at this precipice.”

Read the full news release and learn more about Rhema here.

Society co-founders featured on keynote panel for ‘Light of Truth’

Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting co-founders Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders appeared as panelists for the keynote symposium of “The Light of Truth: Ida B. Wells as Journalist, Advocate & Educator” on Oct. 3, 2020.

 This was the first in a series of six virtual events hosted by the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill to celebrate the life and work of pioneering Black journalist Ida B. Wells. The virtual, sold-out panel was moderated by Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery, director of the Center for the Study of the American South, and Dr. Joseph Jordan, director of UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

“Investigative reporting is the most important reporting in our democracy. It is that type of reporting that holds power accountable, that exposes the way that powerful people wield that power in ways that are harmful to individuals and communities, and yet that is also the whitest aspect of our profession,” Hannah-Jones told attendees. “We know that there are simply stories that are not being covered and communities that are not getting the type of spotlight that they need, and that’s really critical to our mission, which is to continue to expand focus on covering racial inequality, racial injustice, marginalized communities, really changing that complexion.”

Society receives Donna Allen Award for Feminist Advocacy

The award honors Donna Allen, the founder of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. It highlights feminist media activism and the implication on the rights and freedoms of women and minorities across the world.

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is being honored with the Donna Allen Award for Feminist Advocacy — given by the Commission on the Status of Women within the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication — for its efforts to identify, mentor and retain journalists of color.

Poynter recognizes Ron Nixon in commentary about diversity in investigative reporting

Poynter’s Mark J. Rochester highlighted the work of Ida B. Wells Society Co-Founder Ron Nixon in his recent article, “Investigative journalism, long criticized for a lack of diversity, has made significant developments since March.”

“I’ve overseen investigative reporting in newsrooms from New York to California for the last 25 years. Until recently, I held out little hope that I ever would see many more investigative news leaders that looked like me,” writes Rochester, pointing to the recent promotion of Nixon to global investigations editor at the Associated Press.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would be the leader of an investigative team for a global news organization,” Nixon said. “My team includes seven Pulitzer Prize winners. Several others on the team have won other major awards such as the Polk and Goldsmith. It’s amazing to lead this great group of journalists. Still pinching myself.”

Read more.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ida B. Wells awarded 2020 Pulitzer Prizes

Congratulations to Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting cofounder Nikole Hannah-Jones – a 2003 (M.A.) graduate and Park Fellow of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media – who received the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary for the The New York Times Magazine’s ‘The 1619 Project.’ Read more from the Hussman school.

She was recognized “for a sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay for the ground-breaking 1619 Project, which seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.”

The Pulitzer Prize Board posthumously awarded a Special Citation to Ida B. Wells “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching. The citation comes with a bequest by the Pulitzer Prize board of at least $50,000 in support of her mission. Recipients will be announced at a later date.”

Ida B. Wells Society co-founder Ron Nixon promoted at AP

Ron Nixon

The Associated Press has promoted acclaimed reporter, editor and data journalist Ron Nixon to be its global investigations editor, overseeing teams of reporters around the world and helping to infuse the AP’s global news report with accountability reporting and a strong investigative ethos.

Nixon is one of the founders of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. The announcement was made Thursday by Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. Read more about this announcement.

NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame to induct Hannah-Jones in 2020 class

The NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame will induct Nikole Hannah-Jones into its 2020 honorees April 3 at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, NC.

The gala event benefits the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media in its critical role developing future leaders in our professions and includes a reception, dinner and ceremony.

One of the founders of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, Hannah-Jones is investigative reporter covering civil rights and racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine. Read more about the event.

Hannah-Jones receives Polk Award for ‘1619 Project’

Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting co-founder and UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media alumna Nikole Hannah-Jones ’03 (M.A.) received special recognition from Long Island University’s (LIU) prestigious George Polk Awards, LIU has announced.

PHOTO CREDIT: Karsten Moran

The 15 winners of the Polk Awards were announced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 19, 2020. LIU announced Hannah-Jones’s special recognition in its awards press release:

“A Special Award is presented to Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times and contributors to ‘The 1619 Project,’ a supplement published on the 400th anniversary of the advent of American slavery, using essays by journalists and scholars to explore the role of slavery in history and its enduring effects in contemporary American society. A powerful introduction by Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and driving force, examined efforts of black Americans to advance the nation’s expressed ideals of democracy, liberty and equality in the face of centuries of oppression and exclusion.”

The George Polk Awards are conferred annually to honor special achievement in journalism. The awards place a premium on investigative and enterprising reporting that gains attention and achieves results.

Read the full press release here.

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