The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is partnering with Riverside High School in Durham, N.C. this year to teach a new, diverse generation the power of investigative work.
The project, funded by the Society through a grant from Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand, is a yearlong partnership with the high school – where the majority of students come from backgrounds underrepresented in the news industry – to expose young journalists to data-driven and accountability reporting. Throughout the year, students will be coached by local professionals and train with accomplished investigative journalists from around the state and country.
Riverside High School is attended by over 1800 students and is home to The Pirate’s Hook, one of few bilingual student publications in the state of North Carolina. All 33 of the students in the journalism class are also staff on the newspaper. The class and newspaper are led by Bryan Christopher who has been a teacher at Riverside since 2007.
For the fall semester, the students will be working with local coaches, Thomasi McDonald of Durham’s Indy Week and Laura Brache of Raleigh’s The News & Observer. McDonald and Brache will be offering weekly support and advice to the students as they navigate their investigative projects.
The program will also collaborate with the News & Observer to provide students with additional support and mentorship as they work toward pitching, planning and covering their own stories each semester. Monthly trainings will be given to the students by professional investigative journalists on a variety of topics ranging from legal issues to sourcing.
“The Ida B. Wells Society’s support will amplify my students’ voices in new and powerful ways,” said Christopher. “And the personal relationships my students of color build with world-class journalists who look like them will inspire the next generation of reporters in ways I cannot. I can’t wait to read the stories my kids produce in the coming months.”
The Society kicked off the program at the high school Sept. 9 where students were able to meet virtually with Ida B. Wells Society co-founders, Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders, and ask questions about how they began their careers in journalism and the work they’re doing now.
Society co-founder Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was unable to attend due to filming for her forthcoming 1619 documentary, sent a video of well wishes to the class.
“Investigative reporting is some of the most critical reporting in our democracy and it’s also some of the most interesting and fascinating work, and I am just so appreciative of your teacher and all the work you are going to produce,” she told the students in the video.
Nixon and Sanders offered up personal anecdotes and memorable advice to the students during the event.
One student asked Nixon about the beginning of his journalism career. He responded by referencing back to his first investigative story. “I never set out to be a journalist and when I did that story there were some things that scared me, but it was also pretty exciting,” said Nixon. “I saw the impact that you can have as a reporter, and I was hooked and have been doing it ever since.”
The students also shared a list of potential investigative topics for their projects, which Sanders provided feedback on.
“Investigative reporting allows you to not only be aware of injustices but allows you to go do something about them,” Sanders told the students. “Get to the ‘why’ and it means that much more to your community.”
The program gets at the heart of Society’s mission to increase the ranks, retention and profile of journalists of color.
“When that passion for journalism and what it can actually do happens early and is fueled by skill-building, mentorship and a team of people who have been there and say ‘You can do this,’ it’s really unstoppable and contagious,” said Society director Rhema Bland. “Our goal is to ignite that spark in more journalists of color early and often.”