In September of last year, the Ida B. Wells Society launched a year-long partnership with Riverside High School’s journalism class taught by Bryan Christopher. The project, funded by a grant provided by Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand, allows for a class of 33 students to get hands-on experience in investigative journalism by working with two local reporters and a number of prominent journalists across the country. One key feature of the program is monthly workshops coordinated by the Society.
The first workshop was a kickoff event that included a virtual Q&A and brainstorming session with co-founders Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders.
The kickoff was followed by four more monthly workshops. Reese Dunklin, investigative reporter for The Associated Press, spoke with the students in October about coming up with investigative ideas and ways to approach them. In early November, the Society held the first in-person workshop since 2019, when students visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and heard from multimedia storyteller and communications manager Carol Bono of LatinxEd. Bono discussed how to make stories people-driven. Sally Ho, investigative correspondent and news reporter for the Associated Press presented a virtual session on data and databases at the end of November. The year was rounded out in December with a virtual workshop on high school student press freedom presented by Sommer Dean, staff attorney at Student Press Law Center.
The students expressed how the workshops have helped them as they have progressed in developing their own stories.
“It’s so much fun to learn about research and interviewing. It’s helpful in building the story, and gives understanding to the reader. It’s also very helpful in other aspects of life,” Piper Winton, a sophomore in the class said.
William Rodriguez, also a sophomore, shared “It’s a great opportunity to learn about new things, how to write, how to ask questions, basically teaching you life skills. It’s a great experience that will help me in my career with how to speak to people, and how to ask the right questions without crossing the line.”
In addition to the monthly workshops, the students have been working closely with two local journalists serving as mentors and coaches for the students as they develop their investigative projects. Laura Brache, reporter for The Raleigh News & Observer and Thomasi McDonald, crime and investigative reporter for Durham’s Indy Week. “The most rewarding part about being a coach to The Pirates’ Hook students is when they excitedly approach me as I walk into the classroom to tell me they have an update about their stories they’d like to share. It’s really encouraging to see their enthusiasm about their work and, in turn, their understanding of the role it plays in democracy inside and outside the classroom’s walls,” shared Brache.
The program is continuing into the spring semester with McDonald and Brache staying on board as coaches. The next workshop is scheduled for February and will feature Ida B. Wells Society trainers, Kate Howard and Helina Selemon as they speak with the journalists about the importance of backgrounding. Junior Eden Richmond spoke about the impact that the partnership with the Society and these workshops have had on the class. “As high school journalists, we have a unique perspective. We are fully immersed in the community we report on,” he said. “But as kids, we don’t have a lot of agency or control. Ida B. Wells Society is really able to give a stronger voice to us, which is an important thing.”