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.”