Will the Ida B. Wells Society co-founded by Nikole Hannah-Jones stay on UNC-CH campus?

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While journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones turned down UNC-Chapel Hill, the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting she co-founded is staying at the university.

At least, for now.

The Ida B. Wells Society is a news trade organization that works to increase the ranks, retention and profile of reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting through workshops and training. It launched in 2016 and is housed at UNC-CH’s journalism school.

“For now, we don’t intend to move the Ida B. Wells Society,” Hannah-Jones told The News & Observer this week.

After weeks of national controversy over her tenure appointment, Hannah-Jones declined UNC-CH’s offer for tenure as the Knight Chair for Race and Investigative Journalism. Instead, she’s joining Howard University, a historically Black university, as its inaugural Knight Chair. She and author Ta-Nehisi Coates are also establishing the Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard.

‘A man who seems to be in opposition’

Hannah-Jones said that her tenure was not taken up because of political opposition and discrimination against her viewpoints, race and gender. She also recognized the interference by Walter Hussman Jr., the UNC-CH journalism school’s namesake who gave the school its largest gift ever.

“I think it will be difficult in the long term to have our society at a school named after a man who seems to be in opposition to the very reason that we exist,” Hannah-Jones said.

The organization is named for Black investigative journalist Ida B. Wells, “whose tireless and courageous reporting exposed the scourge of lynching to both a national and international audience.” She was an activist for women’s rights and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells

When the news broke about the influences behind this controversy, Ida B. Well’s great-grandaughter Michelle Duster questioned on Twitter whether the society should stay at UNC-CH.

“Not sure that @UNC is the right place for an organization with my great-grandmother #IdaBWells’ name. They don’t seem to value what she stood for,” she tweeted.

The organization and its founders have been happy with the relationship with the journalism school and Dean Susan King, according to Hannah-Jones. But she said there are “some difficult conversations ahead.”

Ron Nixon, global investigations editor at The Associated Press, Topher Sanders, who covers race, inequality and the justice system for ProPublica, and Corey Johnson, an investigative reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, are the other original co-founders.

Nixon and Sanders declined to comment on the future of the Ida B. Wells Society at UNC-CH.

“Nikole, Ron and Topher are continuing to evaluate what’s best for the organization,” Director Rhema Joy Bland said in a statement. “At this time, the Society will remain at UNC, and we’ll continue to focus on the work of supporting journalists of color.”

Society distinct from university

Hannah-Jones said she will continue to support the journalism school that raised her and its faculty, who she deeply respects. This “debacle” won’t affect their ability to serve their members, she said.

The organization is distinct from the university. Any money, donations and support that go toward the work of the society stays within the society, she said.

I would hope that people would still support the work, even though I’m not going to be at the university,” Hannah-Jones said.

There is also a student chapter of the society at Howard that gives students a space on campus to develop investigative reporting skills and work as young journalists.

UNC-CH hasn’t lost the society, but, Hannah-Jones said, they will have to “ultimately decide the path forward.”

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