In honor of Ida B. Wells — the pioneering African-American activist and investigative reporter who, during the Jim Crow era, led the nation’s first campaign against lynching — we launched the fellowship in 2016 to promote diversity and create a pipeline of investigative reporters of color who bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and interests to their work.
The one-year fellowship helps reporters complete their first substantial work of investigative reporting, by providing a $10,000 award and editorial advice from a dedicated Investigative Fund editor. Fellows will also receive funds to cover travel and other reporting costs, and the costs associated with attending the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. They will enjoy access to research resources, legal assistance, professional mentors and assistance with story placement and publicity.
One of our inaugural Ida B. Wells Fellows, Nikhil Swaminathan, uncovered lax oversight by U.S. universities, and a lack of job protections for Indian students, who fall prey to “body shops” that contract tech workers out to big clients. Those on OPT visas, which allow foreign students studying in American institutions to work in their field of study for a year after graduation, often find themselves trapped in virtual indentured servitude, Swaminathan found, and universities do little to no vetting of the body shops, which recruit aggressively on campuses. His work was published last fall in partnership with Mother Jones.
Another inaugural fellow, Ese Olumhense, spoke to residents who experienced or were witnesses to crime in NYCHA developments and later had their requests for emergency transfer denied or ignored. In the Bronx, Olumhense found Gloria Castillo, a nurse’s aide who helped an elderly neighbor who was shot one Sunday morning when gang crossfire erupted in their building’s lobby. Castillo testified against the shooter and desperately wants to move before he is released from prison. Olumhense’s investigation was published last fall in partnership with City Limits.
“My editor at The Investigative Fund really worked with me to develop my story idea and reporting plan, coached me through reporting trips to public housing developments, and helped me place the story at City Limits,” Olumhense says. “I would not have been able to produce the same story working on my own.”
People of color constitute less than 13 percent of all newsroom jobs, according to an annual survey by the American Society of Newsroom Editors, and 10 percent of supervisors; their presence is even smaller on investigative teams. Women represent 37 percent of newsroom jobs and 35 percent of supervisors. Survey data indicates that fewer than 10 percent of journalists come from a working-class background.
The Ida B. Wells Fellowship addresses these imbalances by identifying promising reporters of color, and other reporters from diverse backgrounds, who could benefit from editorial support and mentorship and who have the potential to help diversify the field.
This fellowship is a one-time educational opportunity and is non-renewable.
Journalists of color are strongly encouraged to apply, as are other reporters who believe their presence would contribute substantially to diversifying investigative reporting in other ways.