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Four journalists receive IRE’s 2021 Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship

Rowaida Abdelaziz of HuffPost, Carlos Ballesteros of Injustice Watch, Terry Jones of The Advocate, and Ishan Thakore, an independent journalist, will serve as IRE’s 2021 Journalists of Color Investigative Reporting Fellows.

Abdelaziz, an enterprise reporter, has been with HuffPost since November 2016. Prior to that, she was HuffPost’s social media editor, and she served as Middle East North Africa Researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists. She is a graduate of Rutgers University. 

Abdelaziz’s project involves President Donald Trump’s ban on individuals from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, and now tens of thousands of Americans, many of them Muslims, have been separated from their families. She will investigate the effect of the bans by diving into the numbers — it's still not clear how many people were impacted — and uncover the physical, mental and economic toll the ban has taken.

Ballesteros, a staff reporter, has been with Injustice Watch since June 2020. Prior to that, he was at the Chicago Sun-Times, and he also worked in New York for Newsweek. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College.

Ballesteros’ project centers on COPA, the public body born in 2016 charged with revamping investigations of Chicago police officers who exerted deadly force after the public outcry against the killing of Laquan McDonald. He will investigate how COPA has fared so far in carrying out its mission, with a focus on family members of people killed by police officers and a searchable database of records concerning those investigations and their outcomes.

Terry Jones, a staff reporter, has been at The Advocate since April 2012. Prior to that, he was at the Hattiesburg American. He is a graduate of Southern University.

Jones is taking a deep dive into the spending of federal funds within the city-parish’s Office of Community Development to see just how far and how long questionable spending of those grant dollars might have further stunted the communities that needed them most. Has the city-parish government’s documented mismanagement of federal grant funding earmarked for low and moderate income residents and communities further widened the lines of disparity when it comes to race, socioeconomic status and upward mobility for a certain segment of the population in Baton Rouge? 

Thakore is an independent journalist and associate producer for the Emmy Award-winning show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. He was previously a Sundance Institute Grantee at BBC World Service and a National Geographic digital storytelling Fulbright Fellow. Thakore is a graduate of Duke University.

Thakore’s project aims to quantify pandemic-era informal evictions among undocumented New Yorkers in a single borough. Understanding the scale of informal evictions, which do not go through housing court, is important, because it exposes how even strong tenant protection laws can fail the city’s most vulnerable residents.

IRE’s yearlong fellowship is designed to increase the range of backgrounds, experiences and interests within the field of investigative journalism, where diverse perspectives are critically important. The 2021 fellowship program is open to U.S. journalists of color with at least three years of post-college work experience.

Abdelaziz, Ballesteros, Jones and Thakore were selected based on the projects they pitched in their applications. They will continue in their current professional roles while receiving a suite of IRE resources and support. These include complimentary registrations for an IRE data journalism bootcamp and both annual conferences, and they will receive IRE data services. Most importantly, they will each receive a mentor network of IRE members who will guide them through their year-long project. 

“Access to IRE’s full array of training, mentoring and support helps our Fellows supercharge their investigative skills in a single year,” IRE Executive Director Doug Haddix said. “We’re excited to see them each grow professionally. And we’re grateful to our donors and supporters, who have enabled us to expand this program to nurture more journalists of color doing high-impact watchdog work.”

Bracey Harris, of NBC News, was IRE’s first fellow in 2019. When she was selected for the fellowship she worked at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. During her fellowship she took a new role at The Hechinger Report. Harris’ fellowship project explored the effects of school integration on black families in Mississippi, which led to an investigation published The Hechinger Report and The Clarion-Ledger in February 2020

The 2020 Fellows are Sameea Kamal of the Los Angeles Times, Monica Velez of The Fresno Bee and Josh McGhee, formerly of The Chicago Reporter, and now at Injustice Watch. Due to the pandemic, their projects will be published in spring of 2021. 

The IRE Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship was initially made possible thanks to generous donations from IRE members Meghan Hoyer, Megan Luther, Mike Tahani and Mike Gruss. Additional funding was provided by the IRE community and company sponsors ABC News, CNN, ESPN, Gray Television and Hearst Foundations. More than $100,000 has been raised to support the program.

Applications for the 2022 IRE Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship will be available in October 2021.  

If you’d like to donate to the fellowship, go here and indicate your contribution is for the JOC fellowship. 

If you are interested in participating in IRE training events, you can check them out here. If you are looking for financial assistance to attend any of these events, you can find the details here. 

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