How to Fund Your Dream Reporting Project
13 organizations will provide financial and editorial support to education journalists.
Editor’s note: This story was updated August 23, 2021.
Here’s some rare good financial news for education journalists: If you have an idea for an ambitious education-related story – and a realistic plan for executing it – a growing number of organizations will provide grants or other resources to support your reporting.
Representatives from several organizations, and some fellowship winners, shared tips and strategies for getting help to make reporting dreams a reality.
One important theme that emerged: Each program is a little different, so reporters should aim for the programs that best fit their vision. Some of the support programs offer full-time paid positions that last a year, for example, while others may simply provide editorial assistance, such as data analysis and editing.
Here is a list of programs that fund education journalism projects. (If you know of other programs that we should add to this list, please email EWA@ewa.org.)
Annenberg FellowshipsThe Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism offers a variety of funding levels and support for reporters pursuing stories on health, children and families. The Fund for Journalism on Child Well-Being, for example, offers up to seven grants of up to $10,000 for “ambitious investigative or explanatory journalism projects on vulnerable children and their families and disadvantaged youth.” Annenberg also offers some data training fellowships that consist of stipends of $2,000 and four days of training on health-related data.
Several education reporters have been able to fund their projects through this program because of the overlap between education and health or family issues.
Bethany Barnes is an investigative reporter at The Tampa Bay Times. She received a USC Annenberg fellowship to probe the impact of Portland’s housing crisis on schools back when she served as an education reporter for The Oregonian. The commitment by her newsroom to follow-through was a kind of “contract” she could use with her local editors to carve out time from her normal duties, she said.
Her advice to fellowship and grant applicants? “When you’re pitching, don’t just pitch a topic. Pitch a strategy for how you’re going to investigate it.”
Education Week Gregory M. Chronister Journalism FellowshipEach year, Editorial Projects in Education Inc., the parent company of Education Week, offers $10,000 to one journalist who “undertakes a significant enterprising or investigative journalism project that promises to inform and educate the field and the public about a timely and important issue for pre-K-12 education.” The fellowship is intended to be completed while the recipient continues his or her regular employment. You can see the fellowship application schedule here.
EWA’s Reporting FellowshipPeriodically, EWA opens applications for fellowships up to $8,000 to support impactful education-related reporting projects. The money can be used for any legitimate newsgathering purpose, including relief from regular newsroom responsibilities, travel, training or data help. Check this page for details about future fellowship opportunities.
Melanie Bavaria, a freelance journalist, won an $8,000 EWA fellowship in 2016 to delve into Philadelphia’s efforts to reach students chronically failed by traditional schools with inquiry- and project-based learning opportunities. Her work appeared in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
Bavaria said the funding made it possible for her to invest enough time to fully embed in the schools.
“Everyone always talks about how these fellowships are great for taking time out from the newsroom,” she said. “If you’re a freelancer, don’t write off these opportunities.”
The Hechinger ReportThe nonprofit education news outlet doesn’t offer formal fellowships, but it does pay freelancers for in-depth education stories. And it offers resources and partnerships to newsrooms pursuing big reporting projects.
Jon Marcus, higher education editor at The Hechinger Report, said his team of journalists is available to partner with other news outlets on “custom stories” with a shared byline. There is no cost to the partnering news organization. The outlet’s only obligation is to provide a web link back to the Hechinger site.
“We are available to complement your work at your news organization – web, print or broadcast. Not to supplant it, but to add to it,” Marcus said.
McGraw Fellowship for Business JournalismTwice a year, the City University of New York offers up to $15,000 to fund ”high-impact, ambitious coverage of critical issues related to the global economy, finance and business.”
One veteran education reporter used this funding to investigate problems with parent loans, which are used to fund their adult children’s college costs.
ProPublica FellowshipsProPublica, a nonprofit, investigative journalism outfit, offers a host of fellowships. Typically, the fellowships are for paid, full-time reporting jobs that last anywhere from three months to one year. Additionally, ProPublica is supporting investigative projects in local and regional newsrooms through its Local Reporting Network. The winning newsrooms get financing for projects as well as data and editing support from ProPublica.
The organization also offers online ProPublica “reporting recipes” that journalists can follow to mine local data and public records for possible stories, noted Derek Kravitz, who previously served as research editor at ProPublica.
Spencer Education FellowshipsThe Spencer Foundation offers one of the richest fellowships available to any type of journalist: a stipend of $75,000 and the ability to freely audit courses at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for a year. Four fellows each year get the opportunity to research a “significant” education-related story.
The program began more than 10 years ago with the aim of marrying education research with journalism, according to Barbara Kantrowitz, an adjunct professor at the Columbia journalism school and a senior editor at The Hechinger Report.
“The idea of your project is the single most important factor in being selected,” Kantrowitz said. “If you don’t have a good idea, don’t bother,” she added.
While participants must work on a project during the Spencer fellowship, they don’t have to finish it in that time, she added.
Several past Spencer Fellows have used their time to research and write books, rather than articles.
“You don’t have to produce anything during the year. It’s designed to give a reporter time to think,” she said.
“Time to think” – That’s a scarce luxury in many of today’s busy newsrooms.
But thanks to a growing number of funders, education journalists have opportunities and support for ambitious, impactful reporting projects.
Robert Novak Journalism FellowshipsThe Fund for American Studies (TFAS), a nonprofit educational organization, offers the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. The one-year fellowship provides recipients with a $30,000 grant and an additional $5,000 to cover project expenses.
The funding helps reporters “pursue major reporting and research projects they would otherwise be unable to undertake,” according to the TFAS website.
Only journalists with no more than 10 years of experience may apply for the fellowship, which requires fellows to attend two to four retreats or events a year. Applications open in the spring, and fellowships begin in the fall.
The program was renamed in honor of journalist Robert Novak after he passed away in 2009. More than a decade earlier, Novak provided the inspiration for the fellowship program. He realized the need to “nurture a new generation of responsible journalists,” according to TFAS.
Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health JournalismA Rosalynn Carter Fellowship can help journalists better cover mental health, which has become an important topic on the education beat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Students experienced “higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress” after COVID-19 disrupted their lives and learning, according to Education Week.
For reporters looking to delve deeper, the one-year fellowship provides a $10,000 stipend, training, networking, and access to key sources in the mental health and journalism fields.
Former President Jimmy Carter, and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the nonpartisan Carter Center in partnership with Emory University. Through the center, Rosalynn founded the journalism fellowship program in 1996.
Eight journalists from the U.S. are selected during the spring each year in addition to international journalists.
O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service JournalismJournalists with at least five years of experience are eligible to apply for an O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism.
The nine-month reporting fellowship provides a $70,000 salary to cover a topic of state, regional, national or international interest, which many could argue is education in a nutshell. Fellows willing to relocate to Milwaukee, Wisconsin receive $5,000 for moving expenses.
Milwaukee is home to the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, where fellows are expected to mentor journalism students and work on their reporting projects.
The fellowship program began with Peter and Patricia Frechette, who named it after Patricia’s parents, Perry and Alicia O’Brien. Applicants can apply for the fellowship from December through January every year.
Higher Education Media FellowshipThe Institute for Citizens & Scholars offers the Higher Education Media Fellowship, which many EWA members received in 2020 and 2021.
Previously known as the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation until 2020, the nonprofit Institute for Citizens & Scholars awards $10,000 to each of its fellows. Its fellowship program is sponsored by the ECMC Foundation.
Journalists are expected to complete a series or special report on postsecondary education, particularly career and technical education, according to the official website. As part of the six-month, non-residential program, fellows must participate in an all-expenses paid CTE symposium.
The application deadline is in December, with fellows expected to be selected by spring.
IRE Freelance FellowshipInvestigative Reporters and Editors, a nonprofit journalism association, has been providing fellowships to independent journalists since 2008.
Project proposals must “demonstrate impact, breadth and significance,” according to IRE’s website. Three freelance journalists are chosen each year, winning cash prizes up to $2,500.
Past winners published their work in a variety of news outlets, including The Crisis Magazine, New York Post, Chicago Reader and more.
IRE accepts applications during the summer. Interested journalists can apply in 2022.
The Reporting AwardJournalists who want to cover an underreported subject that affects the public may want to check out the Reporting Award offered by the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.
This award provides reporters with up to $12,500 and access to NYU’s libraries. A committee usually selects two winners.
Though the Carter Journalism Institute suspended the award in 2021, it’s possible the program will resume later. Those interested in applying should check the official website beginning this November.