How to Fund Your Dream Reporting Project
Five organizations will provide financial and editorial support to education journalists.
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 five organizations, and some fellowship winners, shared tips and strategies for getting help to make reporting dreams a reality at EWA’s 2018 National Seminar, held on the campus of the University of Southern California.
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’s a summary of five programs that are funding education journalism projects. (If you know of other programs that we should add to this list, please email EWA (at) EWA.Org.)
- Annenberg Fellowships: The 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, an education reporter for The Oregonian, received a USC Annenberg fellowship to probe the impact of Portland’s housing crisis on schools, for example. 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.”
- EWA’s Reporting Fellowship: Periodically, EWA opens up applications for fellowships of 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.
EWA expects to offer a seventh round of fellowships by the spring of 2019.
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 Report: The non-profit education news outlet doesn’t offer formal fellowships, but 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.
- ProPublica Fellowships: ProPublica, 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 research editor Derek Kravitz.
- Spencer Education Fellowships: The 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 Kantrowitz.
Applications for the 2019-2020 academic year are due Jan. 31, 2019.
“The idea of your project is the single most important factor in being selected,”said Barbara Kantrowitz, the interim director and an adjunct professor at the Columbia journalism school. “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.