The news media is working nonstop to keep pace with heightened demand for timely information about the coronavirus. Some stories, however, benefit from a different pace, requiring extended time, deep research, and additional resources to produce.
To take an example from history, the full picture of what happened at My Lai during the Vietnam War didn’t come together in a matter of days. Seymour Hirsch spent considerable time researching the massacre, and thus contributing immeasurably to our understanding about Vietnam and bringing wrongdoing to light—and he was aided in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).
Founded in 1969, the FIJ has awarded over $5 million in grants to support investigative work by freelancers and small publications, with an emphasis on revealing corruption. To support its community during COVID-19, FIJ has launched a coronavirus rolling grant to fund U.S. freelance investigative journalists breaking ground and reporting untold stories.
What the Fund for Investigative Journalism did
In the race to keep up with the rapidly evolving news cycle related to COVID-19, longer form stories are endangered. Not to mention that freelancers are the first to lose work when priorities shift for news organizations.
According to Director of Operations Ana Arana, FIJ knew they had to step in and offer emergency support to freelance investigative journalists. They launched grant applications on March 31 and will award between $5,000 and $10,000 on a rolling basis to cover out-of-pocket expenses including travel and documentation.
As Arana says,
We think there are some stories out there that are not being told because everybody is reacting to what's on top. Those are the stories we’re here to fund.
How they did it
As with the other projects FIJ supports, these emergency funds are dedicated to professional investigative journalists with experience writing these types of stories. Investigative stories are more expensive, and require more time to complete.
“This type of journalism takes a lot longer,” Arana says. “You have to dig, you have to find paper documents, you use data, it can be more strenuous than a regular story. It is very specialized and we think there are people out there with stories right now that they can tell.”
Although applicants are required to provide credentials that speak to their field experience, the project description can be brief.
“These are two-page proposals,” Arana says, “so they’re fast. You just have to have your idea very polished and the thoughts pretty well crafted.”
FIJ is turning around applications within ten days, which is distinct from its usual review process. Solid funding is also awarded right away.
“We give you up to $5,000 upfront,” Arana says, “and you can go and dig. That pays your rent for a month or it could pay your reporting expenses. We do allow stipends to be included in the proposals. But applicants should check our sample budget if they have questions.”
The team at FIJ is conscious of the burden grant applications can involve for potential awardees.
FIJ pairs applicants with mentors and offers feedback on proposals to help journalists with great stories complete strong applications to get funding.
In addition to their relief fund, FIJ is still offering traditional grants for investigative journalists, for which applications are accepted 3-4 times per year. Corruption doesn’t end just because the media focuses on COVID-19.
According to Arana, “We haven’t stopped our other grants. What’s happening now is that everyone is looking at coronavirus—a local or state entity could be doing something exactly because nobody’s looking.”
Learn about how Submittable can help your organization respond to COVID-19 and explore tips for successfully launching emergency grants. Find out more about FIJ in this interview with former board president Ricardo Sandoval Palos.