Flipping through the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, I saw an ad for the annual Kaiser Media Fellowships in Health. Six of the nine journalists and documentary filmmakers who received this year’s awards were freelancers or independent film producers.
That in and of itself is cause to stand up and cheer. It underscores the fact that independent writers are out there doing important work, work that is being recognized by some of the country’s best-known journalism educators.
But it’s the exception rather than the rule. Why don’t more freelancers go after grants and fellowships? Is it because we’re all too busy pitching stories and chasing deadlines to take the time to apply? On a message board for freelancers I subscribe to, one writer recently shared that she’d received an all-expenses paid fellowship to study health-care reporting at the University of Southern California, but only because an editor she works for urged her to apply.
Not applying for fellowships and grants is short-sighted. For freelancers who want to specialize, there’s no better way than attending an intensive course to get up to speed on a subject, cultivate sources and brainstorm story ideas.
I will predict this: If established independent writers don’t take advantage of these opportunities, they’ll lose out to all those recently departed daily newspaper reporters and editors now joining the freelance ranks, journalists who come from newspapers that routinely submitted their work for awards and put them up for fellowships. Don’t let them beat you to it.
If you’re interested in applying for journalism fellowships and grants, here are a few sources: