FIRE offers a range of direct reporting services for individual investigative freelancers in the form of two unique programs that are used in sequence—a FIRE Consultancy and a Virtual Newsroom.
Applicants would first apply to the FIRE Consultancy; and, if selected, may be invited to apply for the Virtual Newsroom, which comes with grants, as detailed below. For more on the application process, see Guidelines or FIRE Consultancy Overview. For more on the Virtual Newsroom from reporters who have used it, visit the Testimonials page.
Virtual Newsroom: Grant
A reporter accepted to the Virtual Newsroom receives a standard grant of up to $12,500, to complete an investigation. FIRE grants are stipends. They are designed to help cover the substantial time required by investigations. FIRE does not request a grant budget or require an accounting of grant expenses. (FIRE reimburses story expenses separately, by advance agreements).
FIRE requires a letter of commitment from an outlet before awarding the standard grant. In limited cases at our sole discretion, we may award a provisional Virtual Newsroom in the form of a “Proposal Grant” of up to $2,500. A Proposal Grant is a stipend to help the reporter develop an initial pitch for a commission or funding. It can lead to a standard grant.
In addition, as an extension of its contract-related legal assistance, FIRE provides a specialty award called an “Indemnification Grant.” Indemnification grants are available when a publisher or broadcaster agrees to commission an investigation, but will not commit in advance to cover the legal costs that could arise from the investigation. The grant compensates the time it takes the freelancer to find another outlet willing to assume full liability for the story.
If you have a FIRE Consultancy and are invited to apply, there is no need to request a specific amount or type of grant. Any funding for a Virtual Newsroom is determined during the FIRE Consultancy, in a separate internal review process.
Virtual Newsroom: Services
By definition, freelancers don’t have a newsroom of their own. That means they gain valuable independence at the expense of practical support. To boost a freelancer’s chance of serving the public, FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom augments grants with hands-on customized assistance, editorial services, and reporting tools to complete stories.
In collaboration with the national nonprofit Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), which contributes research and training services to FIRE, FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom provides a host of traditional newsroom services (and some untraditional ones), including: open-records coaching, referrals to pro bono legal assistance, trained research assistance, story editing.
As detailed below, these services help freelancers produce public-interest investigative reports by helping them complete story commissions. FIRE considers its job done when a Virtual Newsroom investigation is contracted by an outlet, and adequately supported toward release. But if explicitly requested, FIRE can also help Virtual Newsroom reporters meet the demands of their editors or producers to complete the job.
To recreate the services that newsrooms traditionally made available to their staffs, the Virtual Newsroom provides the following in-depth services, in addition to grants:
Editorial and reporting Editing, early stages
Developmental editing at the outset of a story: help formulating pitches and early-stage stories for pitch to a funder or an outlet.
Editing, late stages
Developmental editing on a reported story: help with new angle or general advancement on a proposal to be pitched or re-pitched to a funder or outlet; or on a commissioned piece, if invited.
Database searches and other high-powered tools: For access to Lexis/Nexis or Accurint, a FIRE reporter can submit requests, via FIRE, to a trained researcher at IRE headquarters, who sends back results.
Assistance in obtaining government documents—general referral and guidance, on both Freedom of Information Act and state requests. In select cases, we may arrange relevant trainings, and where appropriate, pro bono legal help.
In limited cases we arrange access to experts for training and assistance on data-driven stories, including troubleshooting and design of custom databases.
In limited cases we arrange access to expert assistance in finding research materials for stories.
In limited cases, we contract data entry personnel to help you fill in necessary spreadsheets or databases for data-driven stories.
In limited cases, we contract transcribers to supplement your transcriptions of interviews, for both print and broadcast.
Available only in the rare instances in which 1) an outlet is unable to provide adequate fact-checking, or 2) a reporter or outlet would benefit from fact-checking in advance of—or as a supplement to—an outlet’s own fact checking process. Legal review
In rare cases, and only where available, we may be able to refer you to pro bono help for legal review of your story.
Advice on obtaining additional grants and multiple grants
If you need funding beyond the Virtual Newsroom grant (and any other), we may be able to refer you to additional funding sources. Where appropriate and possible, we may be able to facilitate your receipt of multiple grants for the story.
FIRE arranges limited trainings in two areas: the business side of being a freelancer (e.g., taxes, time management, revenue planning) and the editorial demands of freelance investigations.
Contract-related Legal Assistance
FIRE arranges access to its legal assistance program, including media attorneys and associated educational materials, to help you resolve any remaining contractual questions to ensure that you are secure and protected in your investigation.
Invitation to Apply
To be invited to apply to the Virtual Newsroom, you must be a FIRE Consultancy recipient. Consultancy recipients are invited to apply to the Virtual Newsroom, at FIRE’s sole discretion.
For more information on the process, including invitation criteria, see the “Eligibility for Virtual Newsroom grants” section of Guidelines and Application.
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