How does The Investigative Fund work?
Our team of editors commission investigative projects from independent journalists. We work with these reporters throughout the editorial process, from refining the investigative target to guiding the reporting to securing placement in a partner outlet. We then jointly oversee each project with a publishing partner, editing drafts and vetting findings. Critically, we cover reporters’ out-pocket-costs and offer a fee to cover the additional reporting time required for an investigative project.
We can provide research assistance and access to expensive databases such as Nexis and Accurint. Whenever a partner outlet lacks the capacity, we provide fact checking and legal vetting in-house. In some cases, we have sued in support of reporters’ FOIA requests. When our stories appear, we assist with publicity and outreach to increase each story’s impact.
What kinds of stories do you commission?
We seek out highly original reporting on important stories with the potential to have social impact. We commission investigative reporting for print, online or broadcast journalism outlets.
Some Investigative Fund stories have sparked resignations of public officials; others have triggered criminal investigations, Congressional hearings or federal legislation. Still others have changed the debate around a key issue or exposed previously hidden forms of abuse and exploitation. Many have received prestigious journalism awards, such as the Polk, the National Magazine Award, Emmy Award, the Scripps Howard Award and the Hillman Prize.
What makes a story “investigative”?
By investigative we mean enterprise reporting — digging up stories other reporters haven’t found yet or significantly advancing stories that have been covered. These are stories that go beyond feature reporting, documenting problems and showing who’s responsible, whether a corporation, a regulatory agency or an elected official. Proposals for spot news or political analysis aren’t for us.
Ask yourself: Is the story original? (Please do a search of what has been published to check that the story you propose to do would indeed substantially advance upon previous reporting.) Is the reporting plan feasible? (We don’t expect you to have done all the reporting, but we want to see a strong game plan.) Do you have a clear idea about the sources and documents you’ll need, and can you realistically get access to them? What is the potential impact of the story? What individuals or institutions or practices will be exposed?
Who may submit a proposal?
We work with independent freelancers as well as a roster of reporting fellows. Freelance reporters may query us directly, as may assigning editors at media outlets. Reporters often already have interest from an assigning editor when they query us, but advance story placement is not necessary; we work closely with our reporters to find an outlet for their stories.
How does the submission process work?
The first step is to email us a short query — no more than a few paragraphs. Please include a few sentences on what the story is, why it matters now, and any unique angle or documents or access you may have. If it seems like a good match for our project, one of our editors will ask for a full proposal. At that stage, we’ll assess the proposal according to three main criteria: originality, a feasible reporting plan, and potential for impact.
We typically meet once a month to review proposals. Our decision-making process is designed to be informal and supportive. If a project has potential but we have questions about your reporting plan or budget request, we’ll contact you to ask for revisions.
What does a story budget cover?
When we green light a story, we cover the reporter’s direct costs associated with the investigative project, in addition to a supplemental reporting fee. For first-time Investigative Fund reporters, typical budgets range from $3,500 to $10,000 and are based on the submission of a detailed reporting plan. This budget might cover travel, other reporting expenses or time. Our fee is not designed to replace a fee at the host outlet; we expect each outlet to pay our reporters at least their standard fee.
Where do the stories you commission appear?
Our mission is to promote independent investigative journalism in a wide variety of public, independent and commercial media outlets, whether print, broadcast or online. Please see the “Our Partners” page for a list of outlets where our stories have appeared; we are constantly expanding this list.
Our stories must all appear first in a U.S. media outlet, and our reporters and editors collaborate to find the best placement possible. We are open to publishing in foreign media outlets only as secondary outlets or through co-publishing arrangements with a U.S. outlet.
Note: While The Nation Institute, our parent organization, is loosely affiliated with The Nation magazine, and some of our stories appear there, we are financially and editorially independent organizations.
I am a reporter based outside of the United States. May I apply?
Yes, absolutely, as long as you are fluent in English and familiar with U.S. media standards. But our projects must appear in a U.S. media outlets (see above). If you have never previously reported for a U.S. media outlet, your application will be a long shot.
What do I have to promise in return for The Investigative Fund’s support?
We require that you do the reporting outlined in your proposal, stay in regular communication about any reporting roadblocks and make any significant editorial changes in direction or change in the host outlet in consultation with our editors. We also require that The Investigative Fund be credited as a reporting partner in the host outlet and that the story appear simultaneously on our site.
If the Investigative Fund turns down my proposal, where else can I get support for my reporting costs?
Here’s a partial list of alternatives:
- Alicia Patterson Foundation (six-month and 12-month fellowships)
- Economic Hardship Reporting Project
- Food and Environment Reporting Network
- Freelance Investigative Reporters & Editors
- Fund for Investigative Journalism
- Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (health reporting)
- McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism
- Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting (international reporting)
- University of California – Berkeley, Investigative Reporting Program (annual fellowships)