AJR  Features
From AJR,   February/March 2012

An Investigative Reporting Partnership   

The Schuster Institute and the Fund for Investigative Journalism team up to provide reporting fellowships.
Fri., January 6, 2012

By Alexis Gutter
Editorial assistant Alexis Gutter (agutter@ajr.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.     

"Until someone figures out how to get more hours into a day than 24, it is absolutely mandatory that we find ways to collaborate," says Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

So about a year ago, when Graves sought to launch a fellowship program that would provide resources for freelance journalists working on long-form investigative projects, she brought the idea to Sandy Bergo, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The union of the two agencies seems so logical one of those "why didn't I think of that?" great ideas.

The Schuster Institute is an investigative reporting center housed at Brandeis University outside Boston, with a focus on social justice and human rights issues. FIJ grants money ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 to freelance reporters, largesse that has resulted in hundreds of published stories, dozens of books and a plethora of awards.

The collaborative efforts of FIJ and the Schuster Institute brought about the Thursday launch of the Schuster Institute & Fund for Investigative Journalism Fellowships. As an arm of the Schuster Institute, the partnership will foster journalism about social justice and human rights.

The fellowships have three main components: grant money from FIJ, resources from the Schuster Institute and distribute the work of the fellows what Schuster Institute Executive Editor Melissa Ludtke calls "the three legs of the stool."

Ludtke, who left her position as editor of Nieman Reports at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in December, says her own experience with fellowships drove her to this position. "We give something more valuable than financial support," Ludtke says. Ludtke, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, will work with Graves, an accomplished investigative reporter (and occasional AJR contributor), to strengthen and publicize the fellows' work.

Each fellow will have a page on the Schuster Institute's Web site to showcase his or her work. The pages should go live in about a month, Graves says.

Additionally, work will be posted on the Schuster Institute's channel on The Huffington Post and will be distributed via various listservs depending on the subject of the piece. For example, in the case of corruption in international adoption, the institute targeted listservs for government officials, nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations, academics and other interested parties.

The Schuster Institute will provide access for the fellows to Brandeis libraries, databases and research assistants who perform a number of tasks, like transcribing interviews and organizing information jobs that are often time-consuming and can take away from reporting.

To line up the first class of fellows, Bergo recommended about 20 FIJ grantees to Graves, who in turn asked several to apply. Ultimately, Graves and the Schuster Institute chose seven as fellows.

The fellows, who are working on projects that range from abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities to the nutrition problems of low-income families, say they see the program as helpful, even necessary.

For Scott Carney, an author and contributing editor at Wired, the budget and resources that the fellowship provides him are crucial for his investigation of human trafficking. "With many mainstream publications cutting their budgets and resources dedicated to investigative journalism, it is increasingly important for reporters to find sources of outside support," Carney says.

Rebekah Cowell, who reports on environmental justice, focusing on such issues as the plight of low-income minority communities near hazardous waste facilities, calls the fellowship her "intellectual home base."

Several other fellows agree that having institutional backing is a major asset for freelance investigative reporting in terms of guidance, access, support and exposure.

Above all, Graves says she's concerned about the gulf between the huge need for investigative reporting and the amount that news outlets, buffeted by cuts, can actually do.

"I've seen too many stories by freelancers not getting the play they've deserved," adds Graves, who founded and edited the investigative journal Common Cause Magazine and, with a colleague, broke the story of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Bob Packwood, an Oregon Republican. "We want to help journalists who are doing great work get their work out there and get great investigative reporting out there."