Finding funds for international reporting

By Linnea Bennett

Many journalists picture an international reporting trip as a time to type prose in a Parisian café or scribble notes in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. But the topics that international reporters cover often lead them to much more rugged terrain—imagine covering conflict in sub-Saharan Africa or climate change in Vanuatu.

And yet there might be one thing more difficult than reporting abroad: finding the funding to do so.

This last point is what brought four panelists together at DCSWA’s 2015 Professional Development Day for a panel on international reporting. Each panelist represented an organization that provides grants or programs to help journalists report abroad.

From investigative journalism to environmental pieces, the organizations all had two basic tenets to their grant application process:

Pitch a story on an under-reported topic or that takes place in an under-reported country.
Have a media plan, preferably including an editor or contact at an organization who has expressed interested in publishing your piece.
None of the panelists’ organizations require grantees to have previous international reporting experience, nor do they require journalists to be full-time staff at a news organization. In fact, some of the organizations, like the Fund for Investigative Journalism prefer to support freelancers. For all of them, a well-thought-out media dissemination plan, with contacts at potential publishers, will suffice.

Aside from funding opportunities, the panel offered some advice on reporting abroad, which, for both veterans and first-timers, can be a daunting task.

Panel moderator Meaghan Parker, of the Wilson Center and the Society of Environmental Journalists, opened the event by joking, “Welcome to international science reporting—or, how to get paid to go on vacation.” But Parker, who has served as editor to several international reporting projects, was quick to point out that international reporting is not always a glamorous gig. “This is not sipping drinks and wearing sandals, but doing work in sometimes dangerous places,” she said.

Steve Sapienza of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting recommended that first-time travelers find a “fixer”—a person native to the city or country, who serves as a translator and guide, and is sometimes even a local journalist. A fixer is critical for helping reporters learn the local beat, organizing meetings and interviews, and, when one is reporting from a place that’s less-than-friendly to the press, even navigating the legal system when in a pinch. “Sometimes, it’s even your driver—depending on your budget,” Sapienza added.

One final tip from the panel addressed technology. All of the panelists agreed that getting a cell phone abroad is critical to reporting, and is generally both cheaper and less of a hassle than it is here in the States. Most international plans even come with pretty decent data packages. (Note: the panelists pointed out that none of this applies in Brazil, which, apparently, is a pretty difficult place to get a phone).

Some organizations, such as the International Center for Journalists, sponsor specific programs where many of these details are worked out ahead of time. The center has a broad geographic reach, with programs in countries like Japan and Austria.

The main objective of panel members was to remind journalists—staff and freelancers alike—that international reporting is a critically important field, and that their organizations are here to help journalists keep it thriving. As Melody Wilson of the International Reporting Project reminded the crowd, “We’re just here to support good journalism.”

For more information about the grants discussed at the panel, check out the resources below.

Organizations & Opportunities for Funding:

See all PDD 2015 highlights