Service Changes

Expanded Editorial Consultancies

FIRE provides editorial services and grants through two programs: the Editorial Consultancy (which now includes the new service outlined in the news item above—pro bono contract-related legal assistance); and the Virtual Newsroom, which provides grants and more robust editorial resources.

Effective immediately:

*) All new Virtual Newsrooms come with story grants up to $12,500, or proposal grants up to $2,500. Formerly some did not come with grants. 

*) The Editorial Consultancy offers a minimum of two hours of staff time, instead of one hour.

*) The Consultancy has become the gateway to all FIRE Virtual Newsroom grants: You must be an Editorial Consultancy recipient to qualify. 

FIRE is currently accepting applications by rolling deadline for all its programs. Until April 15, 2021, that will include the new service, contract-related legal assistance.

Until March 30, we are also inviting reporters to share their contract-related experiences by taking a brief survey.

For full application details, see FIRE’s Guidelines or FAQs.

Innovation Rewarded

New Story: Legal Protection

We are pleased to report the first success of an innovative new FIRE tool—a key reason to support FIRE’s work ahead.

FIRE-supported reporter Emma Penrod

“Freelancers are especially exposed.” —FIRE-supported freelancer Emma Penrod.

On December 23rd, 2020, a U.S. magazine became the first outlet to sign FIRE’s historic boilerplate freelancer’s agreement (see below), which codifies progressive solutions on copyright, revisions, proofs, severability—and indemnification.

The new legal-protection tool is just one way that FIRE’s popular services enable freelancers to confidently investigate in the public interest.

FIRE can now build this confidence, one story at a time. Please donate to strengthen public-interest reporting! 

Over the past three years, FIRE has served 79 reporters, including nearly two dozen in 2020, on a range of stories, including winners of three major awards and finalists for four more.

Now we are turning to one of the biggest vulnerabilities facing freelancers in this vulnerable time: liability for court costs, or indemnification

By default, publishers and broadcasters indemnify their own staff reporters for stories. But outlets increasingly won’t commission freelancers unless they accept the legal exposure of an investigation—sometimes even the outlet’s own court costs.

It’s one more reason why, anecdotally, freelancers are increasingly foregoing public-interest investigations for safer stories—a significant public-interest problem. 

In December, with the help of an ex-Bloomberg News general counsel, FIRE introduced a template agreement that includes several provisions for freelancers, including indemnification. As of today, FIRE will support investigative stories only for outlets that indemnify the reporter, via the new contract or the equivalent.

We are taking this stand for a number of reasons. But it means we now have to facilitate even stronger, more complete, more insurable stories for selective and busy editors. 

To succeed, we will invest in fewer stories, providing more resources to each—including editorial guidance, fact-checking, and legal review. 

FIRE is primarily a service-provider. Our customized assistance and mentoring have proved highly popular. We think this additional protective tool will strengthen freelance investigative capacity—and our successful service model for delivering it—at a critical time.

Please donate to help public-interest journalism!

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE Director

2020 Story Updates

Award Finalist

FIRE-supported reporter Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Award finalist and FIRE-supported reporter Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Since its founding in 2016, the FIRE program has provided custom reporting services to 150 reporters on a range of stories, including winners of three major awards and finalists for four more.   

A few latest releases below—followed by prior stories.  

  • Gretchen Rachel Hammond (Editorial Consultancy)
    Produced a five-part series on corrupt guardianship laws in Michigan, in 2019, which was a finalist in the 2020 Chicago Society of Professional Journalists (Lisagor) awards.

  • Natasha Haverty (Editorial Consultancy) 
    Created a podcast on prison gerrymandering, the practice of incorrectly counting inmates in the census for political gain, for Reveal in 2020.

  • Karen Landman (Editorial Consultancy)
    Delivered an October, 2020 story on the creation of Georgia's faulty COVID-19 dashboard and its consequences, for Atlanta magazine.

  • Scott Morris (Editorial Consultancy)
    Released a series, published by ProPublica in June 2020, on California businesses that profit from negligent disposal of toxic waste. 

New Stories Out

Guardian, Globe, EIJ

We are pleased to announce that two more investigative freelancers have published important public-interest stories with FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom Services.

FIRE-supported Freelancer Emily Palmer
  • As reported last week, FIRE-supported freelancer Ayo Awokoya co-won a Frontline Club award for a Guardian UK investigation.

  • Then Emily Palmer’s co-reported Spotlight investigation into federal child-abuse protections, which originated with her FIRE Virtual Newsroom award, appeared Friday in the Boston Globe.

  • And Monday, another FIRE-supported investigation—Christopher Pala’s story of pesticide encroachment in Hawaii by Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer—ran in Earth Island Journal.

FIRE has served more than 100 reporters in the past four years. Since 2018 alone, we have provided one-hour Editorial Consultancies to nearly 50 freelance investigative reporters and full-service Virtual Newsroom awards to about a dozen reporters

This service has proved vital to reporters like Awokoya, Palmer, and Pala. And this is a crucial time to keep these stories coming. Thanks to the pledge of a generous FIRE donor, we will double any dollar we raise up to $10,000. Please give $25, $100, $250—or any amount within your means—by clicking here.

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE director


Globe Story on Child Abuse

Boston Globe Spotlight team represent

With FIRE's help freelancer Emily Palmer, co-reporting with Jessica Huseman at ProPublica, uncovered potentially deadly compliance failures in federal child-abuse protections to win the coveted Spotlight fellowship. 

On December 13, 2019, their investigation appeared in the Boston Globe.

Here is the story and how it happened. 

Recognizing Progress

Sahar Habib Ghazi
In October Sahar Habib Ghazi hired on as FIRE’s deputy investigative editor, joining investigative editor Ted Bridis. 

In the next week, we will be announcing the publication of two major FIRE-supported stories, one of them in the Boston Globe [now published: see above].

We have several major investigations in the pipeline behind them. And we are pleased to announce that FIRE-supported reporter Ayo Awokoya, a UK-based freelancer who applied in 2018 to examine modern African slavery in Italian agriculture, has used our full range of services to co-report a June story in the Guardian UK. This fall, it won the 2019 Frontline Club Award for print—and a nomination for the Foreign Press Association.

In October, FIRE Investigative Editor Ted Bridis, the former AP Washington investigative chief, whose team won the Pulitzer and several other major awards, was joined by FIRE's new deputy investigative editor, global journalist Sahar Habib Ghazi, based in Karachi. 

The two editors perfectly complement one another. Together they will ensure that independent journalists like Awokoya can tackle the hard work of public interest reporting, knowing they are not alone. 

“I really wanted to thank you,” Awokoya wrote on notifying us of the Frontline Club award, “because you and FIRE were so pivotal to the piece and really gave me the guidance I needed."

As FIRE was for Awokoya, you can be for FIRE—a catalyst, a facilitator, a champion. Please join FIRE’s circle of friends with a contribution. Please help us support this work

Thank you!

Laird Townsend, FIRE director

FIRE-supported stories: Going British

While FIRE has several stories in process for US outlets, FIRE-supported reporters also have made progress with two UK-based outlets: The Guardian and the BBC.

*) This spring we helped London-based journalist Ayo Awokoya parlay a range of FIRE services into a corporate accountability piece for The Guardian Longreads. Stay tuned for an announcement on its release and recent award.

*) Congratulations to UK-based producer/director Cat McShane for recent well-deserved recognition: In 2017, FIRE helped McShane advance broad reporting on the influx of private equity money into residential housing since the 2008 financial crisis. She ultimately developed her investigation into a BBC Panorama film, which was nominated for a 2019 Wincott Award for the best business journalism in the UK.  

*) Also this summer, FIRE investigative editor Ted Bridis helped DC-based reporter Christopher Pala advance a corporate accountability investigation—details in next announcement as well.

Double Exposure Film Festival & Symposium

Oct 10-13, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

FIRE is partner in the upcoming DOUBLE EXPOSURE film festival, the United States' first and only film festival dedicated to investigative works in film. 

It opens Thursday, October 10th with the Washington D.C. premiere of DESERT ONE, the highly-anticipated new documentary from two-time Academy-Award-winning director Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A.). Film passes and tickets for all four days, Thursday to Sunday, October 10-13, are on sale now at Get 10% off on your Film Pass using code DX10PARTNER.

New Round of Applications

Deadline: June 12, 2019

New maximum grant size: $12,500

Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) is pleased to announce a new round of applications for FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom, which provides unaffiliated reporters with newsroom services and associated grants, now up to $12,500 each.

The application deadline is Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Criteria and application details
are at Guidelines and Application.

FIRE supports freelance investigative reporters working on stories in the public
interest. This round FIRE will be offering 5 Virtual Newsroom awards—at least two of
them coming with grants of up to $12,500—and more than 20 one-hour Editorial
Consultancies, in which an experienced editor works with recipients on a story or project.

We are grateful to the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation and our individual donors for
supporting these democracy-strengthening reporting services. We look forward to sharing updates on FIRE stories shortly.

Please spread the word on the June 12 deadline—and contact me with questions any time, as always.

Thank you.

Laird Townsend, FIRE director


Reporting Breakthroughs

Highlights of a Transformative 2018

Thanks to increased funding over the past three years, including support this year from the Ford Foundation, FIRE is pleased to announce major advances in our services and in our establishment of long-term sustainability. It's support from friends like you that makes our growth possible; I hope you'll join me in making a gift to ensure we continue to thrive in 2019.

Our 2018 highlights include:

  • The hiring of Ted Bridis—most recently director of the Associated Press’s Pulitzer-winning Washington investigative team—as FIRE’s new investigative editor
  • The launch of another successful round of applications this summer, with a dozen new FIRE stories in the works.
  • The ongoing development of FIRE stories with The Boston Globe, New York Times magazine, the BBC, BuzzFeed News, and Reveal. (The Globe story is due out after the holidays).
  • The renewal of partnerships with Investigative Reporters and Editors (research) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (legal).
  • The arrangement with a new pro bono collaborator, the International Senior Lawyers Project, to advise FIRE reporters on freelance contracts with outlets across all media. 

We also are in the final planning stages of an innovative national online community of freelance investigative reporters (if you are a freelancer, we welcome your thoughts at

Furthermore, with $50,000 in new support from the Ford Foundation, we were able to conduct a national needs assessment of journalists of color, while also providing six journalists with FIRE diversity fellowships

Lastly, thanks to our recent grant from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation ($170,000 over 2 years) we have launched a strategic planning process designed to ensure long-term operational sustainability.

We are working hard. At FIRE we believe that freelance investigative reporters—a long-neglected part of public-interest journalism—deserve the best possible infrastructure, services, and resources. A fair and healthy future increasingly depends on properly supported investigative freelancers. Especially in a time of upheaval in newsrooms, our constituents are integral to public-interest journalism, and thus to democracy. 

Please support FIRE any way you can.

Thank you!
Laird Townsend,
FIRE director

Donate Now

New Investigative Editor

Ted Bridis Joins FIRE Team

In September, 2018, FIRE hired a new investigative editor, Ted Bridis, formerly investigative chief of the Associated Press's Pulitzer-winning Washington bureau. Bridis leads FIRE's service to reporters, helping them develop their stories. You can read his full bio here

New Training Initiative

FIRE Diversity Fellowships 

Freelance Investigative Reporters and editors (FIRE), a fiscally sponsored project of IRE, is pleased to announce the launch of FIRE Diversity Fellowships to promote investigative training for underrepresented reporters nationwide. Made possible with support from the Ford Foundation, the fellowships are available to US-based journalists of color currently working as freelance investigative reporters, or planning to do so soon. 

The FIRE Diversity Fellowship covers IRE Watchdog Workshops, and other IRE trainings in 2018.

The Watchdog workshops cover a range of investigative topics—from use of public records, to interviewing and sourcing techniques, with optional half-day spreadsheet trainings available in some locations. 

The FIRE Diversity Fellowship for IRE Trainings covers the following: 

  • Workshop registration fee
  • One-year IRE membership/renewal
  • Travel and per diem, where necessary

For training dates and locations, visit IRE's upcoming events page

To apply, look for "FIRE Diversity Fellowships" on IRE's fellowships and scholarships page

Hiring: Investigative Editor

Posted April 30, 2018

(This position has been filled as of October 2018)

Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) is hiring a part-time contract investigative editor to help unaffiliated (freelance) reporters complete independent investigations for print, broadcast, and online outlets.

FIRE, a fiscally sponsored project of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), helps create a more just, democratic society by building the capacity of freelance investigative journalists from diverse backgrounds to produce investigations in the public interest. While serving the freelance investigative reporting sector as a whole, FIRE also helps individual freelance investigative reporters—including through grants and the research and editorial services of FIRE's Virtual Newsroom.

The editor's duties will include assisting the executive director with:

  • screening grant applications
  • providing editorial services to reporters
  • monitoring and ensuring reporters' progress on stories
  • other duties as arranged with executive director

Editorial services will include mentoring, identifying story needs, and making referrals to relevant resources and experts within FIRE’s network.

Position is 20 hours a week—pay is $50-$60 an hour, depending on skills and experience.

Location is flexible.

Requirements include five to seven years editing experience, with investigative background a strong plus.

Position starts immediately and is open until filled.

Please send a resume and cover letter addressing your qualifications to Please put "Investigative Editor" in the subject line.

FIRE is an equal opportunity employer.

Deadline May 31

New application round opens

Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) is pleased to announce a new round of applications for FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom, which provides unaffiliated reporters with newsroom services and associated grants of up to $10,000.

The application deadline is Thursday, May 31, 2018. Revised criteria and application details are at Guidelines and Application, at our new website, (in January, Project Word changed its name to FIRE).

FIRE supports freelance investigative reporters working on stories in the public interest. We’ll soon update you on a number of FIRE-supported stories, including one that earned its reporters Spotlight Fellowships at the Boston Globe, where, in partnership with ProPublica, the story is due out in the coming weeks.


  • To strengthen its delivery of services to individual reporters, FIRE is now seeking a part-time Investigative Editor.
  • In June, at the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, we will be launching the Investigative Freelancers Initiative—an ambitious new program to facilitate high-level solutions to the toughest problems in the freelance investigative reporting field.
  • In March, 2018, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation awarded FIRE a $170,000 grant over two years—for both the individual reporting services and sector-wide solutions.

We are grateful to the foundation. With their help, and with the help of our growing circle of generous supporters, FIRE can continue to strengthen this crucial sector of public-interest reporting, which in turn strengthens the democracy that we care about—and are honored to serve.

FIRE’s Work Debuts

Immigration story airs on Reveal

When Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting broadcasted a piece by reporter Ashley Cleek on October 28, 2017, it marked the public debut of FIRE-supported stories.

FIRE provides Virtual Newsroom services, including pro-bono lawyers and research assistance, and in limited cases grants, to help freelance investigative reporters produce pieces in the public interest.

In her 15-minute radio report, Cleek narrated the results of a six-month investigation into the fate of immigrant youths who petitioned Florida courts for protection against abuse and neglect in their home countries.

Cleek found that as numbers of vulnerable young immigrants increased in Florida, the percentage receiving legal protections declined.

"As Florida courts began to receive more of these petitions from immigrant kids,” she explained, “they denied them at a higher rate—and appellate courts upheld the denials and cautioned the courts against hearing these cases.” Given the precedent, she said, lawyers filed fewer cases and courts denied a higher percentage of the petitions.

The upshot: in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where authorities resettled the highest numbers of immigrant minors, the number of those minors lacking legal protection more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, according to records she obtained.

The records formed the heart of Cleek’s investigation. As a recipient of FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom award, Cleek relied on FIRE-referred experts to successfully negotiate her open-records request. She also used a Virtual Newsroom grant to cover expenses in obtaining court documents and audio recordings.

In addition to the Reveal piece, Cleek is now at work on a print version of the story.

Her radio version, part of Reveal’s three-story package on immigration, starts at the 39:09 minute mark here.

The whole show is also available at Reveal.

FIRE Virtual Newsroom

Full service support for reporters

FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom provides a range of services, from pro-bono lawyers to trained researchers, to freelance investigative reporters. Some Virtual Newsroom awards also include grants. 

FIRE has provided Virtual Newsroom services to 10 reporters from the latest round of awards, announced in August. They include the reporters below (two others have deferred service):

Ibby Caputo, for a story on criminal justice

Ashley Cleek, for a story on immigrant youths, released by Reveal on October 28

Michelle Garcia, for a story on government accountability

Ben Hattem, for a story on government accountability

Maria Martin, for a story on U.S. foreign policy

Samantha Sunne, for a story on criminal justice

Wallace Roberts, for a story on corporate accountability

Mary Wiltenburg, for a story on civil rights and government accountability

Following Ashley Cleek, whose story aired on Reveal on October 28, 2017, several other reporters who received Virtual Newsroom services will have stories appearing in the coming months. They include Emily Palmer and Jessica Huseman, winners of the 2017 Spotlight award, in the Boston Globe. We will keep you posted on the developments. 

Editorial Consultancies

Advancing the work of 24 reporters

In August, 2017, as FIRE awarded 10 reporters our full-service Virtual Newsroom, it also provided an additional 24 reporters with Editorial Consultancies.

The Editorial Consultancy program serves reporters whose experience or story ideas have not yet advanced as far as those of their Virtual Newsroom counterparts, but show promise to do so.

The Consultees receive one hour of the director’s time for whatever they need: story development, proposal revision, help finding an outlet, funding counsel.

Judging from initial feedback, the sessions have proved remarkably helpful. At least three Consultees went on to secure pending story grants with the Fund for Investigative Journalism (as did two Virtual Newsroom awardees).

“You tightened my pitch and helped me keep forward progress,” said reporter Will Huntsberry, one of the Fund for Investigative Journalism pending grant recipients. “I've had many a pitch die without those small breaths of life. I hope it's not too awkward for me to put my typical journalist's cynicism aside to tell you that your work on behalf of freelancers is a serious inspiration.”

The Winners

FIRE reporters chosen for annual stipend

Freelance investigative reporter Emily Palmer, left, first applied to FIRE in 2016. When her story wasn’t awarded, she proposed another one, a collaboration with ProPublica colleague Jessica Huseman, right. It received FIRE’s full support, helping the pair win coveted Spotlight fellowships this July. 

We are happy to announce a breakthrough for a pair of enterprising FIRE reporters working on an in-depth national investigation.

Emily Palmer and Jessica Huseman, Virtual Newsroom winners in September, 2016, advanced their story with FIRE's signature services, including open-records experts and trained IRE researchers, along with a custom offering we created for them—data entry.

The work has paid off. Last month Participant Media announced that Palmer and Huseman won the coveted 2017 Spotlight Investigative Journalism Fellowship, funded by the film's proceeds.

Their prestigious team at the Boston Globe, of movie fame, in collaboration with ProPublica, has welcomed FIRE’s continued service to the reporters. Everyone looks forward to the results.

Also last month, FIRE awarded a new round of Editorial Consultancies and Virtual Newsroom services, including stipends, to more than 30 reporters—look for details in September.

Lastly, a personal update—in late June the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting released my own multi-year freelance investigation of repeated labor allegations against Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer over their use of migrant labor to produce lucrative GMO seed corn.

I sign off in even deeper appreciation for unaffiliated investigative journalists—who serve the public interest so ably with such fierce devotion, against all odds.  FIRE is dedicated to helping them.

Laird Townsend,

FIRE director

PS  A big thank you to the funders of my own story—the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Midwest Center, and the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute. Also, to all FIRE supporters—on behalf of Palmer, Huseman, and many other FIRE reporters like them. You share credit for their important successes. 

The Business Side

Consultations on time, taxes, incorporation

We want freelance investigative reporters to be financially stable—their work to be economically viable—because that enables them to serve the public interest optimally over the long term. 

Where possible, we provide FIRE reporters with

*) grants for living expenses
*) assistance in finding grants elsewhere
*) advice on approaching outlets and arranging placement
*) best practices for time-management and economical reporting. 

We also arrange business consultations.  Through the expertise of business-savvy veteran freelance journalist, Lee van der Voo, we arrange gratis half-hour phone consultations on variables related to running a freelance business—from time-management and taxes, to incorporation and revenue growth.

Since business issues may seem unfamiliar or distracting to many freelance reporters (stories themselves are complicated enough), FIRE has arranged to cover the first ½ hour of the consultation with the business advisor.

Beyond the first half-hour, you may arrange an additional half-hour directly with van der Voo, as an extension of your appointment, or at a date you may schedule with her. But unless the FIRE director confirms by email that FIRE will cover any additional fee, you would be responsible for covering the cost of the additional time. FIRE is only responsible for the first half-hour. 

We think it will be worth your while. A few thousand dollars in annual tax savings, or tips on parlaying grant revenue into fruitful time-management for more revenue, can greatly advance your pursuit of stories in the public interest—and your own well being.

Grant Amount Increases

New Support Enables Higher Stipends 

Earlier this month, Project Word announced a new round of applications for FIRE's Virtual Newsroom, which awards stipends of $2,500 to $5,000 to 5 reporters. 

Since then, FIRE has received additional funding for reporters. As a result, Project Word will be increasing the amount of individual stipends available to FIRE awardees.

The same number of reporters will receive stipends—5 of the 10 Virtual Newsroom applicants selected. But the maximum amount of the stipend is now up to $10,000.

The new stipend amount is the only change in the application process; everything else remains the same. 

In addition to the Virtual Newsrooms, FIRE offers an Editorial Consultancy program. The two programs have separate applications. 

The deadline for both applications is Thursday, March 23, 2017.

For details, please visit FIRE Guidelines.

Launching Another Round

Deadline: March 23, 2017

Project Word is pleased to announce another round of applications for its signature program, Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE). 

FIRE, a collaboration between Project Word and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), provides two basic services to unaffiliated reporters: 1) an Editorial Consultancy (formerly “Help Desk”) for an hour of reporting strategy and advice; and 2) the Virtual Newsroom, for access to a suite of newsroom reporting services. 

FIRE again invites applications for both programs. This round, we will be increasing the capacity of the Virtual Newsroom by about 40%, to ten reporters. All ten will be eligible for the Newsroom’s full complement of reporting services—from research assistance to pro bono legal help; five of them will receive stipends of $2,500 to $5,000. The capacity of Editorial Consultancies will expand as well, to 25 reporters.

This new round of applications builds on the success of our 2016 pilot project. In January, we canvassed the 30 participants in the pilot project. Approximately 60% of them were able to complete an online questionnaire and follow-up interview with a Project Word researcher. As expected, both beginning and experienced journalists reported benefiting from FIRE. The upshot was highly positive, as indicated by some heartening testimonials

The feedback has already informed FIRE’s operations and applications process, which we are always seeking to make more efficient and freelancer-friendly. We are grateful for the feedback. 

To apply to FIRE, reporters are encouraged to visit the program's Guidelines page.  Application deadline is March 23, 2017. (Those who previously applied to FIRE are invited to reapply.)

Breaking Through 

Empowered reporters, new funding—and a challenge

With help from FIRE's Research Desk, Texas-based freelancer Cecilia Balli broke open reporting on a political-corruption story. Photo by Joel Salcido

Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE), Project Word’s collaboration with Investigative Reporters and Editors, has developed a roster of 30 reporters, gained new philanthropic backing, and carved out our niche as the nation’s first center for freelance investigative reporters.

Our constituency, unaffiliated investigative reporters (those without a newsroom), face the toughest challenges of any reporters—from inadequate compensation to lack of research assistance and expert counsel to crack open public records.

These freelancers are among the most dedicated and effective reporters anywhere. They deserve a national service center of their own—which is what FIRE gives them.

FIRE helps the next generation of unaffiliated reporters thrive. We provide stipends, hands-on problem-solving, and customized matchmaking with experienced data experts, story editors, open-records specialists, and media lawyers. These services, which recreate the benefits of newsrooms, are collectively referred to as our Virtual Newsroom.

Right off the bat, the Virtual Newsroom already has helped these reporters:

  • Ben Hattem, working on a story about psychiatric patients, faced obstacles on a state open-records request. Within 24 hours, FIRE found him a state expert who put him on a viable path to obtain key documents.
  • Yvette Cabrera, working on a Latino-detention story, needed help creating the database at the heart of her story. FIRE’s two data experts allowed her to begin building the database. She’s off and running, finding the human stories to accompany the data.
  • Cecilia Balli, working on a political-corruption story for a major national magazine, needed to obtain legal background on key sources. We connected her to FIRE’s Research Desk, which enabled her to break open her story. Her editors have scheduled publication for Spring 2017.


This approach is being recognized. In late 2016 the Ford Foundation generously provided first-ever support for FIRE—a $25,000 award to boost our newsroom services.

Between now and our 10-year anniversary in November, 2017, an anonymous supporter has offered to match personal contributions to FIRE, dollar for dollar, up to $75,000. This supporter made a transformative gift to us in 2015, and has now challenged other contributors to position us for strong years ahead. Inspired by the challenge, long-time supporter Josh Mailman has added a $15,000 pledge toward the match. That, in turn, has inspired more than $5,000 more.

In closing in on the full $75,000 gift, we’ll advance our objective of adding an editorial manager in mid-2017, which will help us triple the number of reporters we serve by 2018—from 30 to 90.

Virtual Newsroom Expands

FIRE stipend winner Yvette Cabrera reporting on her criminal justice story in southern California.

FIRE, the initiative to aid investigative freelance journalists, has awarded a $5,000 stipend and accompanying use of the FIRE Virtual Newsroom to one additional freelancer from its initial round of applicants—Emily Palmer.

Palmer, working on a national story on child abuse with co-reporter Jessica Huseman, joins a small group that earned the Virtual Newsroom back in April and are currently developing their stories with the FIRE Newsroom tools.

The Virtual Newsroom includes a range of services—from transcribers and contract editors, to LexisNexis research assistance, to general research assistance from the resource center of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Another 18 reporters are receiving Help Desk Services from Project Word, which translates into an hour of consulting from the executive director on fundraising and story development.

FIRE also has chosen four reporters from the original pool of applicants to receive a combined package—Help Desk services PLUS the Virtual Newsroom: that’s full editorial service without financial support.

With this new service, FIRE can bring the Virtual Newsroom to more reporters than it could otherwise afford to help. We are confident that the results—strengthened stories—will encourage other grant makers to fund expenses for the stories those reporters are working on—and also provide stipends.

FIRE plans to announce our next round of stipend applications, easier and more streamlined, as early as November 15. (If a story is particularly time-sensitive before then, a reporter may check FIRE guidelines before emailing a brief pitch to

Upcoming Events

  • Project Word is partnering in the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium October 6-8 in DC. The festival will feature new work in a cutting-edge medium for investigative reporting, with intensive discussions and workshops for practicing journalists and filmmakers.

  • Media Law Resource Center event, also in DC, on September 20, will directly address legal issues facing all reporters, especially unaffiliated ones. Those issues also emerged in a well-received panel at IRE’s annual conference in New Orleans, moderated by the Project Word director, on the business of freelancing. For more information on the panel, contact

The Next Round

After receiving 100 story proposals earlier this year, FIRE has begun providing a handful of diverse reporters with stipends and Virtual Newsroom reporting tools—from editing referrals to LexisNexis research assistance. We are also assisting more than a dozen additional reporters with Help Desk services—advice and referrals on story development and funding opportunities.
In August, we expect to announce one more stipend winner from among those who already submitted applications. Any 2016 applicant who did not receive a stipend is automatically eligible. While no further action is required, any reports or updates may be sent with the subject line, "FIRE Update", to

Meanwhile, we will be conducting a thorough review of the FIRE application process—what worked, what didn’t. We encourage any 2016 applicants to provide feedback on their experience by emailing with the subject line, "Application Feedback". We will contact you from there.

As soon as we complete this review process, we will announce another full round of applications.

We will continue to keep you informed on application timelines and dates. For the latest, please continue to check the Project Word website and our periodic e-newsletter.

Thank you.

Recipients Selected

FIRE services to six reporters

Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE), a collaboration of Project Word and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), is pleased to announce the selection of six reporters to receive the first ever FIRE Virtual Newsroom services—stipends and accompanying tools to facilitate freelance investigative work.

The selected reporters and their proposal topics include:

  • Yvette Cabrera, a Southern California-based freelancer, on criminal justice and law enforcement 
  • Jonathan Richard Jones, a San Francisco-based freelancer, on US interests in the South Pacific 
  • Raven Rakia, a New York City-based freelancer
  • A freelancer based in the southwest US, on criminal justice
  • A Texas-based freelancer, on US-Mexico border relations
  • An East Africa-based freelancer, on a military conflict in Africa

The FIRE Selection Committee, composed of five award-winning print and broadcast journalists, chose the reporters from 100 applications covering a wide range of public-interest topics—from municipal criminal justice to US foreign policy. 

The awardees will receive the stipends of up to $5,000 along with the full benefit of FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom services—custom reporting services, including research assistance via IRE, a fiscal sponsor of Project Word. More than 20 other applicants are to receive Help Desk services, which will include consultation and referrals to advance their proposals. 

The Virtual Newsroom and Help Desk services, the core of this pilot project of FIRE, were crafted to address the challenges and solutions identified in Project Word's 2015 survey of freelance investigative reporters. The pilot offers a model to strengthen this valuable sector of public-interest reporting.

The next call for FIRE proposals is scheduled to take place in June, 2016. For details, please see the Project Word News page in mid-May.

In the meantime, reporters are encouraged to check the following additional opportunities for independent reporters, with deadlines in the next few weeks:
The Fund for Investigative Journalism
The Fund is currently accepting applications from journalists breaking new ground and exposing wrongdoing in the public and private sectors. Grants are meant to cover out-of-pocket expenses and average $5,000. The next deadline in May 16, 2016; detailed application instructions can be found on the FIJ website.

McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism
The fellowship offers editorial support and awards of $5,000 for one to three months to a story involving business or the economy. The opportunity is open to anyone with at least five years of professional journalism experience. The spring application deadline is May 31, 2016; please visit McGraw Center to apply.

For more information, check Project Word's Resources page for a list of professional and funding organizations supporting journalists. If you know of any opportunities not included on this list, please email them to

Announcing FIRE

Project Word is pleased to announce the pilot of a new program, Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE). Launched with a $200,000 grant from an anonymous donor, FIRE has heeded the recommendations of freelancers gathered in a 2015 national survey, which found that declining pay and other resource constraints were causing a crisis in independent reporting.

The program is a collaboration between Project Word and Investigative Reporters and Editors. It will provide two basic services: 1) a Help Desk for referrals, and 2) a Virtual Newsroom for stipends and a suite of reporting tools. To apply to FIRE, reporters are encouraged to read the program's Guidelines page. Application deadline is February 10, 2016.

FIRE Opportunities

Editors & Fact-checkers

FIRE has a small stable of experienced freelance investigative editors and fact-checkers who will work on a contract basis with freelancer reporters on their stories. Interested editors or fact-checkers should contact Project Word, selecting the "Editor/Fact-checker" category from the drop-down menu.

If you are a freelance reporter interested in applying to FIRE, go to the program's Guidelines page.

Untold Stories

Resource constraints prevented respondents from reporting 500 to 1,000 stories.

Over the past five years, declining pay and other resource constraints have prevented at least 500 to 1,000 stories from reaching the public and caused several hundreds of freelancers to drastically curtail their reporting in the public interest.

Those are among the findings of a national survey on freelance investigative reporting conducted by Project Word in mid-2014, which we’ve released in a 32-page report below (and which the Columbia Journalism Review has covered here).

The survey was the first of its kind that we know of—and it evidently struck a chord. Respondents left a remarkable outpouring of comments and we are including a selection of them in an appendix below.

Both reports portray accounts of a little-appreciated crisis: pay declining, editors overstretched, freelancers reaching into their own pockets to do the work, a resulting loss of at least 560 public-interest stories from respondents alone. But both also air a range of creative solutions from freelancers themselves. We hope these ideas will open a dialogue. We hope that dialogue will ultimately transform the crisis, helping independent reporters fulfill their role in democracy.

If you are interested in these issues and not already receiving Project Word updates, please sign up here.

Note on Additional Resources: The report’s Resources section includes many important programs and organizations for freelancers—inevitably we omitted many valuable listings. We apologize for the oversights and will update you with additional resources here. We welcome additional suggestions at Thank you!

Scratch Magazine

Essay on Survey

Multimedia reporter Ruxandra Guidi, a respondent to Project Word's survey of freelance investigative reporters, reflects on the survey's findings.

WordRates & PitchLab

Citation of survey

This Kickstarter campaign cited Project Word's survey in its pitch for a platform to allow journalists to share payment structures, rate editors, and sell pitches.