Tools for Broader Protection

Contract template and principles to debut at Sept. 28 panel

As reported previously, below, FIRE’s new Legal Consultancy has helped freelancers like Alexandria Bordas negotiate legal protection to enable their investigations. 

But individual intervention can only go so far. Most arrangements happen in isolation, beyond FIRE's direct-service capacity.

To help protect more stories, FIRE will be introducing a public version of our groundbreaking FIRE Contract Template for investigative freelancers—and the FIRE Contract Principles based on it.

Both documents should help all parties advance a new generation of investigative agreements. Both will be released at our panel next week. 

Again, please join Bordas, Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein, and former Bloomberg News Global Media Counsel Charles Glasser, for “Freelance Contracts: a Public-interest Roundtable,” next Tuesday, September 28, 2021, at 4pm ET.  

We are expecting a spirited discussion geared to practical solutions. To register for the event, visit here


Laird Townsend, FIRE Director 

Liability Roundtable: September 28

Alexandria Bordas headshot

FIRE helped Alexandria Bordas secure liability protections to safely release her two-year investigation. Bordas will speak at a FIRE panel on freelancer liability.

A public-interest discussion

FIRE's upcoming online panel, detailed below, will help unaffiliated reporters contribute sensitive investigations in the public interest.

Deep into her two-year exposé of alleged sexual misconduct in California’s wine country, freelancer Alexandria Bordas realized that there was one thing she hadn’t investigated—her own legal liability. 

Bordas had a standard indemnity clause in her contract. Like several other reporters this year with the same problem, she applied to FIRE's Legal Assistance program

The pro bono service, funded by a generous grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, helped Bordas secure indemnification from her publisher on the sexual-assault exposé.  

"Had the [San Francisco] Chronicle not ultimately found a solution to legally protect me, I would have had no choice but to pull the story and walk away," Bordas said. "I couldn't have done it without FIRE." 

In the end, her co-reported investigation dominated the Chronicle's front page throughout April. 

FIRE is pleased to invite you to join Bordas, Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein, and former Bloomberg News Global Media Counsel Charles Glasser, for a virtual roundtable on solving freelancer liability on September 28, 2021.  

To register for the event, visit here. To learn more about the Bordas story and other similar success stories, visit here

And stand by for more developments soon! 


Laird Townsend,  FIRE Director 

Backstory of an Exposé 

Alexandria Bordas Chronicle front page

After protecting its freelancer, the San Francisco Chronicle was able to expose sexual-assault accusations against a rising political star in the region.

The tense account of a freelancer's
bid for legal protection

When freelancer Alexandria Bordas realized she had to shoulder all the legal liability for an investigation commissioned by the San Francisco Chronicle, she wrote to FIRE "on the verge of pulling this story."

FIRE's new Legal Consultancy quickly helped Bordas reach an agreement to safely publish her sexual-assault exposé. In the end, the story made waves on the Chronicle's front page for weeks. But that outcome was never a given, as detailed in the full backstory here.

Why Legally Protect Freelancers?

The case for investigative contracts that bolster democracy

The public needs accountability journalism and investigative freelancers are increasingly crucial to accountability journalism. But to realize their full public-interest potential, freelancers require legal protection, just as staff reporters do.  

That is the simple truth behind a series of recent FIRE measures. It's also the basis for a key philanthropic emphasis in the field: No funder or facilitator should support a story that leaves its freelance reporter vulnerable. Every FIRE counterpart—and all of our funders—should ensure that any freelancer we support is indemnified.

Grounded in expertise in the practice of insurance and media law, FIRE’s case is straightforward—and makes the best business sense for outlets. 

Read all about it.

Safety Training

Deadline Friday, July 2

FIRE works to strengthen freelance investigations by providing contract-related legal assistance, especially on liability and indemnification. We also support our ally, the ACOS alliance (A Culture of Safety alliance), in their work promoting the physical safety of freelance reporters. 

ACOS is announcing a limited number of FREE spots for US based freelance journalists in VICE Media’s two upcoming in-house safety training courses in New York City, on July 12-13 or July 15-15.  

More info and to apply via the ACOS Alliance and FFR by Friday 2, July: 

Link to Tweet

More Support for Freelancers

Extended deadline, two new grants

Earlier this month, FIRE announced a $75,000 grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to advance FIRE’s new contract-related legal assistance.

Within days, two longtime FIRE contributors pledged $55,000.

The gifts, especially the $50,000, from the anonymous donor who originally seeded FIRE, are intended as challenge grants. Please donate if you can!

The $130,000 infusion has already allowed FIRE to 

  • expand our pilot project, extend today’s deadline for FIRE’s contract-related legal services, and accept applications indefinitely by rolling deadlines, effective today

  • award five Virtual Newsroom grants, up to $12,500 each, to eligible reporters accepted for the legal services by June 1, 2021
  • reactivate the legal-services survey, which has proved invaluable in designing the service. Any reporters may take the 5-7-minute survey

The legal service is anonymous and confidential. Eligible reporters don’t need a contract in hand. For an investigation, you may apply for FIRE's legal assistance, reporting assistance—or both services. You may also receive support from another journalism organization.

You may apply at any time. But to qualify for the June 1 selection deadline and the $12,500 grants, we advise you to submit an inquiry no later than May 15 for the contract-related legal assistance. We do our best to communicate decisions within two weeks.

We look forward to helping freelancers safely advance their investigations in the public interest.

Strengthening Investigations

Newmark gift for freelance legal protection

A $75,000 gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies will foster contract-related legal assistance and education.

Today Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) is pleased to announce a generous gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to strengthen the ability of freelance reporters to produce investigations in the public-interest.

The gift, a $75,000 grant for FIRE’s contract-related legal assistance, significantly bolsters FIRE’s role as a service bureau for freelance investigative reporters, primarily by enabling freelancer access to First Amendment attorneys for pro bono counsel on rights, indemnification, insurance, and other issues.

This legal service, the only program of its kind that we know of, helps to demystify contract provisions and media insurance so reporters can protect themselves enough to take on accountability stories, something the new service has already enabled.

According to anecdotal evidence, publishers and broadcasters are increasingly shifting legal exposure onto freelancers, hindering their ability to pursue sensitive investigations. The grant seeks to reverse that trend.

“A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy,” Newmark said. “We rely on that to know how to protect our country, and we need to protect journalists as they protect us.”

Newmark, founder of craigslist, has contributed nearly $200 million to efforts aimed at supporting trustworthy journalism, combating disinformation, and countering online harassment. His support for journalism is a central focus of a diverse network of grantees he has funded through Craig Newmark Philanthropies (

“We need to protect journalists as they protect us.”

The Newmark grant enables FIRE not only to expand the contract-based legal service, but also to translate advice into tipsheets, webinars, and other educational material and events—for reporters, publishers, and broadcasters alike.

The activity, in turn, advances FIRE’s wider groundbreaking legal-protection initiative, which also includes an innovative boilerplate contract to protect freelance reporters; and a policy of supporting only stories for which the outlet protects the reporters.

FIRE, operating in various forms since 2007, develops the capacity of freelance investigative journalists from diverse backgrounds to produce investigations in the public interest—historically by providing grants and editorial services, now also by key legal education for the field.

“Craig Newmark Philanthropies is shoring up one of journalism’s most vulnerable constituencies, and one of the most important,” said FIRE director Laird Townsend. “This grant will foster confidence to propose and complete sensitive investigations—exactly the stories the public needs the most, and the stories that need the most protection. FIRE is deeply grateful for the support.”

Applications are open until April 15 for the contract related legal assistance, and on an ongoing basis for grants and reporting services.

New Yorker Story

First release under new FIRE Policy

A Gambian fishing boat
Photo credit: Fábio Nascimento / The Outlaw Ocean Project  

A FIRE-supported story released in The New Yorker's March 8 print edition has become the first success of FIRE's new policy to support only stories for which the outlet legally protects the freelancer.

The story, by investigative reporter Ian Urbina, revealing troubling global implications of fish farms, was released online here, with associated back-story and videos here.

Conservationists have often hailed fish farms as the best hope for slowing ocean depletion. Urbina’s reporting from Gambia shows that the lucrative production of fishmeal for the farms is actually decimating fish stocks, in addition to causing pollution and other threats to local populations.  

Urbina received a FIRE Virtual Newsroom and grant for the piece, the first one published under FIRE's new policy.

The policy ensures that outlets receiving a FIRE-supported story protect the freelance reporter, as they would a staff reporter—a standard The New Yorker had met for Urbina.

More on the new policy below or here; and more on Urbina's story at the nonprofit journalism organization he directs, The Outlaw Ocean Project

Good Counsel

New legal service for investigations

FIRE is pleased to launch an important and long-sought initiative for sensitive freelance investigations in the public interest—pro bono counsel on legal protection and contractual issues.

FIRE is a service bureau for freelancer investigative reporters. We strengthen our constituents’ investigative capacity, primarily via grants and editorial assistance.

Our new service, the only one of its kind we know of, responds to reports that publishers and broadcasters are increasingly shifting legal exposure onto freelancers, hindering their ability to pursue public interest investigations.

Effectively immediately and on a rolling deadline until April 15, 2021, reporters may apply for one-on-one counsel by two veteran media attorneys on a range of contractual issues, including indemnification and insurance. A brief survey (linked below) will help us refine the service. 

Stronger protection for unaffiliated reporters means stronger accountability journalism for our fragile democracy. We are encouraging freelance journalists to take the survey and explore the new service.

Thank you for your support!

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.