FIRE Guidelines and Application


FIRE provides a suite of customized services to freelance reporters who are planning or developing investigative stories—as well as story grants for select reporters.

Any reporter meeting the criteria below would apply for what's known as a FIRE Consultancy—a two-hour consultation to meet your specific needs. 

FIRE offers three types of consultancies:

  • Reporting Consultancy — for editorial support to develop a story
  • Legal Consultancy — for contract-related legal assistance to protect yourself and your investigation
  • Comprehensive Consultancy — for both of the above.

Once accepted, you may subsequently receive an invitation to apply for FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom program, which offers more extensive reporting services and grants up to $12,500. 

For more on FIRE's services from reporters who have used them, visit our Testimonials page.

Criteria for Selection

To apply to a consultancy of your choice, please first review the criteria, program details, and application instructions below.

Investigative Stories

FIRE supports investigative reporting.

By definition, investigative reporting uncovers information in the public interest, usually information that someone is trying to hide. 

If you can answer yes to the following questions, your proposal is probably investigative—and thus eligible for FIRE support.

  • Are you doing original reporting, using public records or difficult-to-obtain sources?
  • Has your reporting turned up anything that might suggest potential damage to the public good in ways that hadn't been known or understood before?
  • Have you found evidence that, if sufficiently corroborated, would reveal systemic injustice, damage to the public good, corruption, deceit, or abuse by someone in a position of authority who would not want your story disclosed publicly? 

Freelance Investigative Reporters

FIRE exclusively serves freelance investigative journalists—those who are not formally attached to any newsroom, news site, or outlet. If you are affiliated with an outlet, you are eligible for FIRE services only if the story you are working on will be placed outside your affiliated outlet.

As a freelance investigative reporter:

  • You can be a print reporter, photojournalist, radio or TV producer, videographer, or filmmaker (FIRE does not support book-only projects).
  • You can reside or work either in the United States or outside the United States, regardless of citizenship. 
  • You can have proven experience in investigative reporting, or show promise in the field.

If your story is international in scope, it's helpful to have a U.S. angle.

While you may report from or live anywhere outside the US, FIRE supports reporting for English-language outlets only.

(Because FIRE-affiliated lawyers specialize in US media law, a Legal or Comprehensive FIRE Consultancy, for FIRE’s contract-related legal assistance, is available only for stories planned for US outlets.)

Specific criteria for projects

Based on the above guidelines, we support work that is fair, meticulous, resourceful, comprehensive, innovative, and effectively rendered for a strong chance to succeed with FIRE's help.

For more information, see FAQs. If you still have questions, email

FIRE's Two Programs

New applicants must first apply to the FIRE Consultancy. If accepted, you may be invited to apply to the Virtual Newsroom with grants. Both programs are reviewed below.

FIRE Consultancy

The FIRE Consultancy, FIRE's basic initial service, provides two hours of customized reporting and legal assistance to advance investigative stories. To be eligible, you do not need a specific story or experience as an investigative reporter. A FIRE Consultancy can

  • help reporters at most levels of experience
  • work with investigative stories at every stage of development
  • address contract-based legal issues of just about every kind.

A FIRE Consultancy is also the gateway to FIRE. Receiving one makes you automatically eligible for an invitation to FIRE's Virtual Newsroom, which provides extended services and grants up to $12,500.

You may apply to one of three types of consultancies:

Legal Consultancy

This program is like having your own in-house general counsel. It provides contractual-related legal assistance —including up to an hour of an attorney’s time, covering anything from how to respond to an indemnity clause, to whether to sign a particular contract.

For more, visit Legal Consultancy or FIRE Consultancy Overview.

Reporting Consultancy

This program is like having two hours of meetings with a friendly editor. Topics may range from specific reporting tips to strategy for story placement or funding. 

For more, visit Reporting Consultancy or FIRE Consultancy Overview.

Comprehensive Consultancy

This program covers both contract-related legal assistance and reporting needs.  

For more, visit Reporting Consultancy, Legal Consultancy, or FIRE Consultancy Overview.

Grants and funding

No funding is provided in the FIRE Consultancy program, but if you are accepted and invited to apply for the Virtual Newsroom, you would be eligible for a standard story grant of up to $12,500— plus smaller specialty grants—and significantly more services. For more, see below or Virtual Newsroom.

Commitment from an outlet

No commitment from a publisher or broadcaster is required for the FIRE Consultancy—and a consultancy can help with story placement.

For more information, see below—or FIRE Consultancy Overview and FAQs. If you still have questions, email

Virtual Newsroom

The Virtual Newsroom is like having access to a newsroom. It offers a range of services, from open-records coaching and trained research assistance to data management and other tools. It also offers grants up to $12,500, plus smaller "Proposal Grants" and "Indemnification Grants."

For more information, see Virtual Newsroom.

Applying to FIRE

How to Apply

FIRE accepts applications for consultancies on a rolling-deadline basis. If selected, you will be eligible for invitation to a Virtual Newsroom award and accompanying grant. All FIRE applicants must apply for a FIRE Consultancy. To begin, study the options above, choose an appropriate consultancy, and proceed by the following steps.

Applying for a Reporting Consultancy

To apply for a Reporting Consultancy, please read the selection criteria and program descriptions above. If your story or inquiry meets the criteria, please summarize it in a brief email to, according to the following guidelines:

  • Your email should briefly summarize the nature of your investigation, specifying what you've already found out as well as what you want to do; or if you do not have a particular story, describe your specific need.

  • You may also indicate "I am interested in a Virtual Newsroom grant"

  • In the Subject line of your email, please indicate “Inquiry: reporting assistance.”

  • Emails must go to—no other FIRE address (even if you previously corresponded with another address). 

  • Inquiries that do not follow the above directions will not be considered.

  • We would request certain application materials (e.g., resume) only if your inquiry is accepted.

Availability for this service is limited. We try to respond to inquiries quickly. But it sometimes takes two weeks or more.

For more, visit Reporting Consultancy or FIRE Consultancy Overview.

Applying for a Legal Consultancy

To apply for contract-related legal assistance via a Legal Consultancy, please read the selection criteria and program descriptions above. If your inquiry meets the criteria, please summarize it in a brief email to, according to the following guidelines:

  • The email should briefly summarize the nature of your investigation, specify your legal question or concern, identify the intended publisher or broadcaster, and clarify whether you have already signed a contract. 

  • You may also indicate “I am interested in a Virtual Newsroom grant” 

  • In the Subject line of your email, please indicate “Legal Inquiry”

  • Emails must go to—no other FIRE address (even if you previously corresponded with another address).  

  • We would request certain application materials (e.g., resume) only if your inquiry is accepted.

Availability for this service is limited. We try to respond to inquiries quickly.  But it sometimes takes two weeks or more.

For more, visit Legal Consultancy or FIRE Consultancy Overview.

Applying for a Comprehensive Consultancy

Follow steps for Legal Consultancy above, but indicate “Legal and Reporting Inquiry" in the subject line.

For more, visit Reporting Consultancy, Legal Consultancy, or FIRE Consultancy Overview.


Eligibility for Virtual Newsroom grants

If your inquiry is accepted, we would invite you to submit a formal application to the FIRE Consultancy. If selected, you may be subsequently invited to apply for the Virtual Newsroom. 

Invitation criteria may include any of the following:

  • how much more reporting remains on your story
  • how your investigation has progressed during your FIRE Consultancy
  • whether an outlet approved by FIRE has granted you a letter of commitment or commission

You will not necessarily need a letter of commitment from an outlet at the time you apply, but you will need one before you receive your Virtual Newsroom. The outlet must meet basic journalistic standards as determined by FIRE, which now include indemnifying the reporter for the story—legally protecting you as it would a staff reporter.

Depending on the circumstance, an invitation can happen at any stage of the consultancy.  If you are invited to apply, your Virtual Newsroom application would be subject to the following review and selection.

Virtual Newsroom Review and Selection

If invited to apply to the FIRE Virtual Newsroom, you would fill out a form and answer follow-up questions. Awards for the Virtual Newsroom are made by FIRE's Selection Committee, composed of award-winning journalists representing Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), three journalism schools, and an assortment of national print and broadcast outlets. 

Terms of engagement would normally include an initial six to eight months for an agreed-on story scope. Extensions are granted on request, at the discretion of the director.

For updates on FIRE, visit News. For more information on the FIRE programs, visit FIRE Consultancy Overview or Virtual Newsroom

Note: FIRE applicants will automatically receive periodic e-newsletters on the issues, and anyone else wishing to receive them may do so here. (FIRE does not collect or store any person's contact information for any purpose besides dissemination of the e-newsletters, except where it secures the person's permission to do so. For more, see Privacy page.)