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Applying for Fellowships: Tips and Links from the Future of Freelancing Conference

Applying for Fellowships: Tips and Links from the Future of Freelancing Conference

Picture of Angilee Shah

Welcome to the inaugural post of Career GPS, ReportingonHealth's new blog about pursuing your passions while looking out for your pocketbook. Here, we will discuss career opportunities, growth and development for journalists and media professionals working on health topics. We'll talk about new kinds of media jobs and have Q&As with people who have taken interesting turns in their careers. Please do join in the discussion by commenting and posting your own entries about your experiences. If you have ideas for future posts, you can also log in and let me know. You keep up with the blog by signing up for weekly newsletters via email or via RSS.

We kick off then from the Future of Freelancing this weekend at Stanford University. It's a conference that begins with the notion that independent journalists might just be the future of news. It's a topic that many ReportingonHealth members have discussed as well. One writer at a content mill told Barbara Feder Ostrov that he accepts its low rates because he is working toward a degree and can churn out copy while sitting in a lab. But what kind of career future do freelancers have? Veteran health journalist Laurie Udesky wrote in March about the dismal pay on offer by many outlets. Tinker Ready compared freelancing to juggling tasks like a waitress.

But if you truly want to pursue a big journalistic endeavor, low pay and overwork can easily stymie your progress. A panel yesterday afternoon at the Future of Freelancing conference offered up fellowships as a kind of overwork safety valve. Fellowships can provide much-needed space to work on big ideas. And they are more and more receptive to freelancers, according to the panelists.

Find links to health-related fellowships with upcoming deadlines at the end of this post.

Margaret Engel, director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, says her program's flexibility makes it popular with applicants. Fellows can work on their proposed projects from anywhere and can be freelance journalists or working for an outlet. 

Dawn Garcia is deputy director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists, a program that has been at Stanford since 1966. It was, for over 40 years, a study program for journalist who spent a year taking advantage of the university's educational riches. Now, applicants are also asked to offer a project idea that focuses on journalism innovation or entrepreneurship. The Future of Freelancing conference itself is the project of Knight fellow Christine Larson. The Knight Fellowships' program's shift, she says, was in part a response to the changing needs of a growing number of independent journalists.

On a personal note, Engel says that on-campus programs can be wonderful for families, not just for fellows. The John S. Knight Fellowships are family-friendly, says Garcia, and can be a very enriching time for partners and children along with the fellows themselves.

Martha Shirk, a program consultant for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, is a self-professed "fellowship junkie." She says that over the years she found  short-term fellowships invigorating. The Health Journalism Fellowships, she says, are meant to do the same.

Tips for Applying

  • Your proposal should be much like a pitch you would give to an editor. "It should be indicative of the fact that you've thought it through and that you have the skills to do it," Engel says, and should also show that you are thinking off the beaten path.
  • Recommendations should be personal, rather than generic. A generic letter from a big-name personality is not helpful, Engel says.
  • Garcia says that the number one rule is that you are passionate about your project. "It's not something we like," she said, "but something you want to do."
  • If you have one project that is important to you, apply to many fellowships, Engel adds. Invest in the yearly Editor & Publisher Journalism Awards & Fellowships Directory. The 2010 directory is now available as a free download. Many prizes listed, Engel says, are actually "undersubscribed" for entries.
  • Do your homework, Garcia says. If you don't already know someone who has won, you can contact the John S. Knight Fellowships and they will offer you a mentor from their alumni.
  • A basic piece of advice, maybe obvious but important nonetheless: Proofread your application.
  • Shirk says that many applicants to the Health Journalism Fellowships go astray by proposing themes rather than story ideas that can evolve into an ambitious reporting project. A new look at an old problem and stories that make people understand health consequences make very good proposals.
  • But don't be intimidated by the application process, Engel says. "I can't tell you how many journalists do these overnight -- they may say they took three weeks, but they really do it overnight."
  • Age is not an issue. Engel says the Alicia Patterson Foundation has awarded a fellowship to a 78-year-old. The age range for Knight fellowships is expanding as well. The program is not just meant for young journalists, Garcia said. Shirk says that experience levels for recipients of the Health Journalism Fellowships ranges from those relatively new journalists to veterans in their sixties.

And, as promised, here are some fellowships with upcoming deadlines to consider:

Association of Health Care Journalists Media Fellowships on Health Performance
Eligibility: Prefer 10 years reporting experience and health reporting experience
Duration: Nine to 10 months
Benefits: Expenses to attend seminars, annual conference, regional meeting and membership in AHCJ, $6,000 for proposed reporting project
Deadline: July 9, 2010
From the Website: "The AHCJ Media Fellowships on Health Performance are intended to support applicants who have interesting or unique projects in mind for their news outlets (or for freelancers, potential news outlets) that hold the promise of educating the public."

The MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows Program
Eligibility: Projects will be published first by fellows' news outlets and then by New America Media and the website of The Gerontological Society of America
Duration: About six months
Benefits: Expenses for 2010 Annual Scientific Meeting and pre-conference, $1,500 stipend for short and long articles
Deadline: August 2, 2010
From the Website: "The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and New America Media (NAM) are welcoming applications - from journalists who cover aging issues and/or who work for ethnic media outlets - for a new fellowship program underwritten by the MetLife Foundation. By 2030, the number Americans age 65 and over will double to 70 million, with a growing percentage of them coming from ethnic minority populations. The health and social consequences permeate every aspect of life in this country. For instance, the first members of the huge baby boomer generation will get their Medicare cards starting January 1, 2011. While America's mainstream media have largely ignored this burgeoning story, most communities remain under-informed about the wide-ranging challenges of the longevity revolution."

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