Criteria for Selection

General criteria: support for freelance investigations

FIRE supports investigative reporting: A typical FIRE story reveals information that powerful interests would not want known, through the use of public records, documents, and difficult-to-cultivate sources.

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

Due to limited resources (e.g., no translators), we support reporting for English-language outlets only. If your story is international in scope, it's helpful to have a U.S. angle.

FIRE supports freelance investigative reporters who:

  • are reporting for various platforms, including print reporters, photojournalists, radio producers, videographers, and filmmakers.
  • are residing and working domestically and internationally, regardless of citizenship.
  • have proven experience in investigative reporting, or who show promise in the field. Those new to investigative reporting may apply to the FIRE Editorial Consultancy, outlined below and on the Services page.

Specific criteria for projects

Based on the above guidelines, we support work that is meticulous, resourceful, comprehensive, innovative, and effectively rendered for maximum impact. We strive to support a mix of journalistic projects according to multiple criteria, including:

  • Medium (from print, photojournalism, and radio, to theater and documentary film)
  • Subject matter (environmental, national security, etc.)
  • Type of reporting (data-driven, narrative, interpretive)
  • Potential impact of work (timely or long-term)
  • Geographic focus (domestic or international)
  • Coverage area (rural or urban)
  • Applicant experience and track record (experienced and promising journalists alike)
  • Applicant background (nationality, identity, culture, ethnicity, race, gender, and socioeconomic status)

Additional criteria: story viability

We favor stories that we think have a strong chance to succeed with FIRE’s help. In deciding on stipends (and any accompanying Virtual Newsroom services), we consider the extent to which an applicant can viably finance a project’s reporting expenses elsewhere, by grants, publication fees, or from other sources. You don’t need to secure funding for reporting expenses before you apply, but ultimately you must have a plan for doing so.

While FIRE doesn’t require interest or an expressed commitment from an outlet beforehand, applicants need to demonstrate such an interest or commitment in order to receive a Virtual Newsroom award of services. The Editorial Consultancy does not require such an interest or commitment.

Choosing which FIRE program to apply for

FIRE offers two programs to investigative freelancers—a Virtual Newsroom and an Editorial Consultancy. They are two unique programs. Applicants can apply to one or the other. For specific details on each program, please see our Services page.

In a Nutshell: Virtual Newsroom v. Editorial Consultancy

The Virtual Newsroom is like having access to a Newsroom. You should apply if you have experience as an investigative reporter, are interested in pursuing a specific story, feel ready to produce the story, and have an idea of what specific resources you’d find helpful.

The Editorial Consultancy is like having a one-hour meeting with a friendly editor. You should apply if you don’t have a specific story, don’t have experience as an investigative reporter, and don’t feel ready to produce a story, but are interested in getting there.

In Detail: Virtual Newsroom v. Editorial Consultancy

1) Virtual Newsroom

By definition, freelancers don’t have a newsroom of their own. FIRE’s Virtual Newsroom provides traditional newsroom services, including 

  • open-records coaching
  • trained research assistance
  • data consulting
  • transcription
  • data expertise
  • story editing
  • legal review
  • fact-checking

Virtual Newsroom: Stipends

In some cases, the Virtual Newsroom recipients also receive a stipend, which is designed to go toward the substantial reporting time required for investigative work.

Stipends run from $2,500 to $10,000 each. Not all Virtual Newsroom recipients receive stipends: you may be awarded Newsroom services without a stipend. Anyone who applies for a stipend must apply to the Virtual Newsroom: you apply for a stipend and Virtual Newsroom services through a single Virtual Newsroom application.

Consider applying for the Virtual Newsroom if the following is true:

  • You have a specific story that you want to develop with FIRE resources
  • You are ready to apply for story support
  • You have some experience as an investigative reporter—for example, having completed at least one investigative project that underwent a formal fact-checking and legal review process

In short, apply to the Virtual Newsroom if you are an experienced investigative reporter pursuing a specific story idea. (Note: A letter of interest from an outlet is not required in order to apply, but is required to receive an award from FIRE.)

2) Editorial Consultancy

The Editorial Consultancy provides advice in the form of a one-hour consultation with FIRE director Laird Townsend, an experienced editor and reporter.

The editorial advice in the hour-long consultation is tailored to each individual reporter. Depending on the reporter’s needs, this consultation might accomplish any of the following:

  • gain tips to solve a particular reporting problem
  • learn more about the freelancer landscape generally
  • find new sources for a story
  • come up with a story idea or angle that might be compelling to editors (or a particular editor)
  • identify options for an editor or outlet for the story
  • learn about funding opportunities for a story idea
  • identify appropriate professional trainings

Consider applying for the Editorial Consultancy if the following is true:

  • You do not have a specific story to develop with FIRE support—either you have no story idea at all, or you are not confident in the story idea you have.
  • You do not yet feel ready to apply for the FIRE Virtual Newsroom support, even if you are curious about how to become ready.
  • You have never reported an investigative story, and want to gain a better understanding of how to go about doing so.

Note: If you apply to the Virtual Newsroom and are not accepted, you may be invited to an Editorial Consultancy. But if you apply for an Editorial Consultancy directly, you are given priority for the program.

For Qs, see Services; and FAQs. If you still have questions, email

To apply

When FIRE announces its next round of applications, the instructions below will apply. Until then, interested reporters may send brief story-related inquiries to

We will post the next application date on our News page.

All applicants

Regardless of whether you apply for an Editorial Consultancy or the Virtual Newsroom, the FIRE application consists of two parts, completed in this order:

  1. filling out a questionnaire
  2. submitting the required documentation

All applicants must complete a FIRE questionnaire before submitting documents.

Note: If you previously applied to FIRE, we ask you that you reapply according to the instructions below. This allows us to have all your application elements updated and in one place—a big help to our small staff.

Part 1: Filling Out a Questionnaire

All FIRE applicants start by filling out an online application form—essentially a questionnaire. It is accessible by one of two links below.

One link is for Editorial Consultancy applicants, the other for Virtual Newsroom applicants. See above to determine which is for you.

Part 2: All applicants: Uploads Page

Uploading requested documents

After filling out and submitting the questionnaire, you would upload a resume, three work samples, and a completed one-page Story Proposal Form at any time before the deadline. You must fill out the questionnaire before uploading the documents.

Types of requested documents

All applicants must upload the following :

  • Updated resume

Where applicable, resume should include any reporting work.

  • Work samples

Where possible, please include work samples from at least one outlet that does in-house fact-checking. If you are submitting urls, you will be asked to paste the url onto a document and submit the document. If you have more than one url, you will be asked to paste each one to a separate document.

  • Story Proposal Form

Proposals must be submitted on FIRE’s Story Proposal form. The Story Proposal Form will ask you to

  • provide brief background to clarify your reporting objective
  • tell us the most important thing you’ve found so far
  • tell us what more you are looking to find
  • sketch the project’s most pressing needs

The form limits your answers to one page. Please use 12-point, single spaced font.

Note on Story Proposal Form:

Editorial Consultancy Applicants

If you are applying to the Editorial Consultancy, it’s possible that you will not be pursuing a specific story. That’s fine. If it’s the case, you may simply fill out the Story Proposal form based on anything you want to explore—investigative reporting interests, inquiries, or aspirations.

Virtual Newsroom Applicants

If you are applying to the Virtual Newsroom, you must fill out the Story Proposal form for a specific story. For due diligence, the FIRE director may contact you for follow up queries on your Story Proposal.

You may download the Story Proposal form here.

For more information, see the Uploads Page or Story Proposal Form. Please start your application with the online questionnaire below.

All applicants

If you have any questions on anything outlined above, please check Services and FAQs. And if you are still unsure, email

Application Deadline

The deadline for all Virtual Newsroom application materials will be announced on the News page. If your story is time sensitive, you will have a chance to describe the time-sensitivity in the online questionnaire of your application.

To apply to the Virtual Newsroom, start with this online questionnaire:

To apply to the Editorial Consultancy, start with this online questionnaire:

Review and selection

Applicants will be screened by a Selection Committee composed of award-winning journalists representing IRE, Project Word, three journalism schools, and an assortment of national print and broadcast outlets. FIRE expects to select up to 25 reporters for Editorial Consultancy services, and 10 for the Virtual Newsroom, of whom 5 will receive stipends of $2,500 to $10,000. Applicants will be notified of their status as promptly as possible. 

Recipients will receive terms of engagement, including scope of services, anticipated to cover six months. We will base the scope in part on how you rank the importance of any services to your project. Extensions may be granted on request, at the discretion of the director. While we cannot guarantee any particular services requested, we will do our best to accommodate your request. Where relevant, the agreement will specify any time parameters associated with reporting services that FIRE makes available.

Note: FIRE applicants will automatically receive periodic e-newsletters on the issues, and anyone else wishing to receive them may do so here. For updates on FIRE, visit News. For more information on the application process, FAQ and Services.