FIRE supports the investigations of freelance journalists

Investigative Stories

A number of organizations already support feature stories and projects, but FIRE strictly supports investigative reporting. We do not accept or fund proposals for non-investigative features.

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

The following three questions should help you determine whether your proposal is investigative:

  • 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 or damage to the public good—or corruption, deceit, or abuse by someone in power or a position of authority, who would not want your story disclosed publicly?

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

Freelance Investigative Reporters

FIRE exclusively serves freelance investigative journalists—those who are not formally or materially 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. Those new to investigative reporting may apply to the FIRE Editorial Consultancy, outlined below. 

FIRE supports reporting for English-language outlets only.

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

Specific criteria for projects

Based on the above guidelines, we support work that is fair, meticulous, resourceful, comprehensive, innovative, and effectively rendered for maximum impact. We also strive to support a diverse mix of journalistic projects by looking at multiple criteria, from medium to subject matter.

Additional criteria: story viability

We favor stories that we think have a strong chance to succeed with FIRE’s help. In deciding on grants (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 have a letter of commitment from an outlet in order to receive a Virtual Newsroom award of services. The Editorial Consultancy does not require such a commitment. 

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

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.

Virtual Newsroom

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 Virtual Newsroom offers a range of services, from open-records coaching and trained research assistance to legal review.


In some cases, Virtual Newsroom recipients also receive a stipend of up to $12,500. 

Letter of Commitment

You don’t need a letter of commitment from an outlet at the time you apply to the Virtual Newsroom, but you will need one before you receive your Virtual Newsroom award from FIRE. The outlet must meet basic journalistic standards as determined by FIRE.

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

For more information, see Virtual NewsroomServices, or FAQs. If you still have questions, email [email protected].

Editorial Consultancy

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 confidence in your story, don’t have experience as an investigative reporter, or don’t feel ready to produce a story, but are interested in getting there.


The Editorial Consultancy provides a one-hour consultation with FIRE for tailored advice. Topics may range from specific reporting tips to strategy for story placement or funding. 


No funding is provided in the Editorial Consultancy program.

Letter of Commitment

No Letter of Commitment is required for the Editorial Consultancy program.

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

  • You are still deciding on what specific story to develop with FIRE support—or you are not yet 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 more information, see Editorial ConsultancyServices, and FAQs. If you still have questions, email [email protected].

To apply

FIRE's next application deadline is June 12, 2019. 

In rare cases, especially for time-sensitive stories, FIRE may be able to help you advance a story sooner. If you have a time-sensitive story, you may summarize it in a brief email to [email protected]. We cannot promise to respond. If you receive no response, you should be encouraged to apply as normal by the deadline, if your proposal meets the criteria above.

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 they upload documents—please do not submit documents until you have filled out the questionnaire.

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 right for you.

Part 2: Uploads Page

Uploading requested documents

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

Please do not upload any documents until you've filled out the questionnaire. After completing the questionnaire, please upload an updated resume, work samples, and a Story Proposal form at the Uploads Page.

Please start your application with the appropriate online questionnaire below.

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

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

Editorial Consultancy Application

You may preview a PDF of the Editorial Consultancy questionnaire here.

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

Virtual Newsroom Application

You may preview a PDF of the Virtual Newsroom questionnaire here.

Review and selection

Applicants will be screened by a Selection Committee composed of award-winning journalists representing IRE, FIRE, three journalism schools, and an assortment of national print and broadcast outlets. All applicants will be evaluated by the criteria outlined above.

FIRE expects to select up to 25 reporters for Editorial Consultancy services, and 5 to 10 for the Virtual Newsroom. At least two of the Virtual Newsroom awards will come with grants of up to $12,500. Applicants will be notified of their status as promptly as possible. 

Finalists will be asked follow-up questions about their story. Recipients will receive terms of engagement, including an agreed-on story summary and the scope of FIRE services for developing the story. The scope will be based in part on how you rank the importance of any services to your project. While we cannot guarantee any particular services requested, we will do our best to accommodate your request. Initial engagement normally lasts six months. Extensions may be granted on request, at the discretion of the director. Where relevant, the terms will specify any time parameters associated with specific reporting services that FIRE makes available.

For updates on FIRE, visit News. For more information on the application process, FAQ and Services.

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.)