What’s new in mid-career fellowships

JAWS CAMP 2010, JAWS CAMP blog l

MODERATOR: Sharon Walsh, enterprise editor, Lexington Herald-Leader

PANELISTS: Callie Crossley, program manager, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard; Dawn Garcia, deputy director, Knight Fellowships at Stanford; Birgit Rieck, program manager, Knight-Wallace Fellows, University of Michigan; Peg Simpson, Alicia Patterson Foundation

PEG SIMPSPON: The Alicia Patterson fellowship is one of few that’s not in institutional environment. I had a Nieman Fellowshi, and when I got the Alicia Patterson I was in Poland and said I wanted to do story on entrepreneurs and why they are so successful there especially women. The Alicia Patterson doesn’t pay as much as institutional fellowship. The Alicia Patterson is $40,000 for whole year or six months for $20,000. They get a lot more applications than Niemans, etc.

The Alicia Patterson does cater to freelancers.   Most of the Alicia Patterson fellows this year are freelancers. They also accept photographers. Many of the other fellowships do not. There is quarterly newsletter that is now on online. Fellows have a fair amount of space in the online publication.

The most useful thing I did at Harvard — was stop compulsively writing everything down. I learned to take time to absorb.

The first story about disappearing chestnut trees came from an Alicia Patterson fellow.

CALLIE CROSSLEY: The Nieman Fellowship is looking for new curator. The program will remain as it is: a nine-month fellowship. You are in town and can bring families. Partners and families can participate in all the Nieman activities. You may attend classes anywhere you want on campus. Most people are very happy to dip into all the activites and courses of Harvard. The classes are not taken for credit.

“The joy of a major universityis that people are attracted to campus. … “The world comes to the University and passes through.”
A ypical morning: Clinton adviser (former), lunch with Queen Noor … and chit chatting with others — that was just Tuesday.
The fellows are all professionals. You get different kind of response from professors because they know you have been out in the world. You get access to free writing teachers. One is a narrative person and another is creative writing.
This will be our second year with multimedia curriculum. We offer this every week. First semester will be classes and second will be more hands on projects. We will have audio video experts work with fellows.

“The joy of it is to interact with your fellow fellows.” You interact with fellow journalists and foreign journalists that you never would have otherwise.

DAWN GARCIA: “Fellowships are good. There are so may of them out there. I would encourage you to look at all the possibilities.”

Our fellowships are longer-term fellowships. You really have an opportunity to be immersed.

You have a lot of competition so you want to do a very good application. The deadline is December 15th for international and February 1 for domestic applicants. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

Our program has been around since 1966 and took a major shift two years ago. The new mandate: half time any class you want, seminars, workshops, video. The rest of the time: force for innovation, entrepreneurship. You come with an idea — prototype — something that helps you.

Innovation does not equal technology but we did have one that included news apps and another that dealt with curriculum. Thinking about changing your storytelling, , etc.

Women should apply for these programs. Classes are 50-50 women/men, and pay a stipend of $60,000 a year. We have widened our net. The average age is 40. We have a  range this year from 28 to 55.

Internationally, we’ve taken journalists from places under attack.

BIRGIT RIECK: Our academic year is 8 months. The stipend is $70,000. There is health care. You get a media kit. You get technical training, use of library, journalistic ethics. There are workshops for starting your own business whether a non-profit or for profit.

We bring in people to speak. They’re not necessarily journalists. We try to broaden everybody’s horizons. “Think not just about journalism but if you want to take in music appreciation or voice or whatever. It’s just your opportunity to do what you want to do.

The difference with other fellowships is that we have we don’t concentrate so much on new journalism. We still believe what’s important is the story. We really concentrate on travel. This year we took our fellows to Argentina and Brazil. Last year in Brazil, we took Samba lessons. In Argentina, we went horseback riding and Tango Shows.

Two years ago, we went to Moscow in February. We met with Kasparov the chess champion, etc. This year we will go to Istanbul.

There are 12 American fellows and 6 to 8 foreign. You become part of a huge network.

“It’s a little bit like here except there are a few men.” We are having trouble finding women this year. We hope it’s a fluke. In past classes it was always very even. This time it didn’t work. But we have a lot of spouses who come to the seminars.

We hope next year we have more women.


Dawn said this is the second year that the number of women applicants has declined. Journalism is in turmoil. They either don’t feel they can leave their jobs or have lost jobs and don’t think they qualify.

Sharon did her fellowship at Univ. of Mich 20 years ago. Things have changed — Used to be, if you were over 40 you were too old.

Birgit said last year the fellows in Michigan were 29 to 61 years old. “Our godfather is Mike Wallace. How does one define mid-career?”

Peg: Of the six current Patterson fellows, 5 are women. Some are veteran journalists, some are beginners.

Q: Fellowships are led mostly by men. Is that one of the reasons so few women?

Selection process is complex. There are so many factors for selection. You want from small places and big places.

Callie: The finalists list is where you want to be.

Q: seems to be disparity between what is asked for and projects. For Nieman, for example, you are asked to create a program. When people are announced as winners they have very specific questions they want answered.

Callie: Secret is you can write a program and then change your mind. You want to use your storytelling skills and tell me what you really want to do and why you want to do it.

Q: You are not supposed to be writing a paper but study program. Bigger point is what seems to win? People seem to have very specific questions or problems or issues. Most of them seem to have to do with journalism.
Callie: Tell me what you want to do and why.

Sharon: I wound up studying sexual harassment through lens of anthropology rather than political, my original intent.

Fara Warner shared that he proposal (for Knight-Wallace) was about automakers in China. When got chosen, there was already a fellow who was focused on auto industry. Mine became effect of globalization on Chinese people. It does have to be grounded deeply in a story.

Dawn: That’s why it can change. If it’s not working, you can change it. Things can change based on what you find and serendipity is a huge factor.

Sharon did not take very many classes.

Dawn said there is amazing wealth of resources at Stanford.

Peg had applied for a Nieman and didn’t get it. She had proposed studying women issues. Five years later she applied again and was accepted.  It changed my life because I never again looked at story through prism of politics and economics.

As an Alicia Patterson you do have to have an issue to write about. It’s much more of a focused application and process.

Q: Does one have to have support of one’s employer?

Callie said it’s murky. There have been all kinds of scenarios. Depends whether coming from an employer or freelance.

Dawn said the Stanford fellowship has changed. Letter from employer approving a leave of absence is no longer a requirement.

The Knight-Wallace fellowships — there have been those who took the risk of applying without the support of an employer.

Callie: It’s about making a decision that’s best for you. There have been people who have taken a fellowship and then were laid off during the fellowship.

For me, the fellowship enriched both my journalism mind and my mind in general. We want active journalists.

Sharon: when I  took fellowship, I was burned out and was looking to transition to something else but that break made me realize there is nothing else I want to do and twenty years later for good or evil, I’m still doing it.

Lisa Shepard: Check out the Fund for Investigative Journalism. They try to make it diverse and Lisa offered to help anyone who wants to apply.


The entire panel about the application process: START NOW!!!

Peg: You must have familiarity and expertise with what you are talking about.

Dawn: You should seek out people who have successfully applied and PROOFREAD your application.

Callie: Reference letters: PAY A LOT OF ATTENTION TO IT. Make sure those letters get sent.

Have there ever been bad recommendations?


Dawn: Don’t need huge name recommendations. Journalists know a lot of big people and that doesn’t necessarily make a difference.

Pat Sullivan:  I want to testify to the value of fellowships. I did Knight in 1993. That was stamp of approval that gave credibility to her as a journalist.
It took two tries to get a fellowship.

Dawn: We applaud persistence. If you want to apply again, it’s not a bad idea.

Panelists: You must be prepared and know what your program proposal is. No blank stares when you are asked what your program is.

Search for new curator at Nieman: Nieman@search.harvard.edu

Callie: I would like to see rich complement of women and people of color in that pool. Have to be stellar journalist, etc. Academic background is not necessary.

Sharon: There are many fellowships. Annenberg fellowship at USC. There are business fellowships.

Dawn: Be able to show what you are doing is important, have a great idea and are passionate. Come with a proposal you want, not one you think we want.

Birgit: We do try to bring journalists from large and small publications, etc.