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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) interviewed senior journalists on their experiences applying for fellowship programmes with various institutions. This article discusses the benefits of such programmes and points to consider along the application process.

Fellowship programmes are fantastic opportunities for journalists, especially for reporters working in risky environments. Offered by universities and journalistic organisations, they usually provide a partly-funded, several-month-long stay in a safe location where journalists can take a break from their day-job to fully dedicate themselves to professional development, pursuing projects, networking, gaining new skills, and recovering from stressful work situations.

Consider what the fellowship offers

Prospective applicants should consider how the specific resources offered by the fellowship will help develop their career. Unlike research positions or degrees, a fellowship programme offers the flexibility to explore topics and interests chosen by the fellow themselves. So having a goal or project in mind is important. Programmes usually offer skill-building and tuition in specific subjects, access to libraries and databases, study spaces, and the opportunity to engage with fellow journalists. 

Meet the selection criteria

The selection process is often highly competitive. There are usually very limited places, open to applicants from all over the world. Applications go to a selection panel who evaluates them and determines who gets a spot. The criteria differ from programme to programme so it is essential to review the requirements carefully. Be sure to address any questions or concerns that arise during the application process.

  • A personal statement to persuade the panel is often required, expressing the applicant’s experience and skills, and how they intend to use the programme to develop their career.
  • Reference letters from a previous supervisor or coworker recommending the applicant as a good candidate for the fellowship.
  • Experience of a minimum of five years in the field may be required for some programmes.
  • Requirements after the programme ends. Some institutions encourage their fellows to return to their home regions for a period to contribute their new journalistic skills to the area.

Pursue scholarships

Some fellowships are fully-funded, the programme paying for the fellow’s travel, accommodation, insurance, tuition fees, as well as a monthly allowance. If there are additional costs, or the programme does not cover everything, it is recommended to explore scholarships. Some foundations offer scholarships for fellowship applicants. Usually these are intended for people of a certain background or who are pursuing a certain field.

Study with fellow journalists

The greatest benefit of fellowship programmes is their diversity. Journalists from all over the world, with different styles and experiences, all come together to learn from one another. Explore varied investigating and reporting styles. Discuss topics like ethical journalism, trauma, mental health, and the impact of new technology. Possibly the most valuable thing gained from such an experience is establishing connections, and having space to share thoughts and reflect on the ways one can develop their career, their industry, and themselves.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) offers such fellowships through its German section. This article is based on a training session for journalists and press freedom defenders organised by RSF in June 2023.