Perfect Storm: When Old-School Reporting Meets Nonprofit Journalism

In a recent post we asked if compelling, in-depth journalism could thrive in an era of 140 characters and smartphone attention deficit disorder. The answer is, for now, yes, thanks to the work of foundations like Knight for giving journalists the ability to dig deep without funding or resource constraints.

And if you're in the market for the quintessential model of deeply reported, old-fashioned journalism that exposes corruption and injustice, look no further than the critically acclaimed film Spotlight. The Oscar-contending movie tells the true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into abuses by the Catholic Church. The paper's one-year investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of the city's archdiocese, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

The paper's work took place back in 2002, a time when the field wasn't dominated by social media, mobile news, and the vast fragmentation of news outlets. Viewed through this lens, 2002 may as well have been 1952. 

No one is more acutely aware of this paradigm shift than the Boston Globe itself. Therefore, it shouldn't be entirely surprising that the paper, with funding from Participant Media and Open Road Films and additional support from First Look Media, announced the creation of a $100,000 Spotlight Investigative Journalism Fellowship to be awarded to an individual or team of journalists to pursue an in-depth investigative story with the opportunity to publish it in Globe.

The fellowship is accepting submissions here through February 29, 2016. The fellow will be announced in the summer of 2016. Some things to know in the meantime: 

  • The fellowship is available to journalists with a substantive body of work published in major media outlets. 
  • Story submissions should have a U.S. domestic focus and be of public interest.
  • Consideration will be given for proposals that investigate serious wrongdoing and abuse of power in the public or private sectors.

This is where the effect and essence of the original Spotlight investigation can be seen in the fellowship's submission criteria. What started as a local inquiry into archdiocese wrongdoing kick-started investigations into reports of abuse all over the world. And so the Globe is looking for work that will have a profound—and perhaps an even international—impact. 

The fellowship also addresses the power of storytelling, but isn't entirely interested in storytelling without and endgame in mind. According to Michael Bloom, president of First Look Media, "Good storytelling can be engaging and provocative but its real power is ignited when a unique perspective on an issue inspires people to create change."

All in all, the fellowship represents an interesting collision of worlds. On one hand, you have the stalwart Boston Globe, a throwback to the hard-hitting days of urban investigative journalism, when editors were unafraid to take on the city's entrenched powers. On the other, new and intrepid nonprofit news organizations like Participant Media and First Look Media, fueled by idealism, a thirst for social justice, and backed by the big bucks from billionaire philanthropists Jeffery Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, respectively.