Story by 2014 Fellow Catherine Green | Photos by Ellie Van Houtte
“We’re in an era of chaos and opportunity in journalism — we’re going to talk about the opportunity part.”
It was a fitting way for Dawn Garcia to kick off Saturday’s Conference and Mentoring Project (CAMP) panel on fellowships, awards and collaborative projects: the “opportunity part” is what drives her role as managing director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford University. Garcia corralled a chat with Michelle Holmes, VP of content for Alabama Media Group, Claudia Nuñez, founder and director of Migrahack, and Alison Fitzgerald, a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity.
Reaching out for support and recognition in what can often be a solitary industry is sometimes the hardest part. Fitzgerald, whose project was honored this year with a George Polk Award and SPJ’s Sigma Delta Chi award, offered the disclaimer that writers shouldn’t write or create with an eye toward getting a big prize. But the attention can be incredibly helpful for a journalist’s reputation with potential employers or sources.
Fitzgerald gathered some intel on what prize judges look for in their piles of submissions. They want to be “wowed” by the topic, presentation and writing. “Make me take notice of the issue and the story,” one wrote. They note the degree of difficulty, precision of sourcing and use of editing. Talk up your project in the application, but don’t overreach when it comes to prove impact, and capture the judges’ attention. “Make your entry look like you worked on it,” Fitzgerald relayed. Garcia, who’s sat on four Pulitzer panels, added: “Make it easy on judges to want to pick you.”
If you’re looking to shift gears, a fellowship might be more up your alley. That application process can be daunting for some. “It’s people, not projects, they’re choosing,” Holmes said, “but bring a well-thought out project.” Once accepted, take advantage of your new network of resources. Working through a Knight fellowship brought opportunities for Holmes to turn to people when she didn’t know something.
Acknowledging the need for help in these massive efforts toward progress doesn’t make us weak, she pointed out. Rather, it opens up the possibilities. “No matter how good you are,” Holmes said, “you are not going to rock it without a band behind you.”
The panelists offered suggestions for finding your next step. Check out America Journalism Review’s collection of available fellowships, grants, awards and scholarships. JournalismJobs.com has its own section on awards and contests, and one for fellowships, and Google might be your best bet for international opportunities.
Garcia stressed the importance of not talking yourself out of a potentially life-changing opportunity. While the fear of failure can be potent, she said, “If you don’t apply, you certainly won’t get it.”