Friday, 18 July 2014

How to win a Journalism Fellowship: Tips & Warnings before applying

Media Fellowships are the journalism industry's equivalent of rock bands winning big recording contracts with major labels. It is an incentive professional journalists covet; it makes your record of credentials and achievements heavyweight. Two dimensions of engagement define why fellowships are highly valuable:
  • The entire objective of fellowships appeals to engaging an exceptional set of industrially relevant skills. Meaning, only the best skills get to take down a fellowship.
  • Fellowships appeal to accomplishing goals that are otherwise esoteric and specialized, at least in terms of engagement. Experience is one thing; specialization is another. Normally, fellows possess both hard heuristic knowledge and experiential skills.

At the time of writing this blog, the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowships (2014) for Journalists was accepting applications from Indian professionals in the media. I can imagine the degree of competition. Beat Reporters from across India are applying for it.

Range of grants & monetary awards

The grants that come with being a fellow are generous. In India, they range from Rs. 50, 000 to Rs. 2.50 lakhs per fellowship. The median is Rs. 1.50 Lakhs. The United States and Europe – every, where the ultimate journalism experience is, offer significantly bigger grants. US grants fall in the range of $ 6, 000 (approximately Rs. 3, 61, 529) to $ 25,000 (approximately Rs.15, 06,374).

Having stated that, the personal rewards from winning (and accomplishing) fellowships are even bigger: your expertise and capability receive exposure before the eyes of the industry, you learn new skills and insights, and your niche and industry quotient climbs even higher. 

No wonder that fellowships are only for news professionals that have what it takes to make it.   
That is the reason why experienced journalists are meticulous and focused when preparing their applications. There has to be something about a fellowship that has only 10 journalists winning, out of 500 that applied. Yes, there has to be something. That ‘something’ is preparation.

The first ever Media Fellowship I received was the Panos Asia award in 2009, which, unfortunately, saw limited publication for various logistical and interpersonal reasons.

In 2010, I was fortunate in winning another. This time, it was the All-India Journalists’ Inclusive Media Award from the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Only 10 journalists from across India made the All-India Journalists’ Inclusive Media Fellowship. Being one among the ten, and the only journalist from the North East Region, remains an honor for me.  Since then I have picked up a few more, and missed several.  Here are a few tips, suggestions, and insights if you are seeking your first fellowship to declare it in your Resume.


As stated, there has to be something that puts you ahead of the pack. That ‘something’ is preparation. Preparation is a goal unto itself. The task encompasses time management, research, backup, design, and prioritization of goals. Somebody said, ‘well begun is half-done.’ 

I know journalists who had incredible project ideas but failed to translate them into projects, thereby missing the opportunity. Start planning; gather the required materials; seek the advice of seasoned journalists especially those with experience in undertaking fellowships; schedule your time for designing projects; research topics and find the one that suits your capability and experience, and your time and logistics. Preparation, do not forget. 


‘Assessing the terrain’ will help you develop a realistic project; it will force creation of news-gathering strategies that are both novel and industrious. Above all, it puts you in a position that speaks in favor of your capability to accomplishing it.

Do not propose a high-sounding project you would not be able to handle later. Impressing selection boards with your proposal is one thing, accomplishing it entirely another. Before you design a project, assess the pros and cons of your scheme:
  • How conversant am I with this topic? 
  • Are sources and information pertinent to my project accessible?
  • How much travelling would it entail? Where? 
  • What are the logistics that my project would demand?
  • Would I be able to prioritize my news-writing schedule with travel and on-spot investigations?

A hundred and one variables could go wrong and compromise your work later. I suggest that you prioritize and design a project you would be able to handle, complete, and accomplish – accomplish with excellence worthy of a professional journalist.  

Get Fussy

Make sure that you fulfill every directive, condition, and rule. Read, reread, read and read again the ToS, and rules and regulations. Why? With media fellowships being so competitive, do you not think it’s natural for selection boards to need only one itsy-bitsy excuse to cut down the number of applications to accommodate the best?  

Reduce the selectors' chances of discarding your meticulously designed application just because you missed out a point from ToS even though your project was tremendous.  I am told that about 200 applications have already come in for the UNDP fellowship since the announcement. That is competition. Focus.

Speak ‘loud’ and fast

State only what is important, and make it concise while at it. If they asked you to confine your project proposal or cover letter to 500 words, then you must keep it at 500 words. When you have hundreds of journalists with their hefty packages each fighting to capture the attention of selectors, do not expect the board to spend their lives reading your 2, 000-word letter. Be concise; state only the most important parts of your project.

Weight your mettle

What is the commonest mistake journalists make when applying for fellowships? Setting goals they cannot accomplish. Do not offer something this is beyond your capability. Plan stories that you can write. Explore perspective and story angles that are very specific to your project and what you want to accomplish within your scope of experience and understanding. 

Forget grandiose projects; selectors are not stupid: They see your capability by just reading the cover letter and CV, leave alone your project. Chose a project that fits your capability, scope of experience, and a subject you are conversant with at both heuristic and experiential level.

Specific, more specific, most specific

What is a project proposal? It is the synopsis, an outline. What is a project breakup? It is the elaboration of the project proposal. Normally fellowship regulators ask for a broad proposal, and a breakup (specific proposal).

1. Example of a broad proposal:               

    You will highlight economic tensions caused by illegal immigrants in California.

2. Example of a break-up (or specific) proposal:

You will investigate why the border policy is not working, who is responsible for that      deficiency, and what problem that irresponsibility is inflicting on the economy of California.   Then, you will publish 2 news features, 5 hard news stories, and 2 op-ed commentaries in the   Washington Post.

Be specific about what you want to achieve, and what strategies you will be employing to accomplish them. Be specific with your objectives. Selectors look for that angle.

Big brand employers Vs Small timers?

Do journalists working with ‘big’ organizations have bigger chances at winning fellowships than do professionals with lesser-known media groups? What are the chances here for freelance journalists (also sometimes called ‘independent journalists’)? Knight International Journalism Fellow Patrick Butler has the best answer to both:

“The point is to make sure you understand what the goals of the fellowship are. Independent journalist vs. big brand – I think either can be a good candidate. If you work for a major media, you can make the case that your work reaches many people. But if you are more of an independent journalist or freelancer, you can make the case that you are free from some of the problems big media have – political or economic conflicts of interest, for example. I will say that for freelance journalists, I always look to make sure they have a media organization that is regularly using their work. You don’t want to give a fellowship to someone who is writing for an audience of no one – so show that you do have an audience if you’re a freelancer.”

I would be glad to assist you in setting up your project proposals and news pitches. In case you wish to, please use the contact form on the blog to get in touch with me (No, I will not charge you anything! I just want to encourage journalists, especially entry-level-to-mid career reporters, mark a notch). You have my best wishes.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Apply for the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowships for Journalists 2014

Journalism fellowships for Indian journalists have been scant for a while.  Nevertheless, here is one you can apply for: the Inclusive Media-United Nations Development Program Fellowship award for 2014 for professional journalists in India.

The journalism fellowship is run by Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi and often offers high-profile fellowships for media persons.The Inclusive Media platform is prestigious and enjoys high-retention in the media industry. So, I say, go for it.

If you are selected for it, the impetus from such a high-profile platform will definitely contribute to more than just your professional standing. It will also contribute to your growth as a journalist and enhance your news reporting ‘mileage’ and industry-skills.

CSDS runs incentives primarily for journalists whose work focus on issue-based beats such as policy, social change, agrarian crises, rural development, and economy. If you have a background in policy reporting, I say you should apply for the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowship.

Coordinator of Inclusive Media Mr. Shambhu Khatak emailed me yesterday informing that the fellowship was not accepting previous winners this time. I won it in 2010.
Here are the details: 

Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowship 2014

Inclusive Media for Change invites applications from journalists in English and Hindi for Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowships 2014. The Fellowships are given to increase and sharpen media coverage of rural distress/ development and the issues of the marginalized people. The fellowships are aimed at promoting democratic social change, particularly through empowerment, participation and good governance.

The ideal candidates would be willing to take time off from routine journalism and spend at least two to four weeks with rural/ marginalized communities and write/ produce series of stories that require wider coverage and public attention. 

The fellowships will cover travel and incidental expenses subject to an upper limit of Rs. 150,000. It intends to cover costs of news gathering and logistics.

A total number of six fellowships will be given for Hindi and English journalists.

The Inclusive Media-UNDP fellowships are open to journalists working for mainstream newspapers/ magazines/ radio or TV channels. Those working for well-known media websites are eligible to apply though a maximum of one fellowship can be given for really well-known new media platforms.

Freelancers can apply only if they can produce letters of support from mainstream papers with an undertaking to publish their output.

A jury of well-known editors and development thinkers will select the fellows on the basis of brief project proposals and story ideas. The projects should be about happenings/ positive interventions/ alternatives and success stories on issues of livelihoods, agrarian crises, hunger/ malnutrition, public health, and the MDGs. 

An ideal candidate will have genuine interest in rural development/ issues of the marginalized people and will be willing to spend time in rural areas for field work. The fellows will be given a chance to refine their project proposal after their selection if the jury so recommends.

The applicant must get a supporting letter from her/his media organization with an undertaking to publish the fellowship outcome in their publications in a format of their choice (i.e., series of reports, travelogues, edit/ op-ed articles, investigation, documentary film or TV/radio packages). Entries without the editors' undertaking will not be considered.

Last date for submission: 1 August, 2014.

Rules & Regulations

The applications for Inclusive Media–UNDP Fellowships should include
  • A cover letter and the candidate’s CV (strictly within 3 A4 pages)
  • A clearly defined project proposal with clear title (Within 500 words)
  • A break up of at least 5 story ideas based on the project proposal (within 250 words)
  • An idea of the geographical region selected for field work, and a rough break-up of travel/ boarding requirements with an approximate expenditure. (within 100 words)
  • Please mention the places you want to visit and a rough breakup of what you expect to be your expenditure. The Inclusive Media Fellowships are intended to cover costs of news gathering and reimburse expenditure and not meant to be salary or honorarium. So the actual expenditure receipts would be reimbursed without TDS deduction wherever applicable and within reasonable limits. The CSDS accounts department may make inquiries about actual expenditure
  • Two samples of published work (or Radio/TV programs) in English or Hindi. For electronic stories, please use CD/ DVD and post it to us clearly marked your name and the title of the story with a marker on the CD
  • A supporting letter from the editor assuring leave for 2 to 4 weeks and agreeing to use the fellowship output in the publication (Free lancers must procure a supporting letter from the editor of a reputed publication/ channel agreeing to use the fellowship output)
  • A letter of recommendation about the candidate’s past record, journalistic abilities and suitability for the project from an eminent journalist, editor or supervisor giving an idea of the candidate’s suitability for the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowships.
Fellowship Terms and Conditions

The verdict of the fellowship jury will be final.

All payments will be subject to TDS rules and will be made in at least two tranches.

The fellowship grant will be suspended or withdrawn if the fellow fails to complete the project and publish its outcome. The candidates are strongly advised to read the rules before applying.

The outcomes of the fellowships will also be put on the website (

The application material and CVs must be submitted before the last date in Microsoft Word format in English and Mangal or Unicode in Hindi along with scanned copies of your clippings to:

Application sent via emails will be promptly acknowledged. Those sending emails please write "Inclusive Media - UNDP Fellowship" in the subject line. 

(Candidates applying in Hindi must note that applications sent in fonts other than Mangal/ Unicode would be rejected)

However, if for any reason you cannot send it by email, or if you want to send a hard copy as well as the email, please do so by speed post or courier to the following address: (Please note that entries which arrive after due date, for any reason whatsoever, will not be considered)

Inclusive Media - UNDP Fellowship 2014
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)
29, Rajpur Road
Delhi 110054

Please visit these links: Details on the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowships 2014 and Rules and Regulations

I'd be glad to offer you assistance in setting up your project proposals and news pitches. Please use the contact form on the blog to get in touch with me (No, I won’t charge you anything! I just want to encourage journalists, especially entry-level and mid-career reporters mark a notch in their careers). I’d be glad to hear from you. All the best to you.