Note: The Freelancer Support Scheme provides grants to cross-border teams made up entirely of freelancers and who can benefit from an extra layer of tailored support. The scheme is now closed for 2021. 

In 2021, the Freelancer Support Scheme allocated a total of €262,000 to cross-border collaborative investigations involving teams made up entirely of freelancers. An independent jury awarded grants of up to €20,000 to 15 successful teams. The grant funding is augmented by an extra layer of assistance including training, mentoring and networking opportunities.

In 2021, there was a single call for applications to the scheme. Open date: 1 June 2021. Closing date: 23:59 CEST, 14 July 2021.

Managed by the European Journalism Centre (EJC), the scheme is designed to support journalists operating outside of newsroom structures who may be underserved by other journalism support schemes and/or who are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, yet who are nonetheless willing and able to collaborate with others to launch investigations of importance to audiences at a local, national, regional and European level.

Investigations developed for all formats — including print, broadcast, online media, documentary filmmaking and multi-platform storytelling — are eligible to receive support.

Grantees have six months to complete their projects. During these six months, in addition to grant funding, they benefit from two types of non-financial support, which are integral to the Freelancer Support Scheme:

Mentorship and training

Each awarded team will work with carefully selected mentors according to how their needs evolve as they proceed with their projects. Teams can decide which team members will communicate with the mentor(s) throughout the programme. Mentors will commit to being available on particular days for calls, emails, feedback sessions etc. throughout the course of the projects. The mentors will have expertise in various aspects of investigative journalism (for example, data journalism, pitching, open-source intelligence, best practices in cross-border collaboration and so on).

In addition to the mentoring programme, the EJC will organise three online expert calls (“Ask Me Anything” sessions) with specialists to allow grantees of the scheme to gain knowledge and improve their skills in fields relevant to investigative journalism. It is up to each awarded team to decide which member(s) will attend the training sessions. At least one person from each awarded team should attend the expert calls. 

Networking

The EJC will organise a half-day online event to bring together Freelancer Support Scheme grantees, mentors and other external experts. The event will be in a format that encourages active participation from both grantees and mentors, allowing them to align their mutual expectations and maximise the effectiveness of the programme. At least one member per team should attend the networking event. 

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible for the Freelancer Support Scheme, applications must be submitted by teams composed entirely of freelance journalists that meet the following criteria:

  • They are based in at least two EU member states, or at least one EU member state and the UK and
  • They are collaborating on a topic of cross-border relevance, and
  • They are signed up to a press regulator, journalists’ union, trust initiative, or part of a press association, or they have current CVs/online portfolios that demonstrate relevant qualifications or a history of working with trusted news organisations.

Third-country team members (including those based in an official EU candidate country) can be part of applying consortia, provided that the consortia already meet the above criteria. 

Applications must justify the relevance of the investigation to the public interest in the eligible countries targeted by the investigation, or to the broader European public sphere. 

Grant funding may be used to cover any costs necessary for the development, completion and publication of the investigation and production of journalistic content, including salary and human resource costs, research-related costs, translation and travel costs. The only exception applies to equipment (hardware) costs, which are not eligible.

Teams must submit a budget as part of their application, based on this model budget

Applications must be submitted in English.

Projects that receive support from IJ4EU’s Investigation Support Scheme will not be eligible for the Freelancer Support Scheme.

Publication requirements

  1. Projects must be completed and originally published by respected news organisations or platforms in at least two EU member states (or at least one EU member state and the UK) no later than 28 February 2022. Subsequent publication may continue beyond this date. 
  2. Projects may initially be published behind a paywall, but must be made available outside of the paywall after one month.

We understand that investigative journalism is an unpredictable enterprise. Therefore, grant agreements will require that grantees make every reasonable effort to meet the publication requirements, and to contact the EJC prior to these requirements prospectively not being met.

Investigations will need to acknowledge the support from IJ4EU when they are published, in the most feasible way depending on the format that they are published in. 

Eligible topics

IJ4EU is open to cross-border investigative projects on any topic. This includes, but is not limited to, corruption, illicit enrichment and financial crime, security, democracy and human rights, environment and climate change, and health – including the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects must aim to reveal new information that is of relevance to the public in at least two EU member states (or one member state and UK) or to the wider European public sphere. 

IJ4EU is dedicated to supporting a diverse range of topics and teams across Europe. We welcome projects focusing on underreported issues. Furthermore, teams working in eligible countries where investigative journalism is under pressure, including financial and political pressure, are especially encouraged to apply.    

Payments and reporting

For teams selected for grant funding, the payment of grants will be made in three instalments: 

  • 60% of the grant amount will be paid upon signing of the grant agreement by the awarded project team and upon counter-signing by the EJC.
  • 20% following the submission of a mid-term narrative report and completion of agreed milestones. The mid-term report is due by 30 November 2021.
  • The remaining 20% will be paid following the submission of a final report by the project team, demonstrating the fulfilment of the grant requirements. 

The final report will be due by 31 March 2022 and should describe the action(s) carried out with IJ4EU support, as well as expenditures, dissemination efforts, publication achievements and the public impact, if available at the time of reporting. Grantees will also need to include information on the progress and the impact of the mentorship programme on their investigations in their reports.

Grantees will not be required to provide detailed documentation (e.g. receipts) of their spending or accounting information as a precondition of payment of the final instalment, but will be asked to keep the relevant documents for a period of three years. 

How to apply

The IJ4EU application process aims to be simple, secure and efficient.

In 2021, all applications had to be submitted in English via the online Good Grants platform by 23:59 CEST, 14 July 2021. Good Grants is a free-to-use secure platform for submission and storage. It is ISO/IEC 27001 certified and GDPR compliant, and has multi-factor authentication, encrypted data, multi-tier backups and a secure multi-server architecture in VPC. 

Each applying team should designate a lead applicant, who should create a personal user account to ensure that the application can be submitted securely and so as not to jeopardise the proposed investigation or those involved. Applicants can save the application form and return to it until they have completed it and are ready to submit. Once the application is submitted, it can no longer be edited. Only applications received via the Good Grants platform by the stated date and time will be considered. You will receive an email confirmation of your submission.

Applicants are required to provide in the application form information about their project and the team working on it, including:

  • A brief description of the proposed project, topic and the objective(s) of the investigation, highlighting its cross-border relevance, public relevance and what new knowledge and information it will provide;
  • A publication plan, describing the expected timeline for the investigation and the media outlets or platforms in which the project will be published, and the expected publication date(s);
  • The main risks associated with the completion of the project and how the team plans to mitigate against these risks, including risks related to potential mobility and travel restrictions due to COVID-19; 
  • A budget (in EUR). The budget should be based on this model budget. The budget does not need to specify in detail items that need to remain confidential during an investigation.

Applicants are also strongly encouraged to provide with their applications:

  • Letters of intent from at least two independent news outlets based in two different EU member states.

Selection process and timeline

The Freelancer Support Scheme received proposals from 1 June 2021 until 14 July 2021

Applications undergo an initial pre-screening to review basic application requirements and applicants may be asked during this phase to supply additional information. Applications that do not meet basic requirements are not further evaluated.

The selection of successful applications is done by an independent jury made up, in part, of distinguished journalists who are themselves freelancers and so understand the needs of freelance investigative journalists and their ways of working. 

The jury’s decision takes account of, but not necessarily confines itself to, the following criteria:

  • Cross-border relevance
  • Relevance of topic to European and local public
  • Newsworthiness and added value
  • The extent to which projects help the EJC successfully meet the IJ4EU objectives, mission and purpose and create long-term impact after completion of the IJ4EU project
  • Strength of research and publication plan
  • Expected impact and/or reach of the project
  • Feasibility of project within project timeline and budget
  • Applicants’ experience and journalistic credentials
  • Adequate risk assessment
  • Financial need

In addition, the guidelines instruct the jury to consider the overall package of grantees with a view toward ensuring:

  • Geographical balance
  • Thematic balance
  • Balance among types of investigative teams
  • Attention is paid to underreported topics as well as investigative topics affecting local communities.

More information about the selection process and the ways of working of the jury can be found in the FAQ section.

Notification of award and timeline

Successful applicants were notified about the outcome of their application as soon as the independent jury made its decision. Given the high volume of applications, the EJC reserves the right to not provide individual feedback to unsuccessful applicants. 

Selected applicants — acting through one lead representative — are required to sign and adhere to a grant agreement with the European Journalism Centre in order to receive the funds. The lead applicant is responsible for receiving and distributing the grant to the rest of the team members, in accordance with the project application form and budget.

Successful investigations receive the awarded grants in three instalments on the grounds of a budget that is double-checked and approved by the EJC as credible and reasonable. Unless the EJC has any indications for improper use of funds, grantees are not required to provide detailed documentation of their spending as a precondition of payment of the final instalment.

Grants are awarded for a period of six months. All funded projects must be finalised no later than 28 February 2022.

The lead representatives of selected projects is expected to stay in regular contact with the EJC on the progress of investigative work and immediately communicate any major unexpected delays or other deviations.

The EJC reserves the right to publish references to and re-publish excerpts of the project on its website and applicants agree to make themselves available to the EJC and IPI for interviews related to their experience working on the project within 6 months after the end of IJ4EU.

Optional project support

Legal contingency fund

IJ4EU has established a small legal contingency fund to support grantees. This fund is designed to provide additional financial support in the case of unforeseen legal costs, which can include the coverage of legal advice, lawyers’ fees or other support.

The legal aid fund is managed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). (Please note: any expected legal costs, such as standard pre-publication review, should be included in project budgets and cannot be covered by the legal contingency fund.)

Press freedom support

The IJ4EU consortium is led by the International Press Institute (IPI), a global press freedom organisation with 70 years of experience defending media freedom. IPI and the other partners in the consortium are committed to defending the rights of IJ4EU grantees to do their work free from interference. Together with ECPMF, IPI is a member of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) mechanism for press freedom violations in the EU. Any threats to the work of IJ4EU grantees will be immediately reviewed by IPI for an appropriate response and, where appropriate, will be shared with other members of the MFRR for coordinated advocacy or another form of response, including legal and practical support.

Editorial support

Grantees will also have access to editorial support in the form of an expert adviser. This adviser will be available to provide general advice to teams that face difficulties in the advancement of publication of their investigations.

This support — in line with clear internal guidelines established by the consortium — will not assume any form of editorial supervision so as to preserve the separation between donor and grantee, but will be able to offer general guidance that may prove valuable to teams that have hit a “pothole” in their work

IJ4EU and COVID-19

The importance of investigative journalism is not diminished amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it is amplified. However, the spread of the virus and the measures to contain it present unique challenges to cross-border investigative journalism. This is how the IJ4EU fund is responding:

  • First, as the IJ4EU fund is open to any topic, investigative projects related to COVID-19 are also eligible for funding, provided that they meet the application requirements.
  • Second, given the mobility and travel restrictions in place in many countries, as well as the particularly fast-changing news environment, we strongly encourage all applicants to plan and present their projects with this situation in mind. In terms of the application, this means that you should provide brief information on how you expect to be able to carry out your project in view of such possible restrictions and how you plan to adapt to any changes. It also means that you should ensure your project still has newsworthiness when published.
  • Third, we understand the unusual problems that COVID-19 presents. While teams should outline risks and adaptations to them in their grant applications, it is understood that there is a need for increased flexibility, including as relates to project changes and publication deadlines. Nevertheless, all teams must undertake best efforts to publish by the deadline and to keep us up-to-date with your efforts to complete the investigation and publish.

Questions and contact

Our FAQ section provides answers to many specific questions about the grant. For further questions, applicants should contact the European Journalism Centre at siderova[at]ejc.net