FERN reporter FAQ

What subjects and stories to you support?
All of our reporting focuses on food, agriculture and environmental health. We are eager
to support stories that are in-depth, investigative and explanatory. These stories may
have been over-looked or under-reported by mainstream media or may be entirely
fresh. We expect they will have a broad impact when they appear.
Who can apply?
Reporters may pitch us by emailing a story idea and clips or links to info@thefern.org.
We also generate stories in house and seek out reporters to cover the story. Assigning
editors at publications may also send us a query on behalf of a reporter. While we require
publication experience, part of our mission is to work with young reporters in a mentorship
capacity, so special consideration will be given to those that fit into this category.
However, we also prioritize working with reporters with long track records and solid experience in our focus areas.
Does FERN give grants?
We are not a grant-making organization or a foundation. Reporters are not granted
funds to put towards a story that they write and publish on their own. We are a news
organization with full editorial control of the stories we produce. We contract with writers
and retain distribution rights to the story. In essence, we act as the publisher until we
place the story with a print or online outlet.
How are story commissions determined?
We collect proposals on a rolling basis and submit them to our Editorial Board for
review. Stories that are more timely or revealing may get accelerated through this
process at the discretion of our Editor-in-Chief.
How often does FERN commission stories?
We commission stories on a rolling basis.
What is the budget for a typical story?
Our funding ranges from $500-$10,000 depending on the complexity of the project. A
lower amount may be issued for a reporter to pursue research on a compelling story
idea to see if it might justify a full project. Once we agree in principle to a story, we ask
that the reporter assemble a detailed budget to determine what the project will cost.
What makes a story “investigative”?
We support reporting that digs into subjects that have not been significantly covered in
our area of focus, or which significantly furthers the reporting on a subject to date. We
are also interested in explanatory pieces that take complicated topics and make them
accessible to a non-specialized audience. We expect reporters to travel to the locations
where stories are based and do in-depth reporting.
How are stories placed?
We work within our network to place stories at mainstream media outlets. If a reporter
has an idea for a placement or a strong editorial connection, he or she will work with our
editors to place the story.
How does the editing process work?
Once a story has been pitched to and agreed upon by an outlet, our reporters typically
work with one of our editors to craft the story. This editor also manages communication
with the publication as the story evolves, making sure the piece meets the publication’s
expectations. After a draft has been assembled, the host publication’s editor will then
take over the piece. We work hard to assure that our writers are not over-burdened or
confused by this process and that the publication is involved every step of the way.
Do you only commission print reporting, or do you support other media?
While print media is our main focus, we are considering partnerships with broadcast
media and would consider pitches for investigative reporting in other mediums.
What do you expect of your reporters?
We expect first and foremost that our reporters follow our Code of Ethics. We also
expect our reporters to follow deadlines and to stay in touch with our editors as a piece
evolves. When we commission a project, a reporter must sign a contract outlining our
What role do you play aside from commissioning stories?
We provide placement, in-house editorial, fact-checking, and when necessary, legal
vetting of a story. Once a story appears, our in-house communications team assures
that the story is widely read and disseminated, amplifying a story’s impact. In working
with younger reporters, we provide hands-on mentorship opportunities.
Who owns the content?
Although the writer retains copyright, we seek broad rights to distribute the story in both
print and online media.
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