Ellison: Grants and fellowships are the best way to fund a big project. It took three years to fund my graphic novel project. Editors didn't always get it -- how to engage a tablet-oriented generation through more visual storytelling.
Ellison: Editors thought graphic novel meant graphic content.
Ellison: European Journalism Centre finally got it and funded my first project. No dictation on how to cover the issue, just the requirement to publish within a year.
Ellison: #humblebrag, that project won a World Press Photo award.
Ellison: Most recent fellowship was the Aga Khan one... I'm not just blowing smoke up her ass because someone's here from the foundation. It had no editorial control, $25,000 to do an in-depth piece of reporting within a year.
Ellison: In these days of parachute journalism or one-person continental bureaus... one person sent to cover an election, then off to the next country. ... It's hard to hit the ground running and understand the complexities.
Ellison: AKFC allowed a trip to northern Tanzania for six weeks and focus on female genital mutilation.
Ellison: If I'd tried to do that project in a week, it would have been hard -- let alone the effort of putting together a graphic novel.
Ellison: Fellowships also a great opportunity to collaborate with local journalists or beat specialists
Ellison: I'm interested in doing virtual reality in a next project.... at some point.
Taylor-Vaisey: The value of a fellowship as a method of getting around parachute work... did that come up Jane?
Armstrong: It's a disconnect between how a journalist views their work and what editors need.
Armstrong: As the reporter, I'm getting ready, I'm learning. As the editor, I'm interested in what the story is -- the output. Will the readers be interested?
Armstrong: You can help that by pitching the story, pitching the idea as you apply. They can see how the end result can help them.
Taylor-Vaisey: How do you find and match fellowships to your interests?
Ellison: Often I have too much spare time on my hands... but a Google Alert on it helps, talking to other journalists, hearing about word-of-mouth, etc.
Robertson: There's a greater infrastructure for these in Europe, Washington D.C. Many different ones there giving out grants. Something like 10% are given to Canadians if they apply.
Robertson: Find a topic relevant to a readership you write for that has legs. Radicalization is a sexy topic and people will read it -- though I went into it on the premise that none of us really understand it.
Robertson: The story was moving quickly and no one had a good grasp on what had taken place in Calgary. No one had gone to the mosque here to speak to people. It was telling for the Herald readership as a result.
Robertson: In the summer of 2014 when it was pitched, it was a topic no one saw going away.
Armstrong: All the grants that are available in Canada are in the report posted on Aga Khan website.
Q: I take the point on editors.... the issue there isn't so much with current affairs and long form having control over the reporter, but over programming. Do they really want a 30-minute piece on FGM in the middle of the year when I need more stories on XX YY.
Q: I've seen several instances where CBC sends people off for a year and then no one knows where to place them when they return.
Q: The other issue is "can we take the money?
Q: Nice to get free money, but it may not serve the broadcaster
Q: Using the CBC Massey Lectures as an example -- fellowship-type thing where you end up with a book and a lecture series for radio.
Armstrong: I heard those things when consulting. The best thing? Work together with the reporter on the pitch. Make sure the stories aren't down a deep rabbit hole. Focus on issues that would grab a reader.
Armstrong: When working on Afghanistan for the Globe, we'd talk. Yes, I'll do conflict stuff, but can I also have time to do other stuff?
Ellison: On editorial control -- it terms of the outlet wanting the product -- with the AKFC and EJC, it's part of the application process. A letter is required saying they're interested in publishing/broadcasting.
Ellison: With the AKFC, the line was "will publish assuming it's up to the editorial standards of The Star."
Ellison: I communicated with editors while away... but some times, no response. So you forge ahead.
Ellison: I wouldn't want to watch a 30-minute doc on FGM either.... it's a depressing subject.
Ellison: In the end, the graphic novel was based on one village. I had leftover material I thought was pretty good. So I'm working on a second graphic-novel based project, which I'm doing for Al-Jazeera. The Star passed on it.
Robertson: I work as a freelancer and something I have to do is keep in touch with editors who like me. Asking them what their needs are, what they're missing, etc. What don't they have that I could do?
Robertson: If you care a lot about a certain topic, as a freelancer you should be hustling that topic around your contacts.
Robertson: The Christian Science Monitor, internally, has topics they focus on. If you learn what they are, it can help land grants / fellowships.
Robertson: If you're an editor it's helpful to put out those feelers too. If someone comes with a shitty grant proposal, then work with them if there's something you could need and use.
Robertson: Not to sound like a couples' counsellor, but it's getting the desk and you to talk.
Q: Ever had a pitch rejected and then see it done later?
Armstrong: Not happened to me, but I've heard about it.
Robertson: Happened to me once... but I find most of the time, if someone's an asshole, then everyone (freelancers) will know they're an asshole.
Q: Is you're freelance career mainly funded by fellowships?
Ellison: My day job is being a data journalist for BBC Scotland.
Ellison: That was a foot in the door for me at the BBC, since my prior life was as a computer programmer.
Ellison: The grants allow me to do some fun stuff I wouldn't otherwise do. I took a leave for Tanzania, vacation time for a prior project.
Ellison: AKFC -- built in is that you take the stipend and use it.
Ellison: So that AKFC $25K -- they want you to use a part of that to pay yourself. It's not just all travel and project-related expenses.
Ellison: That's nice because in the past, without that, you're dipping into personal funds for the extras that you can't cover using grant monies.
Taylor-Vaisey is now thanking Jane, Dylan and Marc. Along with AKFC for sending Ellison, Armstrong to this conference.
That's it for this session.