Call for applicants for Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence

Deadline: 12 March 2018



The Balkan news media are increasingly required to report on complex reform issues with regional and European dimensions. Journalists, however, are often under – prepared to tackle these, lacking resources for appropriate training and foreign travel.


To encourage regional networking among journalists and advance balanced coverage of topics that are central to the region as well as to the EU, ERSTE Foundation and the Open Society Foundations are supporting the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

The programme

Ten fellows will be selected on the basis of applications submitted. The fellowship programme is designed for journalists from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. It will run from April until December 2018 and three winning articles shall be selected during the final seminar held at the end of the year.


Fellows are expected during this period to produce one in – depth journalistic article of maximum 2,500 words, based on the research proposal they submit. Editorial guidance shall be provided by BIRN.


The fellowship programme involves the following elements:


i. Fellowship bursary of €2,000 per selected fellow
ii. Introductory seminar in Vienna, with regional and international speakers (May 2nd–6th, 2018)
iii.  Grant of up to €2,000 for research expenses, including one regional trip and one trip within
the EU, with guidance and organisational support provided by programme partners
iv. Ongoing mentoring and support from programme editor and BIRN representatives in Balkan
v. Two-day editing sessions in the region
vi. Final evaluation seminar and award ceremony in the region (December 2018)
vii. Worldwide publication of reports in all local languages and English
viii. Membership of fellowship alumni network



The independent Selection Committee, SC, composed of international journalists, editors and experts,
judges the quality of the reports and awards prizes. The top prize-winner will win €4,000, the second will receive €3,000 and the third €1,000.


Who can participate?

Individuals from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia with demonstrable journalistic experience are eligible to apply for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. Applicants should have citizenship of one of the countries covered by the programme. Applicants should be proficient in English (speaking, reading and comprehension), although reports may be written in local languages.


Topic 2018: Truth

In an era of fake news and “alternative facts”, the theme of this year’s fellowship is TRUTH. Do you have a lie to expose, a myth to shatter or a deception to deconstruct? Can you bring clarity and insight to a complex or confusing story?


Many journalists enter the profession to shine a light on truth. But in a post-truth world of echo chambers, filter bubbles and misinformation campaigns, faith in journalism as a beacon of veracity is under assault.


This is your chance to put TRUTH back in the frame, through fact-based, objective reporting.


This year’s theme lends itself to story ideas that dig for root causes and challenge falsehoods. It also speaks to the news values we expect fellows to hold dear: accuracy, impartiality, independence.


Is there a story you have always wanted to write or an investigation you dream of conducting? Can you link it to the topic? The trick is to start with a strong central proposal, even if it is only loosely connected to the theme. We want stories that get under the skin of a subject and bring understanding.


Maybe your approach is to get to the TRUTH by following the money. Can you track dirty cash or uncover organised crime and corruption? Can you scrutinise the interests of big business? Put a number on lobbying? Find foul play in the markets? Is there a story in the murky world of cryptocurrencies?


Perhaps consider TRUTH in political terms. Is there a political mystery that needs solving? Can you add substance to a political debate characterised by misunderstanding or mendacity?


Can you hold dishonest power to account? Unpick populism? Decode the high-frequency signals of dog-whistle politics?


Maybe your story idea involves a social phenomenon or trend. Perhaps it addresses attitudes based on misconceptions or delusions. Can you explore the beliefs and prejudices that undermine peace, stability and social justice?


Perhaps your idea involves the baggage of the past. In a region riven by divisions and haunted by historical ghosts, truth and reconciliation go hand in hand.


Or maybe your story is about the media industry itself: the war on truth, attacks on press freedom or the erosion of trust in the Fourth Estate. It might touch on media ownership, control or innovation.


Whatever your idea, this is an opportunity to be ambitious with your reporting. The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence prizes nuance over superficiality. Your story should have an investigative or analytical edge. It should have a strong narrative that takes readers on a journey. It should bristle with characters and colour.


This is also a chance to make a local topic resonate with an international audience. Your proposal should have a cross-border element. Can you compare the experience of your country with others in the region or elsewhere in Europe? Does it touch on themes central to EU politics, reform or human rights?


Above all, we are looking for something new — a revelation or elucidation. As you tackle the theme of TRUTH, tell us why it matters. What is at stake? Why should your readers care?


This is a rare opportunity to get the time and editorial support to do justice to your story idea through long-form journalism. We encourage you to be bold with your proposal. If you could write the story of your life, what would it be?