FIJ Awards Grants to Investigative Journalists

WASHINGTON – (October 6, 2011) The Board of Directors of the Fund for Investigative Journalism has awarded $40,000 in grants for nine independent investigative projects in the United States and overseas.

The grants cover travel and other reporting expenses for investigative stories that otherwise would not be told. Significant support from the Park Foundation, the Gannett Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Green Park Foundation, and generous donations from individuals made these grants possible.

This year so far, FIJ has awarded $118,000 to journalists working on 32 investigative reporting projects.

Journalists awarded grants in the most recent round are:

Idris Olalekan Akinbajo, investigative journalist from Nigeria

Ken Englade, non-fiction author specializing in trial coverage

Elizabeth Grossman, environmental science reporter

Lorie Hearn, Investigative Newsource

Kevin Heldman, New York-based crime and justice reporter

Chris Kromm, publisher, Southern Exposure

Paige McClanahan and Felicity Thompson, Sierra Leone-based reporters

Rocco Rorandelli, photojournalist with TerraProject, based in Italy and Catherine Segal, Paris-based journalist

Susan Southard, Arizona-based author

The topics of grantees’ investigations are confidential until completed. In addition to critical funding, grantees receive editorial guidance from mentors through a partnership with Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Recently completed projects include:

• Trevor Aaronson’s report, “The Informants,” published by Mother Jones, on sting operations conducted by the FBI in the War on Terror. Aaronson describes how FBI operatives use the threat of deportation to recruit informants, then use their informants to lure alleged terrorists into schemes where the means, the method, and the opportunity to commit acts of terror are cooked up by the FBI.

• An investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting into the misuse of federal stimulus funds in Florida schools. The nonprofit news center found that schools shored up their budgets, which were sagging due to the recession, rather than making school improvements as intended. Now that the recession is continuing to depress revenues from local taxing bodies, the schools will have to dig themselves out of even deeper financial holes and make drastic cuts.

• “Render Unto Rome,” a groundbreaking book by Jason Berry, who has investigated sexual abuse and now financial abuses within the Catholic Church over his long, distinguished career. Berry’s most recent book reveals how bishops use their power to close parishes and sell off property despite the wishes of parishioners — even in cases of parishes that were thriving financially. Church property is sold to bail out other parishes with expensive legal bills and court battles over allegations of sexual abuse. Berry was recently the subject of a profile in the Washington Post, which focused on the tension between his Catholic faith and his dogged reporting on the Church.

• An investigation for The Guardian of the use of child laborers to pick tobacco in Malawi. The children are paid extremely low wages and develop nicotine poisoning in the fields, inhaling fumes equivalent to smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Malawi’s economy is dependent on its tobacco production, with 70 percent of its exports coming from this industry. The country also has the highest incidence of child labor in southern Africa, with 90 percent of all underage children working on farms.

The Chicago Reporter took an in-depth look at the minority contracting program in Illinois. It discovered that work that is supposed to be designated for companies owned by people with disabilities instead goes to sheltered workshops – which employ disabled people in supervised settings and pay less than minimum wage. They also found that the state isn’t meeting its own goals for minority contracts, and that for those minority contractors who get work, it doesn’t necessarily expand their business in any lasting way – the ultimate goal of this set-aside program.

The Fund for Investigative Journalism is an independent, non-profit organization that has supported hundreds of public service reporting projects since 1969, when it provided funding for Seymour Hersh to investigate and expose the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers in My Lai. His stories won the Pulitzer Prize.

Read more about FIJ-supported projects and instructions for grant applications at The next deadline to submit proposals is Tuesday, November 1. Journalists with questions about the application process are encouraged to contact executive director Sandy Bergo by phone, 202-391-0206, or email, [email protected].