01 Mar 2017 / 16:22

10 Tips for Producing Top BFJE Stories


As the March 8 deadline for applications for the 2017 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence fast approaches, our 2016 programme editor Matt Robinson prepared tips and tricks for producing strong fellowship stories, aimed at helping the chosen applicants to best get to the bottom of their topic:

Never underestimate the benefit of hindsight, and for those successful applicants to the 2017 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence you have the lessons learned of 10 generations to draw on. The Fellowship is challenging, and at times can feel overwhelming. So listen to the Fellowship editor, to the local BIRN editors and to the Fellows who came before you and take their advice on board. Here are 10 tips and tricks for success:

  • Understand the rules and what is expected of you: there is no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer. So do not be afraid to ask if something is unclear. It is essential you understand the schedule, the rules and what you are required to do.
  • Clearly define what it is you want to do, the scope of your proposal and how you intend to do it. This is a big project, which needs clear parameters. The story needs a strong central narrative, not a series of weakly-linked elements.
  • Decide early and agree with your editor where it is you want to travel to outside of your own country. It is vital you choose a destination that will enhance your story and, ideally, make yours a regional rather than a local piece of journalism. You will need more time to prepare for reporting in an unfamiliar country.
  • Think hard about how you will prove your hypothesis; the burden of proof will be high, so you will need hard evidence. The earlier you get this, the better, because if you cannot get it your story will have to change.
  • Keep an accurate record of your every reporting move; who you spoke to and when, where you found each item of information, how you tried to contact sources. Your editor will expect to see all of this, in order to make sure your story is water-tight. This is very important for legal considerations.
  • Get in touch with the local BIRN editor in your country and discuss your story plan; they may have insights, suggestions and contacts that could help.
  • Communicate regularly and promptly with the Fellowship editor; make sure you keep the editor fully in the loop during the reporting phase and discuss structure before you sit down to write.
  • Back-up everything by multiple means.
  • Make absolutely sure you understand what it means to quote someone. This is not an approximation of what was said or a conglomeration of different statements. It is a word-for-word rendition of what was said and there is very little room for deviation.
  • Make sure you understand the difference between on-record, on background and off-record when talking to sources and define the terms of an interview up front.

And last but by no means least, enjoy it! Few journalism programmes offer the kind of financial and editorial support that the Fellowship provides, so hit the road, aim high and do the very best you can. We look forward to seeing the results.


About Us

In order to foster quality reporting, initiate regional networking among journalists and advance balanced coverage on topics that are central to the region as well as to the EU, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme  is supported by the ERSTE Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

What is the Fellowship?

Journalists from the Balkans are increasingly required to cover complex reform issues, taking in a regional and Europe-wide dimension. The fellowship provides editorial guidance, training and adequate funding to do so.

Our Partners

Prominent German, Austrian and Swiss newspapers, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Standard and Neue Zürcher Zeitung are media partners of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme. Besides being involved in the selection committee, they participate in seminars, support fellows if needed and seek to republish the best articles produced by them.

Contact Us

Please contact us for any additional information about the programme, or if you have suggestions, remarks or complaints about the web site and its content

Selection Committee

The Selection Committee is comprised of seven prominent media figures from the Balkans and Europe. Each year, committee members read, evaluate and select story proposals for the fellowship.

Fellowship Team

Editors and journalists from across the region and beyond all work together to make the Balkan fellowship a truly international experience. Scroll down this page for more information on our editorial team.