Six mistakes journalists make when applying for fellowships and training

Six mistakes journalists make when applying for fellowships and training

IJNet | November 22, 2012

Have you applied to several fellowship programs or training courses without success? You could be making one of several common errors on your application.

As a follow-up to IJNet's live chat on nabbing a journalism fellowship, veteran journalist Patrick Butler identified six mistakes journalists make when applying for a fellowship, scholarship or training course.

As vice president of programs for the International Center for Journalists, Butler has reviewed thousands of applications and knows what won't pass the test. Here are six mistakes to avoid:

1. Failing to understand the goals of the fellowship

Applicants too often forget to read the program description closely--or at all. "Our Knight International Journalism Fellowships are for people to lead media development projects in a country or countries around the world. They are not reporting projects. But we always get applications from people who want a fellowship to report while overseas," Butler says. "Those get rejected right away--they didn't even read the fellowship description!"

2. Failing to anticipate obstacles

"I want to see that an applicant has really thought through the proposal, knows what the obstacles are going to be and how he/she will overcome them," Butler says. However, "I often read project proposals that sound great but I wonder if they are really achievable. You should anticipate those kinds of doubts and have an answer for them."

3. Sending in an application with spelling and grammatical errors, or rambling prose

Professional communication is key. "Of course we are more forgiving of that in people who are not native English speakers, but even then you should carefully read over your application to make sure you haven’t made any errors," Butler says. "These are journalism fellowships, so we want people who are careful journalists."

4. Offering bribes

"Don’t try to bribe the selection committee," Butler says. "Believe it or not, I have seen applicants do that!"

5. Stating a vague or insufficient reason for wanting to visit the host country

When applying for a fellowship or training course abroad, convey a strong and specific reason why you want to travel to the host country. Too often, Butler says, journalists applying for fellowships in the U.S. say, " 'It's the focal point for freedom of the press, it's the global leader, etc.' That doesn't make it stand out from others. Don't just say that you have always wanted to go to the U.S. because of its long history of free press. Instead, tell me what skills you hope to gain from the program that will help you be a better journalist in your country--such as investigative reporting, radio production, social media, whatever. Show me that if I make an investment in you, it will be multiplied when you return to your country."

6. Giving up too soon

You've applied for your dream fellowship, but you weren't accepted. Keep trying. "I would write to [the organization offering the fellowship] away from the application cycle and say that you've applied unsuccessfully several times and wondered if they had any criticism or useful feedback for you. The person may not remember your applications, but it’s worth a try. Maybe they’ll tell you something useful," Butler says.

"Otherwise, there’s no harm in continuing to try if you have the time and energy," Butler says. "It may be that you were rejected not for your credentials or experience, but for the idea you proposed. In that case, proposing something new may bring success."

Related reading: Tips for landing your dream fellowship

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Alex E. Proimos.


Thank you Alex.

This is highly informing to me. these are the very points i over looked any time i applied for a fellowship abroad. i will memorize them and utilize it when i get another chance to apply. thanks again.

six mistakes to avoid:

Thanks Patrick.
l often wonder why my applications are rejected even after attending fellowship programs in other parts of the world to include the US.
l now know why. Most times, l feel the selection panel could query why you write to know the reason you were not selected.
l am glad that i belong to the ijnet family because so much has been taught me on this website.
Thank you
Grace (Nigeria)

Six mistakes to avoid

This is very informative, i recently applied for an investigative training program in Germany and i did not even get a reply, but am still hopeful. U shocked me with the bribery bit, didn't know that happens. All the same, this has been an eye opener for me.
Halima Athumani- Uganda


This is insightful. I'm applying it as soon as possible and I've had turn downs as well as good news.
I'm not giving up.
I appreciate the truthfulness of the pointers.


Florence, Uganda

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