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2021 California Impact Fund

The USC Center for Health Journalism's California Impact Fund provides reporting support  funding and mentoring  to journalists who think big and want to make a difference.  Our Impact Fund helps journalists bring untold stories to light and investigate promising approaches to chronic ills. We welcome applications from journalists who want to tackle ambitious investigative or explanatory projects – individually, as a newsroom-wide undertaking or as a collaboration with other media outlets in their communities.  The Fund aims to advance what the Center for Health Journalism calls “impact journalism,” which marries powerful narratives, data and community engagement to serve as a catalyst for change. Proposed projects should have the potential for impact, including changing the conversation about the issues addressed or sparking new policies, practices or laws. Depending on the scope of the project, competitively selected grantees receive grant funds of $2,000 to $10,000. We also provide six months of mentoring while grantees work on their projects, providing guidance on everything from story development to mapping out how to tackle reporting, to ways to improve storytelling.

The deadline to apply is November 30, 2021

Projects must focus on California health issues and be published or broadcast either by a California media outlet or a national outlet with a substantial California audience. Preference will be given to mainstream-ethnic media collaborations. Students are not eligible. Freelancers are eligible, but must earn the majority of their income from journalism and also have a confirmed assignment from a media outlet in order to be considered. Two California Impact Fund grantees will be selected for supplementary community engagement grants.

The Fund seeks proposals for: 

  • groundbreaking reporting on the health of underserved communities
  • reporting that illuminates national and state debates on health care policy and ongoing or proposed changes to the social safety net
  • exploration of health disparities and their causes and promising solutions
  • investigations into how poverty, education, environment, structural inequities or race/ethnicityinfluence health and wellbeing
  • reporting projects that advance public understanding and health policy for specific underserved or vulnerable populations, which could include people living in low-income neighborhoods, rural areas, jails, prisons, foster or group homes, juvenile detention centers or homeless encampments. 

Who Can Apply

The  2021 California Impact Fund makes grants to professional journalists who work for or contribute to print, broadcast and online media outlets based in the United States.  Applicants must be based in California or based elsewhere but contributing to a national outlet with a California footprint.  Proposed projects must be focused on California health issues.Applicants do not need to be full-time health reporters, but should have a demonstrated interest in health issues. We prefer that applicants have a minimum of three years of professional experience; many have decades. Journalists writing for ethnic media are strongly encouraged to apply. Proposals for collaborative projects between mainstream and ethnic news outlets receive preferential consideration, as do projects produced for co-publication or co-broadcast in both mainstream and ethnic news outlets. Freelancers are welcome, but need to have a confirmed assignment and should earn the majority of their income from journalism. Applicants must be based in the United States. Students and interns are ineligible.  

How to Apply

To strengthen your chance of being selected, we recommend that you schedule a conversation with us to discuss the your proposed project. Write Martha Shirk at to schedule a conversation.

All applications must be filed through our online application. by November 30, 2021.  We suggest that you begin preparing your application in Word or another text-based format so that you can cut and paste the components into the online application.

 The application asks for the following:

  • A  statement of purpose
  • A project proposal
  • A statement of impact
  • A proposed budget
  • Three samples of professional work
  • A current resumé
  • A letter of reference
  • An Editor's Checklist signed by a supervising editor and confirming the media outlet's intent to publish or broadcast the project

Applicants must join and post a profile and photo.

Personal Statement: Use 500 words to tell us who you are. Describe your general reporting or editing experience and aspirations, as well as your health reporting or editing experience, including the types of health care stories you currently cover or edit. Include a description of your publication, broadcast outlet or website, including the size, nature and geographic reach of its audience and how it's measured. (For websites, we require Google analytics or an equivalent.) If two or more reporters are applying as a team or two or more editors are proposing a cross-outlet collaboration, a single application may be filed, but it should include details about each of the journalists who will be involved, including their names,  affiliations, short bios, and resumes  and the size, nature and geographic reach of each of the participating outlets’ audiences. Describe your and/or your team’s general reporting or editing experience and aspirations, as well as your and/or your team’s health reporting or editing experience, including the types of stories you and/or your team currently cover or edit.

Project Proposal

In no more than 1,000 words, summarize a major reporting project. Consult our webpage for examples of topics we are interested in funding. Summarize likely themes, multimedia components and any social media and audience/community engagement strategies you anticipate (strongly encouraged), such as community forums, interactive digital features, partnerships with other media outlets or community organizations and so on. Tell us what sources or datasets you anticipate using or that you'll be looking for. Your proposal should be well-researched and should demonstrate that you have done some deep thinking about the relevance of the topic to your community. Be specific about deliverables (e.g. a three-part multimedia series, three seven-minute radio pieces, a 60-minute TV documentary and so on).  Think big.

Statement of Impact (up to 250 words)

Tell us why your proposed project is important and whether it will break new ground. Explain why this project is needed now and what impact a project like this might have. Include information on how this builds on or distinguishes itself from other journalism on this topic. 

Proposed Budget (up to 250 words)

The maximum grant is $10,000; grants of this size will most likely go to multi-newsroom collaborations.  Specify the size of the grant you’re seeking, and justify it. The size of the requested grant should be commensurate with the scope of the proposed project. Grants are meant to cover out-of-pocket expenses such as travel, dataset acquisition, translation services and multimedia components that your newsroom is not equipped to provide itself (e.g. videography and data visualization). In exceptional cases, we will permit part of each grant to be used to compensate for otherwise uncompensated time. If you’re a freelancer, the media outlet that agrees to publish or broadcast your project should be expected to provide the bulk of your compensation.

Three Samples of Your Work: Submit three samples of your best work. (For work that has only appeared online, please provide working URLs, as well as Word documents or PDFs of the published stories.) Broadcasters should submit links to working URLs of their online stories or CDs/DVDs. If you are an editor, submit work that you supervised and edited, along with an explanation of your role in shaping the content. If you write in a language other than English or Spanish, we prefer to receive translations of your work. If that is not possible, send a comprehensive two-paragraph summary in English of each story. 

Resumé: Please include a current resumé. Note:  Any misrepresentation that is discovered after you are admitted to the Fellowship will result in your dismissal.

Letter of Reference: Please supply a letter of reference from your assigning editor, producer, or news director that discusses your abilities and potential as a journalist in detail and the newsroom's support for your project

Editor/Story Checklist (download pdf) Download it, complete it, get your assigning editor's signature on it, and scan it into your computer to submit with your online application or FAX it to us at (877) 413-3873. Both freelance and employed journalists must submit written confirmation of a news organization's commitment to publish or air the work resulting from the grant, assuming it meets its standards. If several newsrooms are proposing a collaborative project, an editor from each outlet must sign an Editor/Story Checklist.

How We Select Grantees:

When choosing grantees, we consider each candidate's personal and professional accomplishments and potential, as well as the potential contribution of his or her proposed  project on the public's understanding of health issues. We value diversity in both our grantees and their media outlets. The Center will only review complete applications submitted by the November 30 deadline.

Tips for Maximizing Your Chances of Being Selected

  • Think big journalistically. 
  • Provide lots of details about what we can expect from your project.  Provides specifics, such as likely story count and multimedia components. We want to know what will result from our investment in you.
  • We're looking for impact, so tell us what problem your project will expose and what might happen as a result of increased awareness by the public and policymakers.
  • Tell us how you will engage the community with your project.  It's not sufficient any more to just put something out there.  Tell us how you will involve the public both in helping shape your journalism and responding to it.

Keep in Mind

These funds are not meant to replace salaries or freelance fees, although we are willing to consider allowing the grants to supplement income in some limited exceptions. Funds are principally meant to augment news organizations' resources — or to facilitate a collaborative project among outlets — to take journalism to a higher and more impactful level. Among the appropriate publishing- or broadcast-related expenses are travel, data set acquisition and analysis, videography, environmental or health testing and translation services. We generally do not fund the "tools of the trade," such as laptops or video or photographic equipment. The size of the requested grant should be commensurate with the scope of the proposed project.  Projects must be published or broadcast within six months of receiving a grant.

The 2021 California Impact Fund is supported by The California Wellness Foundation.  


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