Capital City Fund For Investigative Journalism


How does SpotlightDC operate?

SpotlightDC awards funds for worthy investigative and explanatory reporting projects. Our Advisory Board reviews proposals from independent journalists or staff writers. In some cases, an Advisory Board member can work with these reporters throughout the editorial process, from refining the investigative target to guiding the reporting. SpotlightDC will, if necessary, help to secure the project’s placement in a partner media outlet. When media partners publish stories we fund, we assist with publicity and social media to increase each story’s impact.

What kinds of stories do you commission?

We seek out highly original reporting on important stories with the potential to make political, legal, economic or social impact. We commission investigative and explanatory reporting for print, radio, digital or broadcast journalism outlets.

What makes a story “investigative”?

By investigative we mean original, enterprise reporting — unearthing new stories, pursuing under-reported stories or significantly advancing stories that have been covered. Stories we fund must go beyond feature reporting to documenting problems and showing who’s responsible, whether a corporation, a regulatory agency, a legal entity such as a prosecutor, or an elected official. Proposals for opinion, spot news or political analysis are not in our mission. 

What makes a story “explanatory”?

As defined by the Pulitzer Prize Board, explanatory journalism “illuminates a significantly complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation.” We would add: in-depth reporting into a subject relevant to the region with high impact in the public interest and potential for educating readers about an important matter that affects their lives. 

What do Advisory Board members seek?

Original stories or ones that advance previous reporting. Also stories with great potential impact, a feasible reporting plan, a clear idea about the sources and documents with an explanation of access, a description of what individuals or institutions or practices will be exposed.

Who may submit a proposal?

SpotlightDC awards funds to independent freelancers as well as staffers at news outlets. 

Does SpotlightDC require a commitment from a publisher?

SpotlightDC gives preference to proposals that come with a commitment from a publisher. If necessary, we will work with reporters to find an outlet for their stories. Before we award funds, the journalist must have a home for the project.

How does the submission process work?

You can begin by submitting a short query — no more than a few paragraphs. Please include a description of the subject, why it matters now, together with any unique angle or documents or access you may have. If it seems likely to meet with success, we will request a full proposal. At that stage, our Advisory Board will assess the proposal according to four main criteria: originality, a feasible reporting plan, examples of previous work and potential for impact. The Advisory Board reviews the proposal and makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors for funding.

What does a story budget cover?

When SpotlightDC funds a project, we cover the reporter’s time to report, write and complete the project, together with direct costs associated with the project, based on the submission of a detailed reporting plan. This budget might cover travel, other reporting expenses or time. Our award is not designed to replace a standard fee at the host outlet.

Where do the stories you commission appear?

Our mission is to award funds and promote independent investigative journalism in a wide variety of public, independent and commercial media outlets, whether print, broadcast or digital. Our “Partners” page lists media partners with whom se seek to collaborate and work to publish stories that we support.

What is my commitment to SpotlightDC?

As spelled out in our Contributor Agreement, SpotlightDC requires that awardees do the reporting outlined in their proposals. We also require that awardees stay in regular contact about any reporting roadblocks and make any significant editorial changes in direction or change in the media partner. 

We also require that SpotlightDC be credited as a reporting partner in the host outlet and that the story appear simultaneously on our site.

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