Journalists from the Balkans did not have many opportunities to travel abroad or to participate in appropriate training. Hence, they are often under-prepared to tackle the challenges of reporting on complex reform issues that have regional or European dimensions. The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has been set up to change this.
The Press Freedom Indices in developing democracies in the Balkans have been deteriorating in the recent years. The increase in tabloidisation of papers, overworked and underpaid journalists have been a common denominator for all countries. Furthermore, the meagre trainings available to reporters also contributed to the lack of analytical pieces. And yet, there is a constant demand for reports on multifaceted reform topics, which go outside the borders of a single country and transcend into regional and European dimensions. For that reason the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was established in 2007.
The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence contests the current state of affairs. It gives an exceptional opportunity for journalists to conduct in-depth research and prepare reports, both at home and across Europe. Additionally, the Fellowship encourages regional networking among reporters and advances impartial coverage on topics that are central to the region as well as to the European Union. However, it does not only assist journalists to expand their perspectives. For all of us reading, watching and listening to the news, it offers new angles of current affairs. And the figures are a firm proof for this claim: only in one year, from 2009 to 2010, the republication of articles in regional print has doubled. In addition, there is a significant growth in the number of applications for the Fellowship, from 81 in 2007 to 149 in 2010.
Each year, ten journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia are competitively chosen to receive funding and professional support to conduct their own investigative projects on an annually chosen topic. The reporters receive a fellowship of EUR 2,000, a travel allowance of up to EUR 2,000 for the research, and a chance to participate in a seven-month programme for professional advancement. There are two seminars, one in Berlin and the other in Vienna, and continuous, on-hand, support from experienced BIRN editors. Furthermore, the Fellowship enables the journalists to work with a mentor, which is another way of stimulating their critical view of political issues. The three winning articles are awarded bursaries of EUR 4,000, EUR 3,000 and EUR 1,000. All ten articles are disseminated and republished widely in all local languages as well as in English and German. Once the fellowship ends, the fellows become members of the Alumni Initiative, which is designed to encourage and support their continued cooperation.