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Where is the Fellowship located?

On the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to the Journalism and Media Studies department of the Diederich College of Communication. Fellows work from private offices inside the O’Brien newsroom in historic Johnston Hall. Marquette is a Catholic and Jesuit institution located near downtown Milwaukee by the Lake Michigan shoreline. In 2010, our university celebrated 100 years of providing journalism education.

Who is eligible for an O’Brien Fellowship?

Staff-employed or independent journalists residing in the United States or its territories. Applicants should have at least five years of professional experience and produce journalism regularly as an employee or freelancer. Applicants may be connected to print operations, radio, television, podcasts, online publications, wire services, or magazines of general public interest. There are no academic prerequisites. In-depth reporting experience is a plus.

It is Marquette’s policy that recruitment, employment, promotions, demotions, transfers, compensation, training, terminations, and other personnel decisions will be made to achieve a balanced workforce, in accordance with the principles of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

What is the application process?

Journalists can apply beginning December 1st each year. The application period closes in late January. Semifinalists chosen from the applicant list by the O’Brien program are interviewed by the O’Brien Fellowship director in February. From that group, finalists are chosen by the O’Brien Fellowship director in consultation with the Journalism Department.

Finalists are interviewed in March by the O’Brien Fellowship selection committee. That committee makes recommendations to the Dean of the College of Communication. Those selected as Fellows are offered positions in March. Selections are announced publicly in April.

Do I need prior teaching experience?

No. That said, it can help your cause if you have acted successfully as a mentor, trainer or instructor of young people, and have shown an interest and passion for that kind of work. Ideal candidates will exhibit strong leadership and organizational skills.

Do I need a master’s degree?

No. Some applicants have advanced degrees, but there are no educational requirements for the Fellowship.

What kind of journalism project should I propose?

O’Brien supports rigorous, in-depth projects aimed at holding American institutions accountable, revealing inequities, and uncovering potential solutions to difficult problems. We look for projects that have the potential to lead to change and give voice to people impacted by injustice and entrenched problems. We favor projects that plan to investigate and explain how individuals and groups can identify creative solutions to social problems.

Our fellows have probed issues such as climate change, racial injustice, neglect of persons with mental illness, public safety and law enforcement, education and maternal health. We seek stories that need the extra time and resources we provide, and that can incorporate Marquette student journalists into the work. See the Our Work and Our Students’ Work pages on our website for examples.

What is the size and style of the final project?

We expect an in-depth project that reflects nine months of reporting. In the past this has meant a series of deeply reported stories, a feature-length film, etc. See the Our Work page on the O’Brien site. The form of the projects varies depending on the nature of the journalists’ work and the desires of their publishers.

How long is the Fellowship?

Nine months, encompassing a full academic year from mid-August to mid-May.

Does the Fellowship consider journalists who reside outside the United States?

Not at this time. We have discontinued accepting applications from non-U.S. residents. The O’Brien Fellowship is open to stories of international interest, but is strongly focused on stories affecting U.S. audiences that can be reported primarily in America for publishers that should include a U.S.-based news outlet or outlets.

Are you seeking local, state or national stories?

We prefer stories that take a national approach even if they are told mainly through one U.S. state or region. In any case we look for ways to broaden local stories to investigate best practices and solutions tried in other states or countries.

Do Fellows move to the Milwaukee area?

Yes, with a few exceptions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our strong preference is that Fellows move to Milwaukee, work out of their private office in the O’Brien newsroom on campus, and travel as needed for reporting. We will announce in fall 2021 whether we will accept remote applications for the 2022-23 Fellowship year. 

Who can I consult about my story idea?

Upon request, O’Brien director Dave Umhoefer will give feedback to applicants as they consider and develop project ideas. The best way to reach him is at david.umhoefer@marquette.edu or leave a message for him at 414-288-5956.

What do I submit with the application?

The application calls for a project proposal, résumé, personal statement, summary biography, three letters of recommendation, work samples and other information. You can access the online application form on the O’Brien Fellowship application page. The Fellowship may contact your references.

What form should the journalism proposal be in?

Applicants should closely follow the format in the application, answering in detail the questions below in the order they appear. Please list each question before your answer to each section. The full proposal should be between 1,250 and 2,000 words.

    1. What is the project and how are you familiar with the topic?
    2. What is the key question you are trying to answer?
    3. Based on your preliminary research, what makes this a timely and important story?
    4. How might your work be made available to the public and in what format(s)?
    5. The O’Brien Fellowship is centered on deeply incorporating student journalists into the projects as researchers, data analysts, reporters, writers or multimedia specialists. What specific roles might students play in your project?
    6. How might your project break new ground? If other outlets have taken on the topic, explain how your work would advance the story.
    7. What steps will you take to insure that your reporting will broadly consider how discrimination based on race, gender or identity has impacted the people and places in your story, and how such bias affects efforts to change the situation?
    8. Discuss what you would need to do to pursue the story. Is it a data or document-driven story? If so, what are the documents, what will it take to get them, etc. Is the data accessible and reliable? Is it a source driven story? If so, who are the sources? Are they cooperative? Hostile?
    9. What are possible obstacles to completing the reporting, and how do you plan to address them?
    10. What is the “minimum” story that would come out of your project?   What is the greatest potential upside?
    11. Estimate how long you would need to complete the project.

Does the Fellowship support book writing?

This is not the venue to write a book. We have, however, supported journalists who are researching and reporting material that is destined to end up in a book. In those cases, the journalists have made a strong case that they will publish pieces of their work in local and national media outlets in a timely fashion apart from book-publishing deadlines.

Where will my work publish?

O’Brien work will be published or broadcast to the public via the journalist’s home news organization, in the case of staff journalists. If you are an independent journalist, this will be dependent on what publishing commitments you secure.

Do I need a publishing commitment upfront?

For staff-employed journalists, we expect that top editors at their home publication commit in writing to support and publish their work, and continue to employ the reporter during the fellowship.

Independent journalists should outline how they plan to place their work and identify relationships they have with publications. In some cases independent journalists have secured a publishing commitment at the time of their application. We realize this is not the norm. In lieu of such commitments, independent journalists are encouraged to seek preliminary letters of interest from potential publishers and provide contact information for them. It is helpful to see that applicants have relationships with publications or editors related to their story topic.

From whom should I seek recommendation letters?

Applicants should seek recommendation letters from current and previous supervisors, journalism colleagues, and publishers willing to consider publishing their work at O'Brien. Applicants should expect that their references will be contacted during the application process.

Is it a full-time position?

Yes, the O’Brien Fellowship is a full-time reporting position funded as a 100% commitment. Fellows dedicate full attention to their projects and spend nine months working on their stories. Freelance work outside the Fellowship is allowed but is on your own time.

Do we have to publish by a certain deadline?

Fellows aim to finish most or all of their work by the end of the Fellowship in May. As for publishing, Marquette aims for at least a portion of the Fellow’s project to be published no later than October following the Fellowship, but there is no set deadline.

Some Fellows publish as they go during the Fellowship, while others aim for one story or a series of stories to publish after the Fellowship ends. There are several reasons we prefer to publish sooner rather than later, including avoiding getting scooped, and seeing students’ work published as they are seeking internships and jobs. 

What is the role of Marquette students in the project?

Each Fellow will work with and help supervise 2-3 students who will assist them in research and reporting during the year. In 2020-21, each Fellow worked with two students. The goal is a reporting partnership, not merely a research assistantship. Some students have received byline credit on stories and others have received credit lines.

Student tasks have included interviewing sources, preparing print or multimedia stories, finding and dissecting public documents, obtaining and exploring data, general research, suggesting story ideas and promoting the work.

Do I teach in a classroom?

No. The work with students is a hybrid of an internship and an instructional setting akin to running a news bureau. Fellows, closely guided by the fellowship director, assign research and reporting tasks to students they mentor. Fellows work very closely with the student reporters, meeting weekly with them in the O’Brien newsroom or virtually, as a team and individually, and are in more frequent touch by email.

Fellows supervise and review student contributions, help arrange reporting trips with students and help the director identify training needs. Fellows give students first-hand experience in public service journalism.

Do Fellows grade the student work?

No. Student assignments are not graded, but the director and Fellow assign each student a letter grade at midterms and the semester.

Do Fellows need to have worked with students or young journalists?

No, but that kind of experience can help your application and your Fellowship experience. Fellows receive training in working with students.

Do students travel with Fellows to help with reporting?

Quite often, yes. This is strongly encouraged, subject to health and safety considerations. Typically Fellows will do some reporting trips solo and some with students, but this varies by the project and circumstances. The O’Brien Fellowship funds student reporting travel expenses.

Who pays for the Fellows’ reporting travel, research and equipment, and other costs?

Fellows can get reimbursed, up to $4,000, for their reporting-related travel expenses. In addition, up to $4,000 per Fellow is set aside to cover any technology, research, training and equipment expenses. Marquette reserves the right to shift funds between the travel and non-travel allowances. 

What is the salary stipend for Fellows?

$70,000

How is the salary stipend paid?

Independent journalists are hired as temporary, full-time Marquette employees and receive their salary stipend in monthly payroll payments. Journalists who remain employed by a news organization continue to receive paychecks from their employer, either at their pre-Fellowship rate of pay, or the $70,000 O’Brien level, whichever is higher. (The $70,000 stipend increases their pay in some cases; in others, it covers a portion of their salary if their pre-existing pay exceeds the stipend). O’Brien pays the news organizations in quarterly installments.

Are there employment fringe benefits?

Staff journalists stay on their employer’s benefits. Independent journalists not in the employ of a news organization can choose Marquette-subsidized health insurance at employee rates. 

Fellows are eligible during the fellowship for tuition remission (up to seven credits) for courses offered by Marquette University.

Are moving costs covered?

The moving allowance is up to $5,000 over the course of the Fellowship. The allowance is meant to cover both ends of the move. Separately, the Fellowship will pay up to $750 for an apartment hunting trip, if needed.

*Fellows from the Milwaukee metropolitan area are not eligible for a moving allowance.

What about housing costs?

O’Brien has a residency allowance that is based on family requirements for Fellows moving to the Milwaukee metropolitan area for the duration of the Fellowship. Fellows submit rent receipts from the rental property owner and get reimbursed.

  • Up to $400 per month of rental occupancy for a single, married or partnered Fellow. Maximum of $4,000.
  • Up to $600 per month of rental occupancy for a Fellow with one child. Maximum of $6,000.
  • Up to $700 per month of rental occupancy for a Fellow with two children. Maximum of $7,000.
  • Up to $800 per month of rental occupancy for a Fellow with three or more children. Maximum of $8,000.

Who is on the O’Brien Fellowship selection committee?

The committee is made up of distinguished journalists, Marquette faculty and alumni. For the current list of members, see our application page.

What role does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel play in the Fellowship?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a founding partner of the Fellowship. The Journal Sentinel provides support and resources upon request to O’Brien Fellows who seek a journalistic partner, help with editing, data analysis, visuals or other needs.

 

*For all other questions, please contact program director Dave Umhoefer at david.umhoefer@marquette.edu.