MJ Bear Fellowship FAQ

Who is the MJ Bear Fellowship aimed at?

The fellowship is designed for up-and-coming journalists between the ages of 23 and 30 who are just beginning to make their voices heard in the industry and who are working to expand the boundaries of digital news through ongoing creative and innovative projects. Fellows can be working inside or outside the newsroom, and we encourage freelance and independent journalists to apply.

Who is eligible for the fellowship?

Applicants in 2021 must meet the following requirements at the time of application:

  • Born between June 26, 1991 and June 25, 1998
  • Be a working digital journalist (either for an organization or self-employed); ONA encourages freelancers and journalists from diverse backgrounds to apply.
  • Be fluent in English
  • Be involved in a digital journalism project

Full-time students are not eligible.

The fellowship is open to digital journalists from around the world. In 2021, we will select six fellows.

What do I get if I am selected for a fellowship?

Benefits of the fellowship:

  • Registration to the Online News Association Conference
  • Recognition and networking opportunities at the ONA conference
  • Three online coaching sessions
  • ONA membership, with three years dues paid in full

Probably the most valuable benefit is participating in the ONA conference, not only for takeaways from sessions on everything from inspiring digital news trends to technical help and advice, but for expanding your network of experts and mentors that go way beyond the conference itself. In addition, the online workshops with industry leaders provide training on what you tell us you need most to advance your project and your career. (Past sessions have covered topics such as skills building; pitching projects; career advancement in a changing world; audience engagement; marketing and entrepreneurship.)

Repeatedly, we’ve heard feedback from past fellows that speaks to the transformational change that has happened as a result of their fellowship year. “Career changing” resonates most often in their comments. MJ Bear Fellows have told us how the fellowship — in particular, through their coaching sessions and recognition at the annual conference — has led to new career and project opportunities.

Has COVID-19 changed the program structure for the 2021 MJ Bear Fellowship?

In 2021, we’ll offer the MJ Bear Fellowship fully online for the first time to account for the ongoing conditions due to COVID-19.

We’ve been leading online workshops for years, and bring deep expertise to facilitating virtual trainings and fostering connections online. The coaching sessions for this fellowship have always been virtual since the program has fellows based around the world. This year, ONA’s annual conference will be virtual as well.

What are the important dates in the application process and fellowship experience?

  • April 14, 2021: Applications open
  • May 13, 2021: Applications close
  • June 2021: 2021 fellows announced
  • June 22-25, 2021: ONA Conference
  • Fall 2021: Coaching sessions

What are you looking for in a digital project?

The project is an important part of the application.

  • It needs to be something already started — not just an idea or a concept. We need to see something we can review.
  • It does not have to be a completed project; indeed, those that focus on breaking news are going to be ongoing. It does need to be a project started on or after Jan. 1, 2020. The reason for the date is that it needs to be current — not something done two years ago as a graduate student thesis.
  • The project needs to show creativity and innovation.

Themes for projects may include audience and social engagement, product development, and digital or business strategy.

You should explain how your strategy moves digital journalism forward or provides valuable lessons or outcomes. You can see examples from previous fellows’ projects here, and we strongly encourage you to take a look and see what kind of projects have resonated with our selection committees.

Can I explain my project in a video rather than explaining it in text?

Absolutely! Videos, whether to explain projects or to talk about yourself in the personal statement, are a huge plus as they provide the review committee with an opportunity to get to know applicants virtually. Remember the time limit of three minutes.

How important is the recommendation letter?

The recommendation letter is a very important complement to the information you provide. It gives reviewers insights into the candidate’s abilities as a standout digital journalist. You should ask an employer, professional colleague or business partner who knows you and your work well enough to outline your demonstrated ability, particularly with respect to your involvement in your project. We suggest doing this before you actually fill in the online application form in order to give your recommender time to write a thoughtful letter. Stock language letters of recommendation will not help you.

When did the fellowship start?

The program was established in 2011, in honor of ONA founding member and digital journalist pioneer MJ Bear, who passed away in December 2010. Since then, we have awarded 30 MJ Bear Fellowships.

Is the fellowship open to applicants outside the United States?

Yes! The application needs to be in English, although the project itself could be in a non-English language. For that reason, the explanation of the project needs to be very clearly explained.

This program is offered by ONA and its staff, which is headquartered in the United States. We will do our best to be mindful of different time zones for those selected for the fellowship and will design our schedule to account for online learning styles. For international applicants, especially those in time zones opposite of Eastern Time working hours, applicants should be aware they need to have some flexibility to work around US time zones.

I am a student. Am I eligible?

The fellowship is not open to full-time students, undergraduate or graduate. It is open to part-time students as long as they also are working, either for an organization or are self-employed.

I will be 31 by the time of the conference. Is the age requirement flexible?

Unfortunately, no. The fellowships are awarded to those who will be 23-30 at the time of the conference in order to focus on young digital journalists who have been working, but are still establishing themselves. We have to draw the line somewhere, which is why we specify a birth date range of June 26, 1991 and June 25, 1998. If you are too young to qualify this year, save the information and apply next year or are at a point when you have a project that qualifies.

How does ONA determine who is selected for the fellowships?

ONA staff works with a review committee comprised of a mix of industry leaders and two past winners to select the fellows. We are looking for candidates who are developing projects that show spark, creativity and innovation. We select six fellows, with two fellows from outside the United States and Canada.

When will I hear back about my application?

You will receive a confirmation email when you submit your application. You will hear from us on the status of your application in May.

If I’m selected, what will be expected of me?

This fellowship is designed to give you support on your projects and a chance to showcase your work to the digital journalism community.  You should welcome feedback on your projects and be ready to take an active part in opportunities to connect with industry leaders and other fellows in your group during the coaching sessions. You’ll get the most out of your fellowship by being open to discussing specific goals and challenges that you’re facing with people who can give you guidance. At the conference, we’ll ask you to participate on a panel to talk about your project and work. In the following year, we’ll ask you to write a few blog posts for journalists.org about your work and career journey, focusing on lessons learned for up-and-coming digital journalists. Speaking at ONA’s industry-leading conference and writing about your work takes a little preparation, but it’s worth it to share your expertise and passion with our highly-engaged community of journalists, who want to know what you learned creating your digital project.

Is May 13 a firm deadline for applications?

Absolutely. All applications are due May 13, 2021 by 11:59 p.m. ET. We’ve had great response to this fellowship and to be fair to the applicants who apply on time, we won’t accept late applications nor extend the deadline. Pro-tip: Be sure and give your references enough advance notice so that you can submit your recommendation letter in time to meet the deadline.

Other questions? Contact Jen Mizgata at mjbearfellowship@journalists.org.