Mitali Mukherjee on why to apply for our Fellowships: “The answer to the industry's problems will come from within journalists”
**Applications for fellowships beginning in 2024/25 have now closed**
Mitali Mukherjee (1979) is a political economy journalist with more than two decades of experience. From September 2022 she is the Director of the Reuters Institute’s Journalist Programmes, and the person running the Institute’s Fellowships along with Caithlin Mercer and the rest of the team. As the deadline to apply approaches, Mitali explains in this interview who should apply for the programme, why it is particularly useful right now for the news industry, and which kinds of projects she is looking for. You’ll find everything you need to know about our Fellowships in this link.
Q. Which kinds of journalists should apply for the Fellowship?
A. Aside from a baseline of five years' journalistic experience, our programme is open to journalists from across beats, geographies and interests. Our network of Journalist Fellows are a strong indicator of how varied the backgrounds and interests of successful candidates have been. It is also open for freelance journalists.
Q. How do you build every cohort in terms of diversity of purpose, experiences and geographies?
A. Our Journalist Fellows are selected from all over the world: Europe, Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, North America, and Latin America. We try to build a cohort that is both complementary to each other’s work yet unique in its own approach and area of focus. We are committed to the equality, diversity and inclusion tenets defined by the University of Oxford, which we are a part of. English language proficiency is not tested, but all discussions are conducted in English and Journalist Fellows are encouraged to both participate and take in the issues being explored.
Q. Many journalists will now be thinking about the projects they’ll present in their applications. What would you say to them? What are the qualities that make a good project?
A. Two driving forces: a clear question about the landscape of journalism that needs answering and why you want to address it. Very often, the projects the Journalist Fellows are keen on working on are developments that are quite personal to them but also resonate in the broader journalistic community. But it isn’t necessary to have a personal tie to the project you’re working on. What is important is to have a clear sense of why you believe this is critical for the news industry.
Q. Could you give a couple of examples of projects that epitomise what you are looking for?
A. I would avoid doing that, as that may lead interested applicants to think along the lines of the examples I cite. However, I would recommend reading through some of the previous projects Journalist Fellows have worked on, to get a sense of the approach – which is tethered in the core journalistic principles of seeking the truth and reporting it.
Q. Some journalists would hesitate before taking a break for something like this. How would you say the Fellowship might be useful for their careers?
A. I would flip the question and say our Journalist Fellowships are not a break from journalism, but instead a chance to think deeper about issues around journalism. It is a unique and rare opportunity many practising journalists do not get while on the daily and weekly treadmill of news reporting.
This is core to the future of the industry in terms of the solutions you may draw from your time here and also critical for building and scaling your professional network. The opportunity to interact and engage with journalists who work in every part of the world is an incredible professional asset and learning that will be with you for a lifetime.
Apart from that, being accepted into a prestigious programme that offers you time to be in the University of Oxford with unlimited access to its rich resources, is hugely beneficial for a practising journalist.
Q. You’ve recently just hosted the 40-year reunion of the programme. From what you’ve heard from the alumni, what is the most lasting impact of this kind of fellowships? Those things that stay with you even years or decades after the programme.
A. A network that is both a vibrant professional community of journalists and friendships and bonds that last forever. The power of human interaction (and the lack of it) is something we all had firsthand experience through the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly in a field where people face far higher pressures and dangers than other industries, I was struck by the deep connection Journalist Fellows from the same cohort had with each other. They continue to reach out to each other for professional collaborations, advice and support but are also there for each other through the many ups and downs of life.
Q. Finally, the news landscape looks pretty grim, with many news about layoffs and projects shutting down. How do you think the Reuters Institute’s Fellowship can help the news industry at such a difficult time?
A. In an almost predictable and worrying cycle, the last decade or more has seen a slew of layoffs, news platforms being created and then disbanded and most importantly growing pressure on journalists from those who are keen to clamp down on critical reportage. Added to that, a fraying connection with audiences means there are multiple levers hurting the world of journalism.
The answer will have to come from within journalists, and it will come from analysing, questioning and understanding our own industry. The Fellowship provides journalists with the time, space and support to work on identifying the pain-points and also building solutions around them.
Applications are for our Journalist Fellowships in 2024/25 have now closed.