Center for Cooperative Media announces Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund

Want to visit and learn from a journalism colleague doing important work that you want to emulate? Apply for a grant!

Stefanie Murray
Feb 13, 2019 · 8 min read

As news ecosystems across the U.S. continue to undergo dramatic changes and different kinds of entrepreneurs enter the media space, it’s important that we learn from one another.

The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University believes strongly in collaboration and knowledge-­sharing; it helps us all work smarter and move more quickly to improve what we’re doing.

However, for many new, small, independent and nonprofit players in media, funds are limited and so is their time. They don’t have the budgets to travel to convenings or visit peers in other cities. And sometimes they don’t even know that their counterparts exist.

Likewise, many journalists working for large commercial enterprises have seen their professional development opportunities erode amid budget cuts.

That’s why we are thrilled to announce the Peer Learning and Collaboration Fund.

The new PLAC Fund is an initiative to facilitate and accelerate peer learning, relationship building and collaboration among journalists, media makers and communicators in the United States. The Center for Cooperative Media is facilitating the Fund, which is generously supported by Democracy Fund.

The idea for the Fund grew out of gatherings that Democracy Fund hosted to convene ecosystem builders in the U.S. over the last two years. Organizations including the Center for Cooperative Media, City Bureau, the NC Newsroom Cooperative, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, Coast Alaska and the Jefferson Center met and shared upcoming projects, ideas, lessons learned and offered support for one another.

It’s that same kind of peer-to-peer learning we want to inspire with this new Fund.

The Fund will award grants to support travel and convening expenses for grantees to meet and spend time with each other. We especially want to support journalists of color and those from, or intending to serve, underserved and underrepresented communities.

The Fund will also organize convenings in four U.S. cities to help introduce the concept of collaboration and connected news ecosystems (one model of which is the NJ News Commons) and hopefully inspire future peer learning. If you’re interested in pitching your city or region for one of those workshops, let us know:

Our overall goal is to spur knowledge sharing, experimentation, collaborations and growth for people and organizations that provide local news and informations for communities around the country.

The Fund will pay out grants of $500 or $1,000. Applicants must be a working journalist or employed by a journalism-support organization, be based in the U.S., and be requesting support for domestic travel. Note that the PLAC Fund is not intended to support travel to conferences; the intent is to support in-person peer-to-peer learning efforts.

Grants will be awarded on a rolling, monthly basis until May 31, 2020, or until the Fund is exhausted. Our goal is to notify all applicants of their status by the 15th of the month after which their application is received. Grant winners will be selected based upon a weighted system that gives preference to:

  • Applicants who detail a clear purpose for the trip, what they hope to take away from the convening and how they can share what they learn with others.

All grant awards are contingent upon verification of the information contained in the application. (In other words, we will need to make sure you are who you say you are!)

And last, we’ve set up group sessions with three organizations who we know will be popular targets: Resolve Philadelphia, City Bureau in Chicago and Outlier Media in Detroit. If you want to visit one of those three groups, you’ll need to apply and arrange to be there on the day indicated on the application form. As other popular targets emerge, we’re happy to consider setting up additional group convenings.

Frequently asked questions

Below, we tried to answer as many FAQs as we could anticipate. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, let us know! Email All of this information is also available at

Who is eligible to apply?

U.S.-based working journalists and those who are employed by a journalism-support organized are eligible. That includes students and freelancers. Credentials will be required if you are selected for a grant. Freelancers may be asked to show proof of recent work with a journalism organization. An example of a journalism support organization could be a trade group, like SPJ, INN, LION or ONA, or a university-based organization like the Center for Cooperative Media. If you have questions about eligibility, contact us at

What can I use the money for?
The awards are intended to cover travel and convening expenses related to your visit to a peer organization. That could include your airfare, train tickets, mileage, food, etc. Since these awards are paid out as grants, we don’t need to know the exact details of how you spend the money, but we will want to know your itinerary and may ask for estimated costs.

When will I be notified of my application status?
As soon as you apply, you’ll get a confirmation email that includes a copy of your application. Then we’ll be in touch on the 15th of the month following the one in which you applied. For example, if you apply on Feb. 10, we’ll notify you by March 15. If you are awarded a grant, you’ll get a grant letter and details on what additional information we need from you.

What paperwork will you need from me to disburse my money?
We will ask for information to verify your identify, if needed, and that you work in the industry. We will also need a W-9.

Will you pay the grant to me or to my employer?
We can pay it to you or your employer, whichever is preferable. If you’re paying for the trip out of your own pocket, the grant should be paid to you. If your company is covering some of the costs, we can pay the grant to them. We’ll need to make sure you provide us with the correct W-9 either way.

Why can’t you just pay directly for my travel?
Unfortunately, the Fund is not set up to function as a travel agency or work directly with travel vendors. You will need to arrange and pay for all your own travel. All of our support will be paid out in the form of individual awards.

How will I receive the funds and how long will it take?
You will receive a check in the mail. It should arrive within 30 days from the day we confirm receipt of all the required documents, including your W-9. Note that University systems move more slowly than you may think! It often does take the full 30 days from the day we confirm receipt of your required documents for a check to arrive.

How far in advance of my trip should I apply for funding?
Ideally, you should apply at least three months in advance of your trip, to give us time to process your paperwork and get your money out the door. That doesn’t mean you can’t apply for travel that is happening sooner than three months out, just know you might not have your grant in hand before your trip. Note that you can’t apply for a grant to cover travel that already occurred, unfortunately. To be fair, we can only fund future trips. All travel should be completed by May 31, 2020, and all final reports submitted to the Center no later than June 15, 2020.

Can I apply for more than one grant?
No. To be as equitable as possible, we intend to award only one grant per person.

What if I am denied funding and want to re-apply?
Go right ahead! We’ll try to be as transparent as possible if we deny your application about why it wasn’t accepted. Note that we are using a weighted system that gives preference to applicants who are low-income or identify as part of an underrepresented or marginalized group, as well as those who clearly detail the purpose of their trip. Due to the volume of applications we expect, we likely won’t be able to proactively reach out and ask you to amend your application; you’ll either get funding or you won’t, and if you don’t, we will try to explain why so you can try again. Note that because we’re awarding grants on a rolling basis, there will be some cases in which we can roll your application over to the next month for a limited time. We’ll let you know if that is the case for you.

What if I need more than $1,000?
To maintain equity and to be able to support as many individuals as we can, we can’t support requests for more than $1,000. If you need help figuring out how to rein in the cost of your trip so it’s affordable, we are happy to help! Email us at

What if I get funding early in the year and want to apply again?
As we noted above, we plan to award only one grant per person. So consider carefully what trip you would like us to support!

What if I want to apply for two separate trips?
That’s fine, as long as your $500 or $1,000 grant will cover both.

What are my reporting responsibilities if I am awarded, and accept, a grant?
We’ll ask you to fill out a form and survey reporting how your trip went and its expected outcomes, and we’ll ask you to take photos or video and share those with us, too. We’ll publish selected reports publicly (we’ll let you know if yours is one of them!) and we highly encourage you to write about your trip separately and publish it on your own or share it with your networks.

What happens if my trip falls through at the last minute?
Ugh! We understand that happens. If you’re able to reschedule, that would be best. If you have to cancel the trip entirely, we’ll ask you to return the grant but we can work with you on the amount if you’re out money (i.e., if you have to pay for a flight cancellation fee, for example).

What if I am a journalist who gets inundated with requests from peers who want to visit me; can you help?
Yes! First, congrats on being a superstar. Second, email us so we can chat:

What if you haven’t answered my question in these FAQs?
Let us know! We know we haven’t anticipated everything. Email

Stefanie Murray is the director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jersey and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit

Center for Cooperative Media

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