Defying Conventional Thinking
FIRE had its origins in 2007, when Laird Townsend, an Associated Press-trained reporter and magazine editor, founded an organization called Project Word. Project Word aimed to facilitate the work of ethnically and culturally diverse freelance reporters covering overlooked topics in the public interest.
It provided hands-on service to the reporters—including help with resources, pitches, developmental editing, and entrée to editors.
Project Word articles ran in the Boston Globe, The Nation, Mother Jones, National Geographic News Watch, Atlantic Monthly on-line, Resurgence, and Guernica.
At the time of the launch, the rise of online media was dismantling traditional newsrooms. Anecdotally, it was clear that the traditional freelance economy was collapsing, depriving the public of important stories by independent reporters.
By 2014, to ensure that the work could continue amid the challenges of the era, Project Word took a step back, became fiscally sponsored by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), and raised a modest amount of money to quantify and deepen our understanding of the main challenges in the field. We conducted a survey on freelance investigative reporting, analyzed the responses, and released the results in a report, "Untold Stories," in February, 2015.
In collaboration with IRE, we crafted the results into a program called Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE), whose pilot project we launched in 2016. The project was a success. To acknowledge the FIRE program's growth and visibility and focus more sharply on its work, Project Word renamed itself FIRE in 2018.