Often, the most important contributors to international reporting projects are those who work behind the scenes: fixers.
“Fixers are necessary anywhere you don’t know the area,” explained Joshua Leonard, a reality TV producer who directs shows that are filmed in many countries. Even when they shoot in an English-speaking country, he said, they hire a fixer to make the crew’s work easier.
Each fixer is different, but broadly speaking, fixers act as a source of local knowledge for media networks, advertising companies and other organizations that need logistics, an interpreter and sometimes production help in foreign countries.
“We have people from academic backgrounds, ex-police officers, ex-government communication members, people with different kinds of knowledge which [is] very valuable,” said Mike Garrod, director of World Fixer, a platform that connects clients and fixers around the world. Currently, the platform has more than 6,500 members.
The skills required from a good fixer go beyond knowing a second language, said Habib Zohori, an Afghan journalist and fixer. Knowing the area is also extremely important — but what really makes someone a good fixer is having good connections.
“If you don’t know people, you won’t be able to get what your foreign colleague needs,” said Zohori. “I have more than 10,000 phone numbers that I’ve been accumulating through the years. Sometimes I call people I didn’t need to interview just to build a relationship.”
Zohori started working as a translator for an international network out of financial necessity, and soon found the job to be an eye-opening experience, he said.
“It opened so many doors for me, in terms of knowing the world, the politics, the things that were happening in Afghanistan,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on in my own country, but once I started traveling outside of that small bubble I was living in Kabul, I realized that people were suffering and there was war everywhere.”
In conflict areas, fixers often face greater risks to their safety than international correspondents. This has raised questions over the degree to which journalists and media outlets are responsible for keeping their fixers safe, versus pursuing an ambitious story.
“When foreign journalists travel to these countries, they shouldn’t put pressure on their fixers and drivers to get them everything they want,” Zohori said. “If a fixer says something is impossible, it is because their lives will be in danger [and] you should respect that.”
Another long-running controversy is the question of whether fixers — especially those working in conflict zones — get enough credit (and bylines) for their work on a story.
“I just feel we should be awarded intellectually as well for our work,” said Zohori. “It is not a money issue.”
Outside of conflict zones, fixers will find themselves in high demand once international media outlets flock to their area to cover other major stories news, as happened in Brazil during the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.
“The more precarious the infrastructure of a country, the more necessary the fixer is, especially in places where people don’t speak English and it’s not safe,” explained Carin Petti, one of the owners of Brazil Media Base, a company that provides fixers and facilities for foreign media companies in Brazil.
Even if fixers aren’t working in a war zone, the work still comes with challenges.
“A fixer has to know that it is not always glamour, sometimes it demands long hours of work,” Petti said. “[She] needs to be available to carry bags, plan the logistics, book transportation and accommodation and also deal with contingencies, such as the journalist getting sick, for example.”
Fixers looking for additional support can check out the HackPack platform, which aims to connect fixers with freelancers; a new insurance policy which covers fixers; and safety guidelines which freelancers and fixers should review with their newsrooms prior to accepting assignments.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Chris Beckett.