There’s an interesting article on the Colombia Journalism Review site by Priyanka Borpujari entitled ‘The Problem with Fixers’ and the way they can be treated by foreign correspondents who parachute into a country for a quick story and then leave just as quickly.
A fixer is the term used to describe someone who helps visiting media types who come to a country, often in Asia, to do a story. They arrange interviews, show the places that need to be shown and help with translation and basically 'fix' anything that needs to be 'fixed'.
It seems to me like they are not quite as common as they once were as the internet has made planning trips and schedules more manageable. But some established western journalists still hire fixers when visiting an Asian country (it is also my experience that they are used more by American organisations than elsewhere but that may not reflect the reality).
Borpujari talks to award-winning Indian journalist Neha Dixit to get the view from the other side. Dixit expresses some disquiet and displeasure about how western journalists can treat these fixers especially as some of these are experienced journalists who have been reporting with much more knowledge and in much more detail on the same subjects for years. Basically, the status of fixers is not that high and this is often reflected by the working conditions they find themselves in, something confirmed on social media in the reaction to Borpujari's piece. Not only that, it is the foreign correspondent who gets the byline and, when applicable, the plaudits and the fixer is not mentioned at all.
“The difference between a correspondent and a “fixer” is not one of experience or qualification,” wrote Bopujari, “but of geography. Local journalists hired as fixers by foreign journalists are often established reporters and can offer in-country expertise in the form of helpful contacts and language skills—and, again, may well have already covered the story in question. It is up to editors to see all contributors to a story as journalists, without typecasting based on geography or ethnicity or status. Within the journalism industry, we must recognize the crucial perspective local reporters bring to stories."
I have always worked freelance in the relatively small world of Asian sports and in 20 plus years, rarely came into contact with fixers. The only time is when writing more political pieces for The New York Times, who paid them directly. The ones I worked with were not (yet) journalists but were looking to carve out a media career for themselves and were looking for experience, contacts and income.
On one occasion in a country I won't mention, the fixer was keen not to be publicly linked with the story at all as working for the New York Times on a politically sensitive article about her own country may have damaged her future prospects of working in the domestic industry. Looking back however it is unfair that her work was not acknowledged as without her help the article either does not get published or is nowhere near as good. I certainly wouldn't have had a problem with a shared byline.
The issues go much deeper than that however. The article is an eye-opener (as is some of the reaction on social media) and it certainly seems as if a spotlight should be cast on this little-known and seemingly murky corner of the international media and how it operates.
Would love to hear from both fixers and those that have hired/worked with them.