Posts Tagged ‘WorldFixer’


Fixers: Who Are They and How Do They Work?

Even the most seasoned foreign correspondent will swear that their job is only possible because they’ve learned to rely on experienced, reliable local people to help them in the field. But these aren’t just ordinary people. As many of you know there is, spread across the globe a dynamic group of professionals who have dedicated their work to helping journalists and filmmakers tell their stories. They go under many monikers but are most commonly called, fixers.

As one producer recently put it, “Without fixers, we are basically just curious foreigners wandering around with expensive equipment”. It’s a sentiment that is key to accepting your limitations as an outsider and allowing local help to really get you under the skin of a subject. You can go into an area, you can know the story that you’re going to do, you may know roughly how to get it, but you’ll never be able to fully get the nuances without help. If you take the basic knowledge of the operation aside, you still need to understand the current situation, and you also need to be understood – you need to be trusted, and fixers can help with that.

“I could not do my job without the work of the local fixers I hook up with wherever I go. They are my eyes and ears. I have worked with some of the finest in the business – and to me they have as important a role in the making of our reports as I do, as the correspondent, or as the camera person or producer.” Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News.

So who are these people and what are their qualifications? There is no qualification you can do for this kind of work, no certificate or succinct career path. This disparate group of individuals will find you subjects to talk to, get them onside, apply for your permits, translate, book your cars, feed you, find you a hotel, fulfil whatever random necessities you throw at them, make sure you’re safe or get you out of trouble when you’re not. Theirs is essentially a job title with a thousand meanings whose only qualification is a singular desire to help produce stories and enough experience of your job to become one of the team.

However, the many who view them in terms of translators or guides would be interested to learn that on World Fixer we have a range of professionals from all spheres including researchers, ex-cops, tour operators, producers from the world of TV, ex-Government communications officers, academics and increasingly journalists, diversifying in the face of an industry on the squeeze. It is wise when hiring someone to consider what their strengths are in relation to your work and play to that. A tour operator for example may have excellent access to remote communities whilst an ex cop will bring a different level of insight. You’ll never know for sure though unless you talk to them. There is no online solution for the perfect hook up and whilst our site endeavours to introduce you to as many fixers as possible you can’t ‘Uber-ize’ a people business of this kind if you want the best experience.

For many fixing is a logical extension of their exposure to the media industry but for some their work began through a chance meeting with a journalist, or a recommendation from a friend. The good ones have managed to turn it into a productive career.

Take Suliman Ali Zway and Osama Alfitory in Libya, for example. During the war in 2011, whilst many young men in their area headed off to join the rebels they decided that helping journalists was a better way to help the cause. As the foreign press congregated in Benghazi they made themselves available and quickly (with no formal media training of any kind) became the ‘go to guys’, earning themselves the title amongst international media as ‘The A Team’. They worked with everyone from top tier journalists like Leila Fadel at the Washington Post to small, independent reporters with equal fervour and those in the know fought over each other to book them. Eventually they were honoured with the prestigious Martin Adler prize and have now managed to forge a journalist career for themselves.

They became successful not simply because they spoke good English, or that they had great contacts but because they had a relentless work ethic and cared only about about getting the truth out – whatever that was. All the great fixers share this quality.

In the field, you are trusting a fixer with the success of your project and possibly your life, but it is probably the most unregulated aspect of the industry. You can literally pick someone up off the street and put them on the payroll – a situation that seems unthinkable in this modern world of risk assessment and ‘responsible’ practice. A site like World Fixer will introduce you to a range of people out there and we do strive for accountability but by working with someone in a foreign land for the first time there will always be uncertainties. Fortunately journalism has never been a business to shy away from leaps into the unknown so here’s a few tips to mitigate the chances of a bad encounter.

The first is vet. Don’t just take a name off the internet and assume it’ll go well. Check references, speak to them at length and use your instinct. This is obviously important in the case of hostile environment work but equally the success or failure of your trip will hinge to some degree on the information your local provides so it helps to know if it can be trusted.

Secondly, look for the skills he or she might need to assist you properly. Is it more important that they have an encyclopedic contacts book or that they would perform well interviewing contributors in sensitive situations? The right person for the job may not necessarily be the most connected and have a resume that reads like the Pulitzer back catalogue, you would learn more about their suitability by running the project by them and gauging their response. However, an important note here is that in order to understand the way you work and deliver properly it does help to have a decent amount of experience working with foreign journalists. At the least they should understand the importance of accuracy, unbiased reporting and responsible practice.

Thirdly, don’t forget the paperwork. We get numerous complaints from both sides of the fixer-employer equation about malpractice, empty promises and money disputes. Not always, but in many cases, this is due to a breakdown in communication — cultural differences that affect each side’s expectations or simply the fact that nothing ever gets written down. Be as clear and definitive as possible when working with fixers; don’t assume that they work the way you do or will pick up on things you have not clearly stated.

For example, ask up front if a price quoted for a job is all-in, or does it exclude extras like fuel, food, etc.? In many parts of the world this flexibility is normal, but Western employers in particular are accustomed to a quote meaning a final quote, not a flexible one. Get everything in black and white, especially when it comes to this, and confirm that it is understood. It is the quickest way to sour an otherwise great and fulfilling working relationship and is sadly extremely common.

Finally, respect your fixer as one of the team – like in any relationship the more you put in, the more you get out. Ask for their ideas, tell them yours – you never know when they are able to offer the missing link or a story dynamic you might not have thought of. They will have whatever professional knowledge you’ve selected them for but are also educated people with all the social awareness that comes with that.

Respect also means listening to them when it comes to cultural concerns, not only because failure to do so may affect your project without you even knowing but also because any social faux pas, however insignificant to you could land them in trouble when you leave. It is vital to remember that for those covering sensitive situations your presence as a journalist has repercussions – partly in the effects your report may have but also on a human level to the fixer and his association with you. For fixers, the story doesn’t just stop when you leave the country.

World Fixer is a database of media fixers and facilitators, with a membership of nearly 7000 globally they strive to make good fixers easier to find and improve working practices. They believe that giving these dynamic individuals a platform to connect with the industry we can raise standards and create transparency.

Mike Garrod previously worked for twenty years in documentary, current affairs and TV in the UK before setting up World Fixer. Ranging from hostile environment to factual entertainment he’s filmed in over 35 countries and worked with some of the best local professionals out there.
If you want to learn more about how you can be involved with the International Community, you can join SPJ International on Facebook. If you are a journalist or a fixer that would like to connect with other members of the the SPJ International Community, join here.
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