Posts Tagged ‘WorldFixer’


Why Doesn’t Anyone Train Fixers?

Fixers are a vital part of the newsgathering process. They secure your access to a story, handle your logistics and act as a go-between when interviewing in a foreign language. The success of your project, as well as your personal safety, is directly placed in their hands but there is no other part of the industry where such a vital role is given to untrained, largely unverified individuals.

Writer Paul Theroux wrote “Most Travel, and certainly, the rewarding kind involves putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life” and never was this truer than in the fixer/journalist relationship. Therefore, why are there no training platforms out there, certifications or accreditations to ensure that the person you’re working with has at least a basic level of knowledge about the job, your organization’s ethical considerations or security?

The reality is that you can literally pick someone off the street, anywhere in the world and put them on the payroll if you believe they will be of use. Whilst it’s been this way ever since human travel existed is it really aligned to the modern news business with its sensibilities towards risk assessment and responsible practice? In the most base case you might be putting your personal security at risk but on a wider point, you are also jeopardizing the integrity of your work and the impact it might have on real issues.

Journalists have access to numerous training material and courses in order to go as deep into the academic or practical side as they like but to date, there is no comprehensive initiative aimed at the locals they worked with. At World Fixer we’ve tried to encourage support for a free training platform from various news outlets but the truth is that the appetite isn’t really there amongst the ones we approached. From their side, it seems that the issue isn’t really a problem but for anyone with experience on the ground this simply isn’t true.

This mentality also doesn’t take into account the growing percentage of freelance journalists who contribute to their output and may not necessarily report a lot of the issues they face. As staff jobs dwindle and the independent correspondent role balloons the industry is essentially pushing young (and established) journalists into the field to fend for themselves with little effort spent on the kinds of networks that could help them succeed.

I believe that the kind of information you’d promote through training covers the core issues associated with a journalist’s work. These are:

Standards & Ethics in Journalism

This would provide an insight into the role of media within society and the guidelines by which it must operate in order to produce honest, reliable output. It would include commentary on issues such as professional conduct, balanced assessment, ethical content acquisition and information verification.

Interview techniques & Information Gathering

In the case of no common language, a fixer is the link between a journalist or producer and his subject. It’s important that they can lead the interview to get the right information and relay it clearly and accurately taking into account cultural references and insinuation. How many times has a journalist been in the middle of an interview and felt that they are being told what the person thinks they want to hear – not the actual facts? A solid understanding of the use of interviews and the importance of accuracy is surely invaluable? Whilst interview techniques are an advanced skill there are many guidelines that can be given to encourage the fixer to clearly understand the question and push for a relevant answer.

Outside of interview techniques is information gathering – a fixer using his/her network to source information independently. Again a firm foundation in how to conduct that effectively, ethically & then communicate it clearly are necessary skills.

Risk assessment

This section could be as much a resource as a training tool. Creating clear, downloadable templates which can be understood by those with simple English is the first aspect. The more important aspect would be to teach the fixer to understand that what might not constitute an inherent risk to them may be one for a foreign professional. There are many risks a local might not consider merely because they are surrounded by the every day and they need to open their mind a little to the idea that these are something their client would at least want to consider before going into an area. They need to understand the language of risk assessment forms and familiarise with the concerns of editors, producers, and journalists.

Costs & Budgeting

Projects and working relationships rely on accurate information related to costs and budgeting. At World Fixer around 80% of disputes are centered around misunderstanding from either side related to this. Culturally there can be some discrepancy between issues such as estimated costs and an accurate quote, hidden extras and overtime. Ultimately its something that can be solved with contracts, paper trails, and proper conversations but journalism isn’t excellent at this, especially in the heat of the moment on the ground.

Its necessary to try and educate local fixers to clearly communicate when it comes to finances and take equal responsibility to ensure its understood.

Digital Security

Digital security is not only relevant in a hostile environment setting, all media production demands that employees keep information about their project away from social media or other forms of online publications. This section would explain its importance and gives useful tips for improving digital security in all its forms, providing links to more in-depth resources currently available online.

I believe that armed with a basic understanding of the above, not only would fixers have the tools to further their skills and knowledge about the job but also give a basic grounding to new fixers looking to package their existing capabilities in a way a foreign journalist might see the value. From the journalist’s side, they could have some assurance that the person they hire understands how they work and can conduct themselves in a professional way that doesn’t compromise them or their project.

This training is well suited as an online platform, partly because it would have the potential to reach a larger section of the fixer population, it can be distributed for free and completed quickly if a journalist hires someone in a hurry. A platform could easily generate codes on completion for journalists and news desks to verify when hiring and it could be added to or updated whenever needed.

The costs for such a platform are nominal but in order to gain meaningful traction amongst the fixing population, it has to be something ‘from’ the industry, not aimed at it. By this, I mean that any product that’s made must have the endorsement of several major broadcasters and news outlets for it to be taken seriously enough for everyone to complete it. This doesn’t mean it should be mandatory but it should at least be desired and respected. Sadly, until the established industry accepts the real value in this it may only remain a beta on our laptop.

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 SPJ International Community, join here

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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