Ever watched a foreign correspondent dodging live bullets in the field? Or come across shaky camera footage with a reporter fleeing from the scene? The answer – if you’ve seen a lot of international news packages, particularly from hostile environments – will most probably be yes.
But what you haven’t necessarily seen is the team behind the camera: the cameraman, the producer, the driver and especially, the fixer.
This is a situation where somehow we think that this news is just magically appearing, and if we can have a better understanding of how news is created, we’re going to have a better understanding of what the news is.
“Many people, they just know the international correspondent and the news presenters,” Khalid Abu Ghali, a Gaza-based fixer told us. “But for us, as fixers, or for those who are working in the media, they know that behind this person is an army of people who are preparing and making this matter easy for him, gathering news and gathering articles and to make a good story, and to make a good reputation for the channel.”
The fixer is the local man or woman on the ground who secures that critical interview, gets access to that all-important location, who reads between the lines when the situation is rife with local complexity.
They know the local news terrain and open doors few foreign correspondents ever can on their own. They’re multi-skilled – part translator, part researcher, part editorial consultant, part security specialist.
According to Zeina Khodr, a roving correspondent for Al Jazeera who has done a lot of work in conflict areas, fixers “tell you what hostile situations you can face. Where are the dangers? They understand the language, so if there is a crowd and the crowd becomes sort of aggressive or there’s tension in the air, the fixer will know when it is time to pull out.”
Being able to do a story often comes down to safety. Many fixers work in dangerous places, sometimes with potentially deadly consequences.
On the rare occasions when fixers gain a public profile, it is usually when they are arrested, kidnapped, or killed. For all they do, seldom do they get the recognition they deserve.
Shayna Plaut is a Research Manager at the Global Reporting Centre, an organisation that focuses on neglected news stories around the world.
In 2016 she co-authored a study that explored the divisions between fixers and correspondents. She surveyed more than 450 people from 71 countries; one of her central findings was that 60 percent of journalists stated that they never or rarely gave fixers credit, while 86 percent of fixers would like credit – always (48 percent) or sometimes (38 percent).
Plaut welcomes the fact that the issue is finally being discussed.
“I think that it’s a conversation that has been taking place between fixers. It’s a conversation that has been taking place with journalists as well. But it’s not a conversation that’s been taking place between journalists and fixers, nor between those who are producing the news and those who are consuming the news. This is a situation where somehow we think that this news is just magically appearing, and if we can have a better understanding of how news is created, we’re going to have a better understanding of what the news is.”
Will Yong and Hasan Rrahmani
Shayna Plaut, research manager, Global Reporting Centre
Zeina Khodr, senior correspondent, Al Jazeera
Khaled Abu Ghali, Gaza-based fixer
Inky Nakpil, cofounder, Fixer Ink
Source: Al Jazeera