learning pages / Practice

4.14 : Working with your fixer.

One of the ways to overcome the challenges journalists face in unknown contexts is to cooperate with a fixer who will be able to fill you in on the background and help you access the stories you need. There are websites such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org where you can find more information. Another option is to engage with groups on social media and ask other journalists for advice.

I have had a lot of difficult experiences with fixers. I guess the best tip would be to be very clear from the beginning what the expectations and remunerations are. My tendency is to treat the fixer like a colleague and friend, but that has backfired before and in retrospect, I think the best would be to treat the fixer like a well-respected employee.”

Jodi Hilton, Bulgaria

Author: Peter Ivanič, Kenya, 2018

Covering distant and unknown contexts is always a challenge. One of the ways around this is to engage the services of a ‘fixer’. Fixers work as guides to help journalists to understand the local situation at hand, explaining who is who, setting up interviews, interpreting local language if needed and arranging things in the field.

Fixers know the background and are very often local journalists themselves, so they understand what you need from them. At least in theory. Their services are usually used by reporters and foreign correspondents sent abroad, who have limited time to orient themselves in a new, unknown environment and have the resources to pay them.

When we cover migration-related topics or topics related to minorities, fixers from the community or with a migration background – or, even better, migrants with journalism as their vocation can be especially useful. There are NGOs such as ReFocus MEDIA Labs that can provide journalists with contacts on refugee journalists in Greece camps, for example.

In general, it is possible to find fixers through one of the many groups and associations linking journalists all over the world. Social engagement and networking is generally a professional requirement for journalists and many will happily help you find local contacts. You can look at web portals such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org for more information or check out groups on social media for pointers. 

Working with fixers is not always without its problems, however. They are as shaped by their contexts as everyone else. So, for instance, if they come from dominant communities, they may not be aware of or want to help you cover issues confronting minorities.

Therefore never “never fully rely on one person,” explains Bulgarian journalist Delyan Todorov. He also advises asking experienced colleagues for helping hand and to “build trust between you and your fixer prior to your arrival on the ground,” Give yourself enough time to recruit competent person, and discuss your ideas, needs, and conditions to every detail before you actually depart from home.

To find out more on the dilemmas connected with their work, check out the section on dilemmas in the field.

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4.1 : As opportunities to travel shrink, opportunities to communicate across the world have improved rapidly.

While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world have been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.

4.2 : Is a desk-based approach to global journalism possible?

Media outlets must cover landmark events and issues. But at the same time they have the opportunity to do something more, to offer the audience a deeper and more diverse picture of the reality around us, even without being on the ground. And journalists, by following this approach, can enrich their portfolios with unique and groundbreaking stories.

4.3 : Changing your approach to desk-based research.

There are a few preliminary steps you can take to begin with if you would like to enrich your desk-based coverage: starting with some broad research to give you an overview, compiling further resources to follow up, changing your routine a little and considering the criteria you want to select news coverage from agencies and other sources.

4.4 : Collecting findings from behind a table: tips and suggestions.

In the old days, reporters had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication services to develop their stories. Nowadays, journalists have a universe of new technologies to communicate across the world – reliably, instantly and for free (or almost). This is the ‘new normal’ for news coverage and journalists have to adapt to make the most of these new opportunities.

4.5 : Balance and analysis.

Covering culturally and geographically distant contexts brings a variety of challenges. How do you achieve the right balance? How can you feed it into the bigger picture? How do you avoid the dangers of depoliticization and other common pitfalls of Western coverage of the global south? How can you analyse a subject you are not yourself an expert in? And can you make these unfamiliar contexts relevant and accessible for your audience? Fortunately, there are tools which can help.

4.6 : Before you start.

Planning is the essence of good coverage. Before you go anywhere or start your work, define precisely what you are interested in. Then do the research – find out what is already known about the topic. Do not forget additional, contextual information while doing so. Write down from where and from whom you could get information, and how could you use it. And finally, categorize your sources – from those simple to obtain to others more difficult to reach – and begin with the latter.

4.7 : Giving your story a hook.

A hook is a technique to make your story engaging, going beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalism: who, what, when, where and why. Put simply, it answers the question ‘So what?’. Another perspective relates to narrative technique to open your story to hook attention in order to keep reading/watching/listening. Here we deal with the former one. These can be, for example, various events or reports.

4.8 : Making entry into a community.

It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.

4.9 : Pitching stories to editors.

When you are attempting to challenge the dominant discourse, persuading media outlets to commission your stories can be more difficult. A good pitch could help. Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering.

4.10 : Live reporting.

Being in the field is a unique opportunity to bring something special – such as live reporting. Find inspiration about what you can do and how to do it.

4.11 : On the ground.

You are in the field – with all the challenges that brings. How can you proceed to find valuable content? Leave enough time to be able to distance yourself and gain perspective. Do not overestimate your memory and don’t forget about accompanying visual materials. And be flexible!

4.12 : Stories through the concept of nonuniform modernization(s).

As journalists, you will often encounter stories taking place in unknown environments, in culturally unfamiliar or geographically distant contexts. In these cases, it is often useful to use an analytical tool to grasp the topic in a structured way. One useful approach is the concept of nonuniform modernization.

4.13 : Dilemmas in the field.

Fieldwork brings a variety of challenges and even dilemmas for journalists. Some common examples of these are covered here. They include cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, local representatives, community members themselves and fixers.

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