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
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.