You published a story about indigenous resistance, a wind farm or how a criminal group uses technology to avoid the police and a foreign journalist contacts you praising your work, telling you that he or she will visit your town and offers to buy you coffee.
Out of good faith, you want to support this colleague. You appreciate that this journalist is coming from far away, that they are well-known and work for a very important outlet. You help them out by sharing your knowledge on the subject, share contacts, suggest places to visit, make some phone calls and enjoy your coffee.
For about $1.50, this correspondent managed to obtain information that usually can only be obtained by hiring a fixer who earns, at the very least, 150 dollars per day.
What is it to be a fixer?
Fixer is the term used in journalism to describe the work of local people who guide journalists from other cities and abroad to cover issues in high-risk areas. This term began to be used more than 20 years ago, mainly in the context of wars in the Middle East.
The increase in violence in Mexico drew attention from international press and correspondents from all over the world came to cover it. The wide range of scenarios across the country represented a big challenge for these foreigh journalists so they began to hire experts in the field, local journalists,who could arrange interviews with sources, coordinate logistics and advise on security issues.
The term fixer comes from the English verb to fix, since journalist fixers are supposed to fix every single thing about the story.
ixers can have any background that gives them access to locations and sources the outside team wants to reach; in Mexico the majority of fixers are journalists.
There are fixers who are artists, drivers, migrants or even former members of organized crime who have good access to those who are still within the ranks.
How do you start being a fixer?
Many times people find you by word of mouth. They can also find you through social networks or by learning about your work, especially if you consistently publish about a specific subject, which makes you an expert.
After talking with several journalists from various regions of Mexico, we have found that many local colleagues have worked as fixers without knowing that guiding foreign correspondents is a paying job that plays a key role in international journalism.
If a journalist contacts you to ask you about a specific topic, even if the journalist doesn’t offer to pay you as a fixer, you can still formally offer your services, emphasizing the abilities and knowledge that make you a good fit to be a fixer in that project.
You’d have to suggest what kind of sources you’d have access to and the locations where you could take them without revealing too much information, because it is important that you only share the in-depth details once there is a proposal and contract about this collaboration.
They hired me as a fixer, now what?
You’ll have to agree on the coverage dates, how long it will take, what locations you’ll travel to, and who will be part of the team. It’s important that you share your knowledge about the terrain in terms of distance, weather, lodging and transportation. This will hellp avoid logistical problems and will also allow you to plan a realistic itinerary with your client.
How much do you charge for this kind of work?
Payment is usually based on a day rate and it depends on the area where you will be working, what kind of outlet hires you and what country they’re from. Also take into account how many hours you will work, the level of difficulty involved in obtaining those interviews and the safety risks involved in the assignment.
Depending on the complexity of the subject you will be working on, they should pay for expenses and the days of pre-production you will need to get everything ready for the assignment, including confirming access to locations and interviews with sources.
Keep in mind what services they will require. Do they want you to be their driver at the same time as you’re their interpreter from Spanish to English or any other language? Do they plan to rent or bring their own transportation or do they want to travel in your vehicle? Are they going to need support with recording permits and rental equipment?
It’s also important to talk about the payment method, the related paperwork and when it will be made. Many outlets pay what is known as net 30, meaning 30 business days later, so keep that in mind.
And how do we handle the issue of safety?
Always remember that your safety comes first. It doesn’t matter how much they want to pay you, in that team you’re the one who has the most knowledge about the dangers and threats in the area. They will have to trust in your decisions, even if this means leaving an area the correspondents don’t want to leave.
It’s likely that staff members have life and medical insurance, but usually you, as a contractor, do not benefit from that same protection. However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot request that they include in their budget an amount to cover medical insurance for you while on the assignment.
We suggest that you read the ACOS principles(https://dartcenter.org/resources/principales-y-practicas-de-seguridad-global), a coalition of media outlets and organizations dedicated to protecting journalists that promotes best practices for independent journalists who work in high-risk areas. ACOS recommends that news organizations protect their freelance collaborators similarly as they protect their staff while on assignment.
The source’s safety is also important. That is why you should alert your client from the onset if one of your interviewees wishes to remain anonymous, especially if you work with TV networks or visual documentarians.
It’s very likely that, as a fixer, you will not be involved in editing the story to make sure that faces, names and voices remain anonymous, but you must protect your sources in the field to keep this from happening. Revealing the slightest detail in those situations will endanger you and your sources.
Will I get credited?
It has become very common that foreign or outside journalists don’t credit fixers in their stories. For us, this is an unjust practice that invisibilizes the expert who is the most qualified person to work on the story.
Historically, those who get all the credit are the correspondents, regularly from Europe or the United States, instead of the local journalists who come from places belonging to the Global South.
We encourage you to talk to the journalist who hired you about getting credit so your name appears on the story, only if it does not compromise your security.
Where do I sign up? I want to be a Fixer!
We encourage you to read the guidelines and the testimonials published on our website Fixing Journalism, and also to follow the Frontline Freelance México social networks to sign up for upcoming workshops to train fixers, producers and independent journalists.