She wants to keep her identity secret and therefore we will call her Ana. She works in the border area of the state of Tamaulipas. She is a local fixer and field producer. She is usually credited for her collaborations, but for safety she sometimes prefers her name not to appear in the final products, as is the case this time.
She began working as a fixer in 2018 covering migration for an international women’s organization. She worked in the border corridor between the cities of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña, state of Coahuila, which is located right in the middle of the border that Mexico has with the state of Texas, in the United States. Her job was to make a story about the Kickapoo, an indigenous group that lives between the state of Kansas, in the U.S., and the northern states of Mexico.
“I started earning what they offered me, 250 dollars a day; this was a 10-day project. I was very excited. Journalism here in Tamaulipas is very complicated, as it is throughout the country. But here, when I started, we started to see the murders, the disappearances, the hangings. At the border, endless things happened to me that were the red lights that made me stop,” Ana recalls.
She says that migration has several aspects. She adds that when organized crime gets involved in moving people along with drugs, assignments become more dangerous. As she puts it, doing a job of this type is getting into issues of “those people, here we call them the actors, so as not to get into trouble.”
He says that there’s an opportunity to negotiate a better rate with the media or the journalist when it comes to delving very deeply into issues of organized crime. For such a job, she earns at least $350 a day.
“There are media that ask for something quite strong. My cap has been $500 a day,” she says.
For an assignment, Ana was embedded in the operation to capture a hit man in Ciudad Juárez. She and the journalists she was leading donned bulletproof vests and other protective gear. The most shocking thing for Ana was that upon arriving at the place she witnessed the discovery of two clandestine graves, a situation that left her marked. That operation concluded with a house search and the subsequent seizure of narcotics.
Ana had one of her riskiest days when she was working alongside a journalist from France on a story about COVID-19 in another part of the border. First, unknown subjects followed them. She was certain that they were criminals besieging the area who did not like their presence at all. Ana says that these actions are “like warnings, like scares.” The situation worsened when they were stopped by the National Guard. Her client did not speak Spanish well and this created confusion that escalated out of control. In the end, Ana had to get the French journalists out of that place.
“The most dangerous thing was during those blocks they followed us, as if to tell us to get out of there,” she recalls..
Her work is full of rough stories. One that she remembers a lot, and that she worked for a London media outlet, is that of “an immigrant girl who had been raped by 10 people in front of her three-year-old boy.” She remembers that the abused girl showed them the complaints she had. In this situation, her experience allowed her to direct the media’s coverage so that the issue was approached in a respectful manner and in a way that did not expose the young mother or the journalist.
“She wasn’t going to be safe until she left the country,” she remembers telling the London reporters. “So we had to select the material, because this could put her and me at risk.”
Camelia Muñoz, is a journalist based in Saltillo, Coahuila. She began her career in her native Monterrey, Nuevo León, in 1990. She covered the political beat. She later moved to the neighboring state of Coahuila to work on the border between the cities of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña. She specialized in immigration issues. She says that the violence in the area is closely linked to immigration.
It was only recently that she began to receive payment for her work as a fixer, despite the fact that she is an experienced journalist who has served as a guide for many journalists who come with her to work on their stories.
She remembers that at the beginning there was a wave of disappearances. Despite the seriousness of the situation, nobody published anything about the problem. She says that the topic was banned from the local media agenda. But that did not stop the foreign media that, little by little, began to take an interest.
She knew about the subject but did not know how to charge these international media for the services they required.
“When I began to realize that you could charge for this service, it was like three or four years ago… …It’s not much, I never had an idea of how much [to charge]. I had worked in a digital medium in Guadalajara”, she says.
She found support in the same director of the medium for which he worked. He insisted that he review all aspects when quoting an assignment. For example, he tells him how much time he would invest in obtaining and scheduling interviews in person or by phone. There were too many details to consider, she recalls.
Initially they paid her 500 pesos a day, a very low rate. But over time she learned to collect and negotiate, putting a good price on her knowledge. It was thus that she came to charge 1,500 U.S. dollars a day for a Chinese production that went to do a story in Monclova county. It was a difficult topic about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pay they received was worth the risk she and the videographer she subcontracted took.
Gabriela Martínez Córdova has been a journalist in Tijuana, Baja California, for 11 years. Tijuana is the furthest city from Mexico City. Her work on this distant border made her understand and specialize in issues such as high drug consumption and trafficking, the illegal movement of weapons, the criminality that these activities entail, and migration to the United States.
“The United States is not the same as New York. It is not the same to understand Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz as it is to understand California and Baja California. It is as if we were a space far removed from everything else in each of the countries, both the United States and Mexico, ”she says.
Reporters in Tijuana have learned to walk that binational path in which they become experts on issues such as migration, security, human rights violations, the migration of retired Americans to Mexico or Mexicans with legal status who want to live in the United States. These are, she says, parallel lives.
Her start as a fixer was not easy at all. She assures that in 2012 she “was taken advantage of” when she worked for an English media outlet that contacted her after seeing her work.
She researched the case of a 13-year-old high school student. The minor tried to enter the United States through the pedestrian crossing carrying a water bottle. The immigration agents took him to secondary inspection, warning him that they suspected that he was trying to cross drugs in the bottle.
“The little boy says ‘no, it’s not a drug’ and he takes a sip to show them that it wasn’t a drug. And it was liquid heroin. He has an overdose and dies right there,” she says.
That story ran in Milenio, the first national media outlet for which Gaby was a correspondent. Gaby is currently a correspondent for El Universal.
This story exposes that the border states, and especially cities like Tijuana, are places of drug trafficking such as heroin, which is obtained from the opium gum that is extracted from the poppy; and although this flower is planted in other states such as Guerrero, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua, it is in Tijuana and the rest of the border cities where it is marketed.
She got a call from an outlet in England. “The producer tells me: we just saw your story, we are doing the heroin route, we are working from Europe and now we want to follow the United States and the story of this guy, we would like to tell it to be able to finish.”
They never asked her how much she charged. They only told her that they could “give her something.” As she was just starting, Gaby did not care much about the money, but the visibility that international media would give the child’s family, who was low-income, and that was what attracted her the most to decide to work with them.
She spent a whole week returning to the family so they could give an interview to the English journalists.
“I still remember what I thought: at least I’m going to ask them for gasoline, because I’ve already used up my tank. And yes, all those comings and goings, in the end they gave them an interview, I couldn’t get everything they wanted, not what I was able to get for myself, but I remember that we met at a hotel and they told ‘here you go’ and they gave me 50 dollars,” she remembers.
A U.S. outlet pays for this type of work, at a minimum, a daily rate of $1,000 USD, according to several foreigners consulted. That is why Gaby thinks it is unjust that there is such a pay difference between colleagues from the United States and Europe with whom she has worked, and also that they do not consider remunerating fairly the journalist who will develop their story.
Ciudad Juárez was one of the first cities in Mexico where fixer work began to explain femicides.
Ciudad Juárez-born journalist Gabriela Minjares Baltazar has covered her city for 19 years. She began working as a fixer after getting fired from El Diario de Juárez and co-founding her own outlet La Verdad Juárez. She later realized that she had to be paid for the support she had provided for free to colleagues in the past.
“In May of that year I went to Culiacán, Sinaloa, and spoke with Miguel Ángel Vega. They recommended him to me because they told me: he can help you, above all, with rates. And that, as a journalist and fixer, is where you don’t have the least bit of experience. From a city, let’s say, with many similarities in terms of violence, drug trafficking like Juárez,” she says.
Miguel Ángel Vega, a journalist, social commentator, film director and author of the book “El Fixer”, has been an example and guide for journalists like Gabriela, but he’s also someone who distances himself from journalistic work. When working in between precariousness and constant danger, establishing connections with international media leads to better opportunities. Thanks to his specialization in a very difficult topic to cover, and also his talent and experience necessary to excel, he is one of the few who has been able to establish fair rates for his work.
For Gabriela Minjares, being a fixer is clear proof that journalists must fight to improve their economic and working conditions.
“Suddenly you support and you do it out of solidarity, but you start to realize that they’re using your work and time indiscriminately. They are already looking for you to ask for free collaborations on radio, television from everywhere… from media outlets and from such large chains that you know they have a lot of money.”
Melva Frutos is another fixer trailblazer. Her career as a journalist began in Monterrey, Nuevo León, in 1997. She has worked for several national and international media. Like her other colleagues, the violence in her area of work, which includes the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, led her to guiding as well as writing.
In May 2012, an image went around the world. Five men and four women were hanged on a bridge over the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway. A message left at the scene linked these men to the Gulf cartel, and blamed them for blowing up a car in front of the Ministry of Public Safety.
Nuevo León is flanked by Tamaulipas and Coahuila, states where warring cartels and corruption occupy the daily news work. Thanks to her coverage of the fights between criminals, she got his first job as a fixer in 2009.
“When they first told me, I didn’t know what a fixer was. And then they explained it to me. I don’t remember how much they paid me, but we need to set the record straight. First, that here in Monterrey fixers are not as much in demand. It is not as much in demand because it is not like the border. It is not like Coahuila or Tamaulipas where there are cities that sit right on the border and foreigners go there all the time to cover immigration and insecurity, ” she says.
Mexico’s northern border remains a point of interest for the international press and continues to be a challenge for the newswomen who work as fixers in this region.