Being a fixer is not always a good experience. Many times this job involves dealing with the bad practices of national or international reporters who hire the services of a “fixer.” Melissa del Pozo, a multimedia journalist and producer who specializes in human rights coverage, knows very well about that. She has come across reporters who have requested assignments that violate journalistic ethics and the rights of those interviewed.
“They have the urgent need to come and tell Mexico from their imagination, from folklore and cliché,” Melissa says.
On one occasion, a renowned media outlet hired her to make a mini-documentary about femicides. To her, how this media outlet approached the story seemed sensationalist. They wanted access to a morgue where a coroner was performing an autopsy on a recently murdered woman to record the scene. The plan was to then look for the woman’s relatives to interview them. Melissa tried to change the angle of the story only to realize what this outlet was actually up to.
“Instead, I got a powerful story with the testimony of a woman who had been attacked and in another context, far from blood and sensationalism; and the production decided to cancel a day before because they did not consider it ‘bled’ enough,” she says.
She thinks that this mini-documentary would only reinforce the stereotypes that people have about Mexico abroad: “a place of third world tragedies.”
“On top of that, they didn’t pay me for any of the pre-production days. They also didn’t care about the agreements I had reached to secure other interviews. Later I was informed that they had hired someone who had obtained for them more shocking situations, thus exposing the victims without the slightest journalistic ethics,” she laments.
Diana Manzo is a Zapotec journalist who lives in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, in the state of Oaxaca. After many years of journalistic work, Diana is now a recognized reporter with extensive experience covering the most important issues in the region. She is the gateway for many of the reporters who come to cover issues in that area of Oaxaca, since she has the contacts, the innate knowledge of the region and, above all, enough knowledge to explain the reality of the people considering their own customs and worldview. That makes her work as a fixer doubly valuable.
She started working as a fixer in 2015, when international media began contacting her to help them produce stories about the environment and the damage to nature that her region was suffering.
In that first fixer job, she was not thinking about collecting, but the media outlet she helped paid her about 3,000 pesos, as she remembers. After that job, more reporters and photographers began to arrive looking to cover the topic. And although she felt good about exposing those topics to audiences in other parts of the world, she also began to become more aware of the responsibilities and risks she assumed.
“What I have noticed is that right now with the topic that is harder and more dangerous, you are taking risks by being a fixer. Because they come and they go. I have to stay. I say this because the people who they interview or those who did not like the angle of the story know you; they see me hanging out with journalists; they complain to me for taking them on the tour […] they think I’m an accomplice because if I don’t shown them [the foreign journalists] they won’t even notice,” she says.
Fixers are at risk even if they don’t get credit in the published work or conduct interviews. It is enough to accompany and guide foreign journalists: “due to the conditions [of insecurity] in the country, being a fixer is a risk even if my name does not appear in the written piece.”
Diana feels a responsibility to her community. She has developed trust that she cannot throw away because of the poor journalistic work of a foreign reporter.
“We tour small towns where everyone knows each other. They easily know when a stranger arrives. I have been very careful with this. […] People here warn me not to bring bad people. I tell them that they are not, that they just want to know more and do their job. They believe me because they are the people who see me every day,” she explains.
Diana estimates that she has been a fixer about eight times. She has been asked to be a guide to cover traditions in the region or the Day of the Dead festivities. But she worries because she often does not know what the foreign reporters who come asking for her help will publish. For her, it is extremely important to see the final product because it depends on whether she decides to collaborate the next time an outside journalist knocks on her door.
Violence against Mexican journalists directly hit the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on February 11, 2022. Journalist Heber López was shot dead by two individuals. They attacked him in front of his son when they were inside the office that the journalist had in his home. Heber, Diana’s friend and co-worker on dozens of assignments, was also known for helping other colleagues who asked him for help.
Robín Canul is a Mayan audiovisual journalist who works throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, the largest Maya region in Mexico.
For him it is important to make the distinction between local producer and fixer.
“I like the term local producer. I also do not look down on the term fixer, but in my experience everything I have done through the fixer label has not been paid well enough; treatment has been different when I am a local producer,” he says.
He thinks that there must be fair agreements between local journalists and international media. Furthermore, he thinks that the concept of a fixer clashes with that of a local producer, because it is not only about getting credited, but also getting a better pay, he says.
“It is only a matter of terms, but it is about generating agreements between us who are in the field willing to work and the international or national media who want to learn,” Robin says.
Yucatán is one of the states with the lowest rates of intentional homicides and disappearances. However, work as a local field producer has not been easy, nor well paid, and much less recognized.
“It has been less than fifteen years since I got this job of being a fixer or being a translator during assignments… …We did provide some advice and help, but we were not recognized for that work,” he points out.
Furthermore, he says, sharing people’s contacts is quite delicate because he, as a local journalist, took quite a bit of time to build relationships with his contacts.
“It is not an issue of ownership, of not wanting to share, but some of these (contacts) came from the trust that you can generate with your sources,” says Robin.
Part of Robin’s work in the peninsula has been investigating environmental problems and their consequences. This work also implies a risk for the reporters who document this problem and who clash with politicians and businessmen who have large investments in tourism projects. His work has attracted national and international media that also investigate these issues.
In the last 50 years, the area known as the Riviera Maya has been developed, a place where the big bet is on tourism and a lot of labor is needed to carry out these projects.
However, Robin believes that the jobs these projects create expose local people to classism, racism, poor wages and labor exploitation, conditions from which local media workers do not escape.
When they hire him, Robin explains the context of the Yucatan Peninsula and, if necessary, shows them a risk area. He also facilitates finding sources and contacts who can talk about certain topics.
“The bad thing about being a fixer is that you are the last link in the production chain. We are the people who facilitate access for other people to come and carry out their interviews, without any type of involvement and many times without any type of responsibility. The consequences are diverse: risking sources, risking yourself as a fixer for having that much visibility. Because national and international journalists come and go, and the problems stay and grow,” he says.
Robin remembers a bad experience he had working with a magazine that asked him for a written report. He spent a lot of time researching the story with another reporter and a photographer, but in the end, due to delays and administrative changes at the magazine, the photographs were not used.
“We worked for four months to adapt the publication, working twice as hard for the same pay. Finally, when it came time to curate the images, the outlet sent a star photographer who came to live in the Yucatan Peninsula,” he recalls.
For Robin, these types of situations reveal the colonial attitude of foreign media toward local reporters and that this colonialism, in addition, violates the trust of the people who agree to give the information and appear before the cameras.
For Robin, journalism and audiovisual production are tools for social change. However, he recognizes that the precarious working conditions of reporters, who do not have health insurance, a fixed salary or benefits, make being a fixer an important source of extra income that he will continue to go after.