Fixers play an essential role in helping news organisations tell stories, helping reporters translate, find sources, gain exclusive access and get around in unsafe areas. But from reporting in war zones to covering democracies under threat, fixers are putting themselves at risk with no security, often for little or no recognition.
Although it is clear that newsrooms can't do their journalism without fixers, especially in war zones, there is a distance between the field and the head office, Bobby Ghosh, columnist and commentator for CNN and MSNBC explained during a panel discussion at the International Journalism Festival yesterday (12 April).
This distance can lead to the 'ad hoc' hiring and remuneration, and often a lack of responsibility that the news organisations take for the fixers they work with.
"There's no direct relationship between the head office and the fixer – the editors in London, New York and Paris don't have a personal, tactile feel of what a fixer does, there is a gap of understanding," he said.
"It is hard to have from a distance, and I understand this, but it is all the more reason why we need to have a code of conduct or written down set of principles which gives people a clear sense of the interaction and relationship between a reporter and fixer, and our responsibilities towards them."
Ghosh, who was previously TIME magazine's world editor and has worked with fixers in over 15 countries, explained that it would also be valuable to educate fixers in what their skills and knowledge are worth, as many of them are unaware of the value their bring to news organisations.
Iona Craig, an award-winning freelance journalist, agreed, explaining that although freelance journalists rely on fixers very heavily, they often don't have the protocol in how to offer support if things risk going wrong or if a fixer needs to be evacuated.
.@ghoshworld is currently talking about the need for a set of principles to ensure that fixers have support and security, not only during assignment, but also after assignments have ended. 🙌— Laurence Ivil (@LaurenceIvil) April 12, 2018
Couldn’t agree more #ijf18 pic.twitter.com/lTcOSbJ0nL
"Freelancers pay fixers a lot less because we get paid a lot less than TV crews coming in, so that naturally means we provide a lot less back up for them," she said.
"I have built relationships with them, know their families, and have spent many years with them, but can't necessarily look after them – and in the eight years I have been covering Yemen, only once has a news organisation asked about the insurance for the fixer."
She stated that much like the Frontline Freelance Register has set out a code of conduct for freelancers, a set of principles for fixers and journalists would enable them to have a support mechanism and a place to go to for advice.
Although often necessary, there is a lack of recognition for the work that fixers do, where many stories get published glorifying the journalist flying out to an area, as opposed to those on the ground enabling the story to be told.
"There should be a system," Ghosh said.
"I would love to see journalists putting their minds together to come up with these principles – all news organisations can get involved to discuss appropiate remuneration, recruitment, recognition and the responsibilities that individuals have to these fixers during and after the transaction is complete – sometimes for decades after.
"Can we create a set of resources online, or maybe an alert system in which they can send a signal if they are in distress? The full weight of professional journalism should be brought to the assistance of the individuals helping them."
Not only would this proposed set of principles help to protect the fixers, it could also lay out guidelines for the reporters working with them, ensuring that they do not put pressure on the fixers that could endanger them, Craig noted.
"Sometimes you have to sit down and explain to fixers what you are doing, what you are trying to achieve and the reach of your organisation – they might not have worked with journalists before and don't know what is expected of them," she said.
"We have to be more understanding about the long-term consequences for them once we have left with the story, and know what they are happy to deal with afterwards. I always explain to them that they don't have to get involved and there is no pressure on them to help me."
Free daily newsletter
- Do you work with refugee journalists? If not, your news organisation may be missing out
- Developing a sense of togetherness: Tips for tackling sexual harassment in the newsroom
- Journalists in developing countries are using drones and sensors to cover environmental crimes and pollution
- Advice for staying safe when interviewing dangerous people
- What journalists can do to hold algorithms to account