Meet the fixers Building resilience on the front lines of organized crime.

Many people may not be familiar with the term ‘fixer’, or understand the role played by these crucial, yet often invisible, contacts in the world of international media.

The fixer works in the background of journalistic production, often without recognition, without the support of professional labour unions, and sometimes even without basic rights.

Daniela Pastrana, trainer, Periodistas de A Pie

The job of a fixer is essentially to be the local contact and all-round assistant for a correspondent who is not familiar with the territory. Often a local journalist, the fixer establishes contacts with the sources that can provide important information to foreign journalists; organizes the logistics; arranges hotels, restaurants and transport; and helps guarantee the safety of a reporter or journalistic team. They act as guides, drivers and translators, making sure that the journalists get the content that is needed, and return home safely.

Miguel Ángel Vega, trainer and fixer from Sinaloa
Elia Baltazar, trainer, Mexican Institute of Radio

What is less understood is that this function becomes a risky business when the story under investigation is connected to organized crime.

About a decade ago, when violence linked to criminal enterprises in Mexico spiked, the demand for fixer services in journalism increased significantly in that country. Acts of violence, such as massacres, high-impact killings and forced disappearances, associated with the country’s illicit drug economy began to attract the attention of international journalists as well as those based in the capital, Mexico City. Fixers are now commonly and regularly in demand to arrange visits to so-called ‘narco labs’, to provide access to poppy fields or to set up an interview with a drug lord. The fixers have access to it all.

But it is after the correspondent returns home and releases the story that the real risk to the fixer can emerge. One small mistake made by the journalist can put the fixer’s life at risk.

In Mexico, some fixers have become veterans in what they do. Skilled and experienced operators, they have learned over time from their mistakes and close shaves with danger. But there are many others who are just setting out on this risky career. And they need training.

On 22 and 23 November 2019, the Resilience Fund, supported by leading organizations in journalism Article 19 México, Periodistas de a Pie, Animal Político, Frontline Freelance México and Casa Refugio Citlaltépetl, organized a training session for fixers.

During this tailor-made workshop, 14 fixers learned about ethics, security and first aid. Four women participants had worked previously as reporters but because of the precariousness of their work, they became fixers.

Some participants had no clear understanding of the relationship between their work and the ethical principles of truth, independence and social responsibility that are essential for conducting best-practice journalistic work.

Dialogue, reflection and shared experiences led to bonding among the fixers. Some who used to work alone in some of Mexico’s most dangerous places – such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, Culiacán, Puebla, Matamoros, Veracruz, Cuernavaca, Chilpancingo, Tapachula and Mexico City – have now gone on to develop a network thanks to this training workshop.

It is just a first step, however, as there is still a lot of work to do to support these key aides who open up the doors that make investigative journalism possible.

About the author

Francisco Cuamea Lizárraga is a journalist from Culiacán, Mexico. He worked as a reporter and then as a managing editor for Noroeste, a newspaper in the state of Sinaloa. His reports have been published in The Washington Post, Newsweek and the Mexican national media. He is one of the founding partners of the Iniciativa Sinaloa, a non-profit organization promoting transparency in government and access to public information. He has won several awards in investigative journalism, and in 2014 was selected as a fellow for the Edward R Murrow Press Fellowship. Currently, he is working on journalism training, research and strategic communications.


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