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.
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.
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.