What Is A Fixer, Anyway?
A “fixer” is journalism slang for a local production coordinator – someone who assists a visiting journalist with translation, logistical arrangements such as appointments, transportation, accommodations, and security. Visiting journalists may need a fixer because they’re trying to get a lot of work done on a very tight schedule, they don’t speak the language, because of security concerns or for other reasons.
Who Is A Fixer?
A fixer is very often a professional journalist, or they may be someone else with good connections, good organisational skills, good people skills and good translation abilities. They know the place and/or the local people very well.
A fixer is a communicator who provides access – to local culture, to the subjects, to the people you need to have access to in order to make a project happen. He or she needs to know local culture, customs and regulations to get the visiting journalist in the door and keep them out of trouble.
Generally, the fixer is responsible for:
- The visiting journalists security
This means helping the journalist get their job done safely. It also means looking out for them from start to finish, as long as you’re with them. They may not be aware of what’s dangerous and what’s not or what’s socially correct or inappropriate to do. Sometimes they may be aware and need to take risks anyway, but it’s important that you as their fixer always express your concerns and suggestions. Also you need to understand that a foreigner – especially a foreigner carrying expensive equipment – is much more of a target for criminals or militants. So keep your eyes and ears open. Generally speaking, you should plan to accompany the journalist from the time they leave their hotel in the morning until they return to their hotel at night.
Some visiting journalists will know who they want to meet. Others will look to you for ideas and contacts.
Appointments should be made in advance whenever possible. If the visiting journalist asks you to make appointments in advance, it’s not acceptable to get things done at the last minute. Often the timeline is very tight, and if one interview or appointment isn’t going to work out, another will need to be made. Sometimes (depending on the circumstances) the visiting journalist will even need to postpone or cancel the trip if the people can’t confirm they’re definitely going to be available.
- Cultural and contextual support
Share your knowledge! Show off your knowledge of your city or region.
Also let the journalist know if they’re going to need to bring gifts, inform them of any important customs, etc.
- Transportation and accommodation
Check with the visiting journalist about their needs and budget. They may only be able to afford bicycle rickshaws and a cheap hotel, or they may want luxurious accommodations and an air-conditioned car with them all day. Once you know their requirements, present the options for hotels – things to keep in mind are usually price, location, how clean the place is, how quiet it is, service and facilities, and security. Once the visiting journalist decides, make a booking. Be sure you have a plan for transportation and leave enough time to arrive on time for each appointment.
The visiting journalists needs will vary, but for radio the procedure is outlined below.
Important Points to Keep In Mind
- When you’re working as a fixer, work only as a fixer.
Though you may normally work as a journalist, a stockbroker, a farmer or a computer programmer, while working as a fixer please give the job your full attention. Don’t try to carry on with your other work at the same time. If you’re normally a reporter or photographer, leave that work at home. If you’re trying to shoot your own photos or report your own story, it’s difficult to give your full support to someone else doing the same. On the other hand, you may be able to make use of the contacts to do your own story at some later date.
- Be aware of different expectations
In some countries, it’s normal to plan everything in advance, to confirm, and to follow an exact schedule. In other countries, that rarely happens, and it’s normal to work without a formal schedule, or to confirm everything at the last minute.
Be aware of which working style the visiting journalist prefers, and adapt to that style. If they ask for a plan, do your best to make a plan. If they ask you to do a lot of work far in advance when it seems unusual, try to do so anyway. If things can’t be confirmed, explain why and offer alternatives if possible.
- Be on time
Again, in different countries there are different expectations about what it means to be on time. To avoid uncomfortable or embarrassing situations, take the journalist at their word. If they ask you to meet at 9:00am, try to be there at 8:55am and not later than 9:00 sharp.
- Have a meeting upon arrival
Set a time to meet with the visiting journalist on the first day before the interviews and travel start. Allow at least half an hour or one hour for this meeting. Together, go over details of the plans: appointment times, how you will get there, how much time to allow for travel. Talk about any cultural or security concerns. Review the costs of any accommodations or transportation you will need along the way. Generally make sure you both understand the day’s (or week’s) schedule and plans.
Interview Translation Technique for Radio
- Power off your mobile phone
Besides causing annoying interruptions, mobile phones (cellphones/handphones) can interfere with the recording process by making buzzing sounds on the recording, even in silent mode. This can ruin an otherwise perfect interview. So switch of your mobile phone before going into an interview situation or any situation where you are recording.
- Encourage your interview subjects to speak their native language.
Actively discourage them from trying to speak English if their language skills are not strong — it doesn’t work for radio! Tell them people can express themselves most fully in their native language.
- Explain the procedure
Tell the interview subject it will work like this:
- Journalist asks a question in their own language
- You will translate
- They answer in their own language. Tell them you may stop them after a few moments to translate, and then they can continue
- You will translate
- They talk. PAUSE. You translate.
When translating for radio, you must leave a pause of at least 1 second between the time the person stops talking and the time you do your translation. That’s because the audio will be edited later. Do not talk over the interview subjects!!! Train yourself to wait 1 second after they stop. This also goes for the journalist’s questions. Pause 1 second before translating them.
- Keep it short
Don’t let the person talk for more than 30 seconds at a time. If they do, you’ll have trouble remembering what they said and you’ll end up giving a summary. But you need to translate exactly. So stop them after 30 seconds, translate, and then go on. It’s best to use a hand gesture to stop them, because you need to do it silently. Then wait 1 second, then translate.
- Avoid “Yes” … “Uh huh” … “Ah” … etc.
Normally when we talk with people or interview them for print media, we make lots of little sounds like “Uh huh” etc. But during a radio interview, we need to keep absolutely silent. We need to get only their voice on the recording. It can be difficult or impossible to remove these little “uh huh” sounds, so train yourself to react only by nodding your head silently or changing your facial expression. This is important.
- Remember it’s not your interview
Don’t answer the person before you have translated for the reporter. In other words, don’t get into your own conversation with the interviewee.
When you answer, do so only translating for the reporter. Act only as a go-between. If you want to say something to the interview subject, it’s best to check with the reporter first.
- Help keep it natural
The visiting journalist is probably looking to catch people looking natural. Help explain to the subjects that they shouldn’t pose. Instead, they should just go on doing what they were doing.
The journalist should pay a fair wage based on the prevailing local wages for journalists. Depending on the length of the assignment, this may be a daily wage or a monthly salary. It should be agreed in advance. In the case of a daily wage, you may be asked to make a few advance arrangements, but typically you will be paid only for the days you work together in person (unless agreed otherwise beforehand).
While some independent journalists may be able to pay immediately, it is very common that journalists on assignment will ask you to submit or sign a written invoice. That invoice will be sent to their home office for payment, and you will be paid within a specified time frame.
As for incidental expenses such as your own meals within your city, circumstances vary, so don’t assume everything will be covered. Keep some cash with you. On the other hand, if you are traveling together outside your city, the visiting journalist should take care of your accommodation as well as food.