Lesson 08: Fixers and Translators
“Fixers” and translators play an integral role in American overseas reporting. Who are they? What do they do? What power imbalances exist in the relationship between us and them? What ethical concerns are raised?
- Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, “Little Americas: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey” (Chapter 6, pp. 190-214)
- Lindsay Palmer, Journalism Studies, “LOST IN TRANSLATION: Journalistic discourse on news ‘fixers’” (Skim) (in shared drive)
- Nick Turse, The Nation, “Fixers Are the Unsung Heroes of Journalism”
- Nieman Reports, “Fixing” the Journalist-Fixer Relationship
- Andrew Bossone, CJR, “The thankless work of a ‘fixer’”
- REVIEW OF LESSON 7
- STUDENT LED DISCUSSION OF HANSEN CHAPTER 6
- DISCUSSION OF OTHER READINGS
Review of Previous Lesson
- Ask students what their main takeaways were from the previous lesson
- Ask students what it was like to meet Hansen after had spent so much time with her book
Student Led Discussion of Hansen Chapter 6
Turn over discussion to the two students who have signed up to lead the class through this chapter. They must summarize the main points and then frame the discussion.
Discussion of Other Readings
Lindsay Palmer, Journalism Studies, “LOST IN TRANSLATION: Journalistic discourse on news ‘fixers’” (in shared drive)
Nick Turse, The Nation, “Fixers Are the Unsung Heroes of Journalism”
Nieman Reports, “Fixing” the Journalist-Fixer Relationship
Andrew Bossone, CJR, “The thankless work of a ‘fixer’”
- SO WHO CAN TELL ME WHO A FIXER IS?
- people who largely work in the shadows, often uncredited; leaves the public in the dark about how foreign correspondence is done and who may have influence on int’l reporting itself (Nieman)
- DID THE FOREIGN JOURNALISTS AND THEIR FIXERS SEE THINGS SIMILARLY OR DIFFERENTLY?
- In this report, they found a dramatic dissonance between how journos and fixers see their own and each other’s roles, responsibilities, and contributions to the reporting on which people around the world rely (Nieman)
- And reveal that there are underlying tensions that often remain hidden in professional interactions
- WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFERENCES IN CONCERNS THAT THEY NOTE?
- correspondents care about safety
- fixers about money, byline credit, corrections
- WHAT ALTERNATIVE MODELS ARE BEING DISCUSSED?
A number of alternative models of global reporting have emerged, which are challenging the well-worn practice of “foreign correspondence.” Some of the most effective recent global reporting stemmed from a fixer-free project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which brings together reporters around the world to share data and co-report stories. Bastian Obermayer, a reporter with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, received a leak of more than 11.5 million secret documents—known as the Panama papers—related to offshore accounts. With the help of the consortium, he and his colleagues brought together journalists from more than 80 countries to co-investigate the use of these funds to hide and launder money. Obermayer said he likes working auf Augenhöhe, referring to a German expression of being at the same eye level. “No one is senior or higher than the other,” he said. “It’s colleagues of different countries working on the same stories from different angles. We see different parts of the same picture, and that is very helpful.” He said each reporter “plays the stringer” for each other, providing local knowledge and context, but maintaining co-authorship in the reporting. Robert Cribb, one of the reporter participants from the Toronto Star, has worked with fixers in the past, and said, “It [the Panama Papers model] is far better than a fixer arrangement… This is a partnership of equals, each in pursuit of the same story, each with expertise and access to separate pieces of a puzzle, mutually driven to produce the most comprehensive portrait possible. The resulting series of stories in papers around the world won the 2017 Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting, and the recent Paradise Papers leak has generated a new series of revelations about offshore tax havens.
- THE PALMER PIECE
- So she read nearly 200 of these kinds of articles – so you didn’t have to, and I didn’t have to assign them.
- It is quite illuminating – it examines the discourse of all discussions in English about fixers/local journalists.
- As much as it looks at what is said, it also looks at what is left unsaid
- Of course this is not indicative of how all journalists operate, or how they think. But it’s a good gauge of where the industry is
- HOW DO THOSE PIECES CHARACTERIZE FIXERS?
- “fixers instead appear within English-language trade discourse as inevitable casualties, necessary costs, or unpredictable liabilities who might mistranslate or skew the reporters’ stories. In turn, the discourse tends to disavow the centrality of news fixers to the process of war reporting, and it rarely takes for granted the responsibility that news outlets might have for their local employees’ safety.”
- WHAT ARE THE 3 MAJOR THEMES IN THE DISCUSSIONS SHE SURVEYED:
- (1) the professional interactions between fixers and correspondents, especially in terms of the fixers’ unpredictable potential to mistranslate or to skew the story;
- (2) the fixer as a costly media service;
- (3) the dangers of working in conflict zones, dangers often represented as being inevitable
- WHAT WAS LEFT OUT OF THE VAST MAJORITY OF THESE ARTICLES? WHAT WOULD MITIGATE SOME OF THESE ISSUES?
- “Only a few of these articles explored the deeper problem of Anglophone war reporters’ typical lack of knowledge of foreign languages—and when this issue was addressed, it was linked back to the “danger” of the potentially unreliable news fixer, rather than serving as an entry point into a discussion of the correspondents’ own professional blind spots.”
- In each of these cases, the relationship between the individual journalist and his or her news fixer was foregrounded and celebrated. Yet, very few of these articles examined the power dynamics entangled within these relationships, positive though they may have been. For example, the articles rarely discussed:
- the fact that the visiting war correspondent could easily leave the conflict zone, as opposed to the local fixers who lived there and could not always escape
- The articles also did not raise larger institutional questions about the news outlets’ policies on the treatment of news fixers