Fixing Journalism seeks to change unequal dynamics between fixers and foreign correspondents in Mexico

Unequal collaboration dynamics between local journalists in Mexico and foreign correspondents are becoming increasingly evident, according to an investigation that included thirty-five testimonies of journalists who have worked as fixers in that country

This investigation was part of the Fixing Journalism project that not only seeks to publish the experiences of local journalists, but also created a guide of recommendations for those seeking to become fixers or hire this service in any area of Mexico.

"The project seeks to change the unequal dynamics in international journalism, where journalists mainly from the Global North hire journalists from the Global South to be fixers, often without decent pay and without credit," says the Fixing Journalism team on its website

Mexican journalist and Fixing Journalism coordinator Alicia Fernández told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) that the project began to take shape during the pandemic and they worked for about two years to make it happen.

"In 2019, in Ciudad Juarez, a journalist [from National Geographic] was shot while doing an interview related to organized crime. That really caught our attention, especially because there were no local people with them. Because of that event, Andalusia K. Soloff [founder of Frontline Freelance Mexico and co-coordinator of Fixing Journalism] and I started a debate about the risks we fixers run and how we could protect ourselves in these situations," Fernández said.

The Fixing Journalism website was launched the first week of November and is part of Frontline Freelance Mexico. It was funded by the Resilience Fund of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and is supported by the Frontline Club Charitable Trust and Frontline Freelance Register.

According to Fernández, the initial idea was to make a book to compile all these testimonies of Mexican fixers and also to give training workshops. However, according to the founders of the project, a book limited them to only publishing in one language and a specific number of book copies.

"This idea of making a book was transformed into creating a site where we could put all these stories but not only present the problem but also make a proposal. We didn't just want to point out but to propose and that's how the guide of recommendations came about," Fernandez said.

But what does it mean to work as a fixer? Fixers are individuals or local journalists who work behind the scenes supporting foreign correspondents in carrying out their work and meeting their goals. Their tasks can be varied: arranging travel, coordinating stays, acting as interpreters, securing access to interviews or locations, etc. 

Andalusia K. Soloff, founder of Frontline Freelance Mexico and co-coordinator of Fixing Journalism, said at the presentation of the project to the press that the idea arose when she saw that many Mexican journalists often worked as fixers without receiving credit or adequate pay.

"We found that many journalists in Mexico had worked as fixers without knowing that it was a paid, professional job, and the basis of so many international stories," Soloff said. "What happens in Mexico is of international interest. Mexican journalists are very collaborative and sometimes share their contacts with foreign journalists without receiving any money in return," she added. 

According to Soloff, in Mexico most of those who work as fixers are journalists unlike what may happen in other countries and yet the international media that hire them do not include them in the credits or treat them as journalists.

Such was the case of photojournalist Felix Marquéz, from the state of Veracruz, who at the beginning did not understand that his work should be paid. 

“I later realized that I was giving away my work, my knowledge, my experience. Besides, some media outlets have a budget for that,” he said in his testimony for the investigation.

four people on a zoom call

Presentation of the Fixing Journalism project to the press. (Photo: Screenshot.)

How does a journalist become a fixer?


Journalist Jesús Bustamante began his career as a fixer "without realizing it." With an increase in violence in his city  – he lives in Culiacán, which is located in northwestern Mexico and known as 'the land of drug trafficking' – he began to receive requests from foreign journalists who wanted to cover what was happening in the area. 

The arrest of drug trafficker Joaquín Guzmán Loera in 2014 in Mazatlán, Sinaloa meant a turning point for Bustamante's career. 

"They contacted me and I started helping them. Requests became more and more frequent and that's when I realized that I had become a fixer," Bustamante said during the project’s launch. 

Alicia Fernández started out as a fixer in a similar context to Bustamante. Fernández, a native of Ciudad Juárez, received an email a few years ago from a foreign photographer who wanted to do a story about a multiple murder that had taken place in that city and needed her help.

Before responding to that email, Fernandez had to do some prior research on what work a fixer did and what the rates were. 

"I answered yes, without knowing all the lights and shadows of what a fixer can be," Fernández said at the project launch.

"Somehow, for me, it represented being able to help other colleagues, to be able to have extra income in addition to my job  – at that time, I was working at Diario de Juárez – and to be able to learn from other people. I saw it as an opportunity, as a window to get out of the everyday context in which we journalists found ourselves in Ciudad Juárez, which was a situation of extreme violence," said Fernandez.


Advantages and disadvantages 


Mexico has one of the highest rates of murdered and disappeared journalists in the world, with high levels of impunity.

Fixers are not exempt from these dangers. Sometimes, they may even be more exposed. 

"Those who come from abroad have an advantage: they arrive, stay a few days and leave. They publish in their country and you probably won't see many of them again. But you stay and you are left with the risk of having done the job," Bustamante said. 

Mexican journalists have publicly denounced the precariousness and labor abuse present in the journalism industry. Lack of decent contracts and social benefits have been part of the complaints made on social media.

So it is not surprising that many find it attractive to work as fixers. In just a few hours, a journalist can earn what it would take days to earn in a regular job.

"I started out earning what they offered me, $250 a day; this was for a 10-day project. I was very excited," a journalist from Tamaulipas told the project's investigators. However, some time later, she had to stop working as a fixer because of the risks involved. 

Other disadvantages expressed by Mexican fixers at the project launch are that, on occasion, correspondents want "everything right now," they do not always sign fair contracts or respect requests for anonymity, and they confuse the job of fixer with that of producer.

"If a journalist is proposing the stories to be published, they are doing pre-production work, not fixer work. They should get proper credit," Soloff said. "We hope that with this guide and with this project, we’ll begin to see a change in this very unequal relationship that exists between fixers and foreign correspondents."

The guide can be downloaded in English and Spanish from the Fixing Journalism site.