Monday, November 27, 2006
Joe Sacco's comic, The Fixer, is a behind the scenes look at one of the most overlooked, yet invaluable, positions in foreign reporting...the fixer. A fixer is more than just someone that can translate between the native language and whatever language it is that you speak. A fixer, quite literally, fixes things, by understanding local law well enough to know how to move within it and around it.
While we, the readers of a conflict, view journalists as our inside men and women, fixers are a journalist's inside man. They are the currency-exchanger (preventing you from getting ripped off), local mobile phone-getter (people don't like to call foreign numbers when they need to call you back), affordable lodging-finder (I mean the Holiday Inn's great and all, just not when it's being shelled), beat-up car driver and most importantly the fixer usually serves as a form of bulletproof-ness. Which is not to say that a fixer would be willing to take a bullet for the journalist, but only that a good fixer will make it possible for the journalist to avoid getting shot at while simultaneously getting him the story that he needs.
It is only in the reporting of the Iraq war that fixers have started to get bylines in italics at the end of the article, usually saying that they contributed to the piece. But, truth be told, if the craft of journalism was sweatshop labor, the fixer would be the six-year-old kid or the pregnant single mother. They are the legs that make foreign reporting possible. But most times, they don't do it to help provide a voice for the voiceless. For them it usually just comes down to survival.