Fixers, producers, assistants, interpreters

By Mike

Whatever you call them, few foreign correspondents or photographers working in strange places can do their job without them. A fixer, a producer, an assistant or a translator – if you’re lucky, and a big TV station with a big budget, you get a team, covering all the bases. Most of the rest of us will work with one person who’s doing all the jobs together.

What do they do? Sometimes pretty much everything up to the point where I ask a first question of an interviewee, or a photographer releases the shutter on the first frame. They’ll set up interviews, make the first calls to people to make them aware of what the foreigner wants from the interview, even go and prep the interviewee, check where the best light is for the photographer, run protocol with the authorities. That’s if you get a good one. Most of the time, you’ll have someone – a local journalist, a freelance reporter, an ad hoc translator working for an aid agency – who at the least will be able to translate the gist of what people are telling you, and smooth things if someone officious starts getting in the way.

When I first started out reporting from Africa, no-one told me about fixers. I worked my first couple of assignments out of Kenya essentially on my own, relying on grumpy taxi-drivers to interpret and make introductions to secretaries and PAs of people I needed to interview. Then I saw how a colleague was always shadowed by a second-in-command, and worked out that he’d hired him to help out. Since then, I would not get on a plane to go to a story without a fixer lined up, waiting for me in a reliable taxi at the other end.

I’ll take the chance to sing the praises here of Bertha Kang’ong’oi, Daily Dispatches’ producer, who’s running all round Nairobi on our behalf setting lots up for us in advance. We’d not have got half of what we’re featuring without her help.

People like Bertha are the unsung heroes of our trade.

One Response to “Fixers, producers, assistants, interpreters”

  1. Hershil Shah says:

    Hey guys,

    Have read each and every one of your dispatches and think your work is really great – giving an insight into parts of Kenya and Nairobi that even as a resident, I had not had.

    As for your praises of Bertha, well deserved.

    I look forward to your news everyday so carry on forward!!!!!