Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 1st, 2014

Thankless work of a ‘fixer’ Foreign journalist

Andrew Bossone, a contributing editor based in Beirut and Cairo for the mobile news organization Circa, published this April 30, 2014 

The best journalists in the Middle East are from the Middle East. Thanks for your continued great work Mohannad Sabry, Moe Ali, Nayel Nabih Bulos and for helping me get my first byline in the Columbia Journalism Review

The thankless work of a ‘fixer’ Foreign journalists know they’d be lost, or even dead, without the locals they hire, but do they give them credit back home?

Foreign journalists usually find fixers from colleagues in the area or through online forums and groups like Facebook’s “Vulture Club.” If a media outlet has a bureau, it often has on staff a salaried local journalist called a news assistant. In places where there is no bureau, it may have a stringer who receives a monthly retainer to be on call and feed news regularly. Fixers, by contrast, tend to be employed ad hoc.

I first met Mohannad Sabry in 2005, when I arrived in Egypt for an unpaid internship with The Associated Press. We became fast friends through my roommates, and he joined me in Alexandria on a reporting trip to cover parliamentary elections.

I knew little about Egypt and its players at the time, and since I couldn’t put together a sentence in Arabic, he went with me even though I couldn’t afford to pay him.

Only because of Sabry skills and knowledge was I able to report from inside a polling station and at the office of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the first of many times I received invaluable help and insight from fixers, the resourceful, well-informed locals who assist foreign correspondents. Most in this region are fluent in Arabic and many are aspiring journalists.

In Egypt they command roughly $50 to $250 per day, depending on whether big news is raising demand. A fixer’s day may include monitoring local outlets and Twitter and writing up a news brief, arranging logistics, securing and translating interviews but also conducting them, and providing background.

In the Middle East, fixers are essentially journalists but, all too often, they receive little or no recognition, even when they are entirely responsible for the scoops credited to their foreign peers. These people are not mere translators who provide a service in exchange for payment.

Our work—and, on occasion, our safety—depends on them. I moved to Beirut in late 2010 to gain experience outside Egypt, but four months later the Egyptian revolution started. I landed in Cairo on January 28, 2011—the “Friday of Rage.”

Internet service and telephone lines were cut across the country. When service was partially restored the next day, I called Mohannad to meet for coffee. The second night of curfew was approaching. We left for a friend’s apartment to spend the night. We stopped for food along the way, but forgot tea to keep us awake, and garlic and onions for the dish we were preparing—molokheya, an Egyptian specialty.

So Mohannad and I headed back to the street near the start of curfew. Vegetable sellers were rushing to restock their shops and close for the night. As we left a shop, goods in hand, a young policeman stood in our path. He cocked his shotgun and shouted at us. “We just want to pass!” Mohannad said. “We just want to go home!” “Which way?” the policeman asked. “Straight ahead,” Mohannad answered, pointing toward the apartment. “Run. If you go left or right, I’ll shoot you.” We ran.

Mohannad told me to go straight. I followed him. Although I had studied Arabic, the fact that I didn’t fully understand the officer’s orders reinforced for me just how essential fluent Arabic is. The influx of print and broadcast journalists into Egypt during the revolution provided work for a lot of fixers.

McClatchy hired Mohannad as a news assistant. Soon he was getting bylines and managing the Cairo bureau while the correspondent was reporting elsewhere. But when another correspondent came in to run the bureau, it was clear Mohannad couldn’t advance further. “I’ve seen a lot of local correspondents who are more worthy of having a foreign correspondent position than a lot of foreign correspondents covering their country,” Mohannad said. “What you need is someone who knows the country’s politics, knows the country’s history, knows the country’s geography . . .

This is something that’s pretty impossible for someone who doesn’t speak the language.” While at McClatchy, Mohannad received a reporting fellowship from the news website GlobalPost for a project to pair and train young foreign and local journalists around the world. It began in Egypt, and Mohannad was chosen as the managing editor. When mass protests led to the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, longtime foreign correspondent and GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott turned to Mohannad to report with him for a GlobalPost-PBS Frontline segment.

“I never could have accomplished my work [around the world] without the help of a colleague—a journalist—who is local and who speaks the language fluently and can work with me and understands how we as journalists work,” Sennott said. “Those people are sometimes called ‘fixers,’ and I put that word in quotes, because it’s not a word I like. They do so much more than fix things. They make it happen.”

Mohannad introduced me to another Egyptian fixer in Cairo, Merna Thomas. As she described her work, I was surprised that she didn’t consider herself a journalist. Like other fixers interviewed for this piece, she suggests how to get stories done, lines up sources and conducts interviews independently.

Basically, Merna does everything short of writings articles. It’s not as if she couldn’t write, though; she was an English major in college. She says she fell into journalism by chance. Yet on her first assignment she landed difficult-to-get sources, like Bassem Youssef-often referred to as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”-early in his TV career, as well as a member of the “Black Bloc” protesters who disguised themselves in black and were often on the front lines of clashes with police.

“A lot of times, what a journalist can or cannot get depends on a fixer’s personal relationship with these people,” Merna said. “I have interviewed a lot of people who don’t normally give interviews except that they know me and they respect me.” In two years of working with journalists, Merna has received credit in print just twice. She doesn’t ask for recognition, but some journalists have misled her into thinking their outlets don’t give credit to fixers.

Amelia Newcomb, the foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, where Merna’s work has appeared, told me it is absolutely not the policy of the paper to exclude credit for fixers. “We leave it up to the reporter,” she said.

Of the outlets I contacted—the Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian—none have an official policy on naming local journalists who work with correspondents. Some are more fastidious than others.

The Guardian said credit is given when “people have contributed to the journalism,” but did not specify what qualifies as contribution. The Times and the Post provide credit to fixers when it’s determined they have made a “significant” contribution to the story. Tasks like logistics and basic translation do not warrant a contributor line.

Both the Times correspondent in Beirut, Anne Barnard, and the Post’s foreign editor, Doug Jehl, said the work of fixers is essential, and that they deserve credit for it. “Foreign correspondents have always relied heavily on local staffers to help with translation, navigation, sourcing and reporting,” Jehl said. “Until recently, those local staffers’ contributions often remained invisible; now, in order to be more transparent with our readers, we tend to recognize those contributions.”

Naming contributors is a positive step for transparency.

But it leads you to the next question: Why shouldn’t the very best fixers and news assistants be correspondents themselves?

“If I went to the United States I wouldn’t get hired if I didn’t speak the language,” said Moe Ali Nayel, a freelance journalist and fixer in Beirut. “Why is it the other way around [in the Mideast]? Why do journalists get sent to this part of the world when they don’t speak the language?”

Moe lived in the US for six years before returning home to Lebanon. He said that Americans’ lack of knowledge about the Middle East motivated him to become a journalist. Although he still works as a fixer, Moe has become an outspoken critic of foreign journalists. After one too many dealings with correspondents who he says mischaracterized context and people or outright distorted facts, he wrote a searing piece on his blog in 2010.

Moe admits that fixers who are less than scrupulous sometimes mislead journalists, but says ultimately the facts and ethics of journalism are the responsibility of those who put their names on stories. The fixers’ worst horror stories involve journalists on temporary assignment.

Merna said she has worked with many who come unprepared. Another fixer in Cairo told me that one journalist arrived asking to interview “Banna,” or Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood—who died in 1949.

Nabih Bulos, who reports for the Los Angeles Times, said a writer told him she was coming to report on Beirut’s alternative arts scene. When they met, she said she also wanted to visit the “opium fields of Hezbollah.” “It’s frightening,” he said. Let me be clear. Many foreign correspondents in the Mideast are performing superbly. (The ones who come most readily to mind, not coincidentally, speak fluent Arabic.)

Too often, though, news organizations are sending reporters who lack expertise. As I look at the fixers who call the Mideast home and are among the best journalists here, I couldn’t complain if I were replaced by one of them.

Says Mohannad, “If you give them the credit they deserve, give them the training that you owe them and endorse them, you will be building fantastic journalists and correspondents that would one day write stories that will win the world’s elite awards.”

Arwa Gaballa commented on FB:
A few months ago, I was fixing for a big-name journalist at a big-name newspaper. I got the journalist an interview with a minister, which of course he didn’t appreciate because he thinks ministers in Egypt just gladly agree to host journalists at their officers for hours. He couldn’t imagine just who I had to know/call to make that happen.
Anyway, we get there, and he starts asking his embarrassing (that’s the politest description I could think of) questions, including whether said minister thinks Sisi is doing a good job as a president! The minister stared at me in confusion as he explained to him that Sisi wasn’t president yet!
I had prepared a list of questions for him, but he dismissed it (after asking for it) and went with his own. The supposed-to-be journalist staying at the 5-star hotel and getting paid in dollars while I get paid pennies was incompetent and awkwardly ignorant of Middle East affairs and politics.
At the end, I got zero recognition of course, even though, like many fixers here tend to do, I conducted some of the interviews.

Bossone Twitter handle is @abossone – See more at: http://www.cjr.org/reports/the_thankless_work_of_a_fixer.php?page=all#sthash.d5yAfJUY.dpuf

Spam according to  Seth Godin

What is spam?

Spam is commercial, unsolicited, unanticipated, irrelevant messaging, sent in bulk.

It’s the email you didn’t ask to get, the junk in the comments that’s selfish and trying to sell something, the robocall on your cell phone from a company pretending to be Google Maps.

Some spammers will tell you that all you need to do is opt out.

But of course, the very problem with spam is that it requires action on the part of the recipient, action that can’t possibly scale (how many times a day should we have to opt out, communicating with businesses we never asked to hear from in the first place?)

People are smart enough to see that once spam becomes professionally and socially acceptable, all open systems fall apart.

Spam is in the eye of the beholder, and so my definition of permission marketing kicks in: If the person you’re communicating with would have missed you if you didn’t show up, you have permission. On the other hand, just because you know someone’s email address or phone number, just because you have figured out how to automate a captcha or hack a discussion board doesn’t mean you’re welcome there.

What to say to the business person who says, “sure, that’s fine, but how do you get permission in the first place? How can I get noticed without spamming people to get started?”

The two answers:

1. spend some cash and buy socially acceptable, scalable announcements called advertising. Or

2. Tell ten people.

It’s easy to count how many sales you created by spamming a list.

Harder, but more important, to count how many people you burned all trust with.

Trust, as we know, is the essence of connection and transaction, and spam is the radioactive antitrust device.

Timeline of Settlements promotion by Israel during the Peace Talks negotiation with the Palestinian Authority

A report by Peace Now

The simple condition to desist from expanding settlements during the negotiation (which has lasted 9 months) was totally ignored by Israel who kept rubbing it in the face of John Kerry attempt to salvage the US role and position  in the Near East

Settlements promotion during the talks – Timeline

 (August 1, 2013

Depositing of plan No. 515/5 for 48 units in Tene

Depositing of plan No. 508/1 for 230 units in Ma’on

Depositing of plan No. 411/5 for 40 units in Nokdim

 

06-08-13

Depositing of plan No. 205/12 for 30 units in Shilo

 

07-08-13

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 317/2 for 234 units in Galgal

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 242/1/3 for 38 units in Kochav Yaacov

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 205/14 for 17 units in Shilo

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 235/2/4 for 304 units in Talmon

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 405/6/6/1 for 60 units in Alon Shvut

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 227/21 for 30 units in Kfar Adumim

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 604/4 for 31 units in Almog

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 235/10 for 255 units in Talmon

Discussion for validation of plan No. 426/1/1/3/8 for 48 units in Beitar Illit

Discussion for validation of plan No. 205/13 for 95 units in Shilo

 

11-8-13

Publication of tender No. 346/2012 for 36 units in Beitar Illit

Publication of tender No. 365/2012 for 117 units in Ariel

Publication of tender No. 91/2013 for 92 units in Maale Adumim

Publication of tender No. 96/2013 for 149 units in Efrat

Publication of tender No. 82/2013 for 160 units in Pisgat Ze’ev

Publication of tender No. 84/2013 for 80 units in Har Homa C

Publication of tender No. 85/2013 for 130 units in Har Homa B

Publication of tender No. 86/2013 for 23 units in Pisgat Ze’ev

Publication of tender No. 108/2013 for 397 units in Gilo

 

12-8-13

Publication of validation of a Plan for 891 units in Gilo

 

13-08-13

Publication of validation of plan No. 210/6/3 for 732 units in Modi’in Illit

 

21-08-13

Approval by the Minister of Defense for plan No. 220/23 for 381 units in Givat Ze’ev

 

08-09-13

Depositing of plan No. 215/2/11 for 1 unit in Givat Ze’ev

 

09-09-13

Depositing of plan No. 116/5 for 37 units in Elmatan

 

10-09-13

Discussion for validation of plan No. 132/6for 694 units in Alei Zahav

 

1-10-13

Approval by the Minister of Defense for plan No. 125/7 for 72 units in Elkana

 

09-10-13

Discussion for validation of plan No. 227/15 for 25 units in Kfar Adumim

 

24-10-13

Publication of tender No. 040813 for 30 units in Beit El

Publication of tender No. 170/2013 for planning of 9,560 units in the West Bank – the tender was cancelled.

 

30-10-13

Publication of validation of a Plan for 1,531 units in Ramat Shlomo

Publication of tender No. 11580/2013 for planning of 12,750 units in the West Bank – the tender was cancelled.

Publication of tender No. 11581/2013 for planning of 1,476 units in the West Bank – the tender was cancelled.

 

31-10-13

Depositing of plan No. 118/2 for 160 units in Yakir

 

1-11-13

Depositing of the Kedem Compound plan in Silwan (East Jerusalem)

 

3-11-13

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 411/8 for 12 units in Nokdim

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 220/10/7 for 28 units in Givat Ze’ev

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 220/23 for 381 units in Givat Ze’ev

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 301/2 for 125 units in Givat Sal’it (Mechola)

Depositing of plan No. 420/1/1/36 for 1 units in Maale Adumim

Discussion for validation of plan No. 227/10/2 for 255 units in Talmon

Discussion for validation of plan No. 205/12 for 30 units in Shilo

Publication of tender No. 38/2013 for 283 units in Elkana

Publication of tender No. 39/2013 for 2 units in Maale Adumim

Publication of tender No. 90/2013 for 196 units in Karnei Shomron

Publication of tender No. 103/2013 for 102 units in Givat Ze’ev

Publication of tender No. 162/2013 for 18 units in Ariel

Publication of tender No. 252/2013 for 80 units in Geva Binyamin (Adam)

Publication of tender No. 274/2013 for 112 units in Maale Adumim

Publication of tender No. 275/2013 for 238 units in Beitar Illit

Publication of tender No. 273/2013 for 311 units in Gilo

Publication of tender No. 293/2013 for 387 units in Ramat Shlomo

Publication of tender No. 299/2013 for 130 units in Har Homa B

 

4-11-13

Depositing of plan No. 604/4 for 31 units in Almog

Depositing of plan No. 114/2 for 90 units in Bracha

Publication of tender No. 108/2013 for 397 units in Gilo

 

6-11-13

Depositing of plan No. 218/18 for 296 units in Beit El

 

7-11-13

Depositing of plan No. 235/10 for 255 units in Talmon

Publication of validation of Plan No. 205/13 for 95 units in Shilo

Publication of tender No. 302/2013 for 1 units in Alfei Menashe

Publication of tender No. 303/2013 for 1 units in Elkana

 

11-11-13

Approval by the Minister of Defense for plan No. 227/7/1 for 5 units in Nofei Prat

 

17-11-13

Depositing of plan No. 132/4 for 277 units in Alei Zahav

 

19-11-13

Publication of validation of Plan 220/13/1 for 29 units in Givat Ze’ev

 

27-11-13

Discussion for validation of plan no.221/6 for 250 units in Ofra

 

5-01-14

Publication of validation of Plan No.117/13 for 22 units in Karnei Shomron

 

6-1-14

Publication of validation of Plan No.205/12 for 30 units in Shilo

 

8-1-14

Publication of validation of Plan No.221/6 for 250 units in Ofra

Discussion of validation of plan No. 130/2/3/30 for 5 units in Ariel

 

10-1-14

Publication of tender No. 1/2014 for 208 units in Efrat

Publication of tender No. 2/2014 for 24 units in Beitar Illit

Publication of tender No. 3/2014 for 102 units in Imanuel

Publication of tender No. 4/2014 for 86 units in Karnei Shomron

Publication of tender No. 5/2014 for 68 units in Alfei Menashe

Publication of tender No. 6/2014 for 40 units in Ariel

Publication of tender No. 9/2014 for 75 units in Geva Binyamin (Adam)

Publication of tender No. 10/2014 for 19 units in Efrat

Publication of tender No. 11/2014 for 169 units in Elkana

Publication of tender No. 7/2014 for 182 units in Pisgat Ze’ev

Publication of tender No. 8/2014 for 294 units in Ramot

Publication of tender No. 12/2014 for 600 units in Ramat Shomo

 

12-1-14

Publication of tender No. 16/2014 for 56 units in Neve Yaacov

 

20-1-14

Depositing of plan No. 220/23 for 381 units in Givat Ze’ev

 

22-1-14

Publication of validation of Plan 227/10/2 for 255 units in Kfar Adumim

 

26-01-14

Depositing of plan No. 317/2 for 234 units in Galgal

Depositing of plan No. 13901 “The Spring House” for tourism in Silwan

 

10-2-14

Approval by the Minister of Defense of plan No.111/1/3 for 65 units in Shavei Shomron

 

16-02-14

Publication of validation of Plan No. 227/15 for 25 units in Kfar Adumim

 

18-02-14

Depositing of plan No. 116/5 for 37 units in Elmatan

 

19-2-14

Discussion of validation of Plan No. 604/4 for 31 units in Almog

Discussion of validation of Plan No. 218/18 for 296 units in Beit El

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 205/2 for 353 units in Shilo

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 111/1/3 for 65 units in Shavei Shomron

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 130/8 for 839 units in Ariel

Discussion of validation of Plan No. 132/6 for 694 units in Alei Zahav

 

23-2-14

Depositing of plan No. 227/10/3 for 19 units in Kfar Adumim

 

10-3-14

Discussion of validation of Plan No. 115/12/1 for 28 units in Alfei Menashe

 

19-3-14

Depositing of plan No. 242/1/3 for 38 units in Kochav Yaacov

Depositing of plan No. 220/10/5 for 56 units in Givat Ze’ev

Discussion for validation of plan No. 129/3 for 19 units in Kiryat Netafim

Discussion for validation of plan No. 218/11 for 200 units in Beit El

Discussion for depositing of plan No. 201/3/10 for 27 units in Beit Arye

 

23-3-14

Discussion for validation of plan No. 118/2 for 160 units in Yakir

Discussion for validation of plan No. 114/2 for 90 units in Bracha

Discussion for validation of plan No. 132/4 for 277 units in Alei Zahav

 

31-03-14

Publication of tender No. 65/2014 for 708 units in Gilo


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