“I was totally depressed after the Paris attacks, working as a fixer helped me a lot.”
Paris used to be the major European headquarters for most foreign publications. Even the New York Times announced this year that they were closing editorial operations in France’s capital. This has left a diminished number of connections in Paris at a time when the country is still reeling from the November 2015 Paris attacks and already hosting the European Football Championship.
We spoke with HackPack member Benjamin Zagzag, a recently converted fixer who helped several TV stations cover the terrorist attacks in France and Brussels. He shared with us his experience, described the heightened level of competition for fixers and how assuaging work can be.
How did you become a fixer?
Actually it was by chance. The morning after the attacks, I went to Bataclan [the site of mass shootings on Nov. 13, 2015] to mourn. Many journalists had gathered on that site. Not a lot of French people spoke English, but I have a strong background, so many journalists interviewed me. I met a nice guy and a Moroccan journalist interviewed us at the same time. I asked him whether he was living in the area as well. He replied, “No, I am a fixer.” I had no clue what that was and asked. He explained the job and since I speak English very well, he suggested that I also work as a fixer. I’ve been working ever since, working with an Israeli journalist, then ABC News and quite a few more. Later on I assisted ABC News covering the Brussels attacks as well.
For the Brussels attacks, HackPack was very useful. I had to hire a journalist for ABC. They needed someone to help at the office with logistics, translating, investigating. I wrote to all the people registered as journalist on HackPack and got the answer from a girl. I then contacted her and she worked with the ABC producer for a day. It happened that it went fine so she worked again another day.
What does a fixer do?
As a fixer you help journalists do their job. For instance in Paris, I was translating, interpreting, and helped with research. You find sources to interview and go with the journalist. I like to think that fixers are the legs and tongue of a journalist or a guide facilitating interaction between different cultures.
How do you agree on payment?
It is based on trust. Take this one time I helped a publication with general logistics. A producer that I didn’t know just sent me an email asking if I would be available to work with them. He then gave me a bunch of stuff worth thousands of euros to deliver to a journalist in Brussels. The producer later mentioned that he had received my email from a colleague. Trust is very important.
What has been your best experience so far?
Well, in Paris I found a few survivors from one of the restaurants that had been attacked. We got an exclusive interview with the source, so that was great!
Overall, working as a fixer has helped me a lot. I was totally depressed after the Paris attacks. But I discovered the journalism world and began working with a team. That helped me forget all these terrible events. Telling the world what happened was a good way to deal with those events and helped me feel better.
What else have you done?
In Paris I first worked for the Israeli Channel 10 News. That was very interesting as well. We went to a city where one of the terrorists grew up to interview the director of the mosque and some people living there. It was my first experience as a journalist. After that I really wanted to work full-time. It was so interesting.
How much are fixers usually paid?
I don’t think there is an average rate to tell the truth. It depends on where you are and which journalist you are working with. For example in Egypt, they paid $100 a day, but in Paris it is about $300 or $400 a day. This is a very long day starting at 6 am and ending at 1 am.
What is next for you?
I’m trying to work as a journalist preferably for TV because as a fixer I mostly helped TV journalists. It would be great to stay in France and to work for an American company. However I can’t find any full-time positions right now. I have tried contacting several companies but it is a very hard time for everyone.
Is there a lot of competition among fixers in Europe?
Yes, there is. That’s my feeling. Most journalists in Europe don’t think they need fixers to go to Paris. But American journalists tend to use fixers. And then there is major competition for those jobs.
What’s the secret to getting those jobs?
You have to prove to them that they should choose you. Treat the job search as a very serious game but not a fight…
Connect with Benjamin today through HackPack and create great stories!