Fixers & Stringers Newsletter 2

The Fixers & Stringers research project – focused on the collaboration among journalists, media organizations, fixers, producers, and stringers – got to its second half and finally has brought some tangible results! I am happy to share these with you in this newsletter, as well as an invitation to a free workshop.

What you will find in this newsletter:

  • Are local media professionals in conflicts ‘too emotional‘ to be trusted?
  • How to decolonize thinking about conflict journalism
  • A series of testimonies by Ukrainian journalists
  • Save the date: Workshop on local media professionals and ethics in OSINT practices

Are local media professionals in conflicts ‘too emotional’ to be trusted?

Earlier this year, I published a paper called The epistemic injustice in conflict reporting: Reporters and ‘fixers‘ covering Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine. I start from the widespread assumption – documented by previous research – that when you are a local media professional covering a war or occupation in your own country, you tend to be biased and/or activist. Your emotions are believed to blind your critical eye or, worse, make you push for your ideological agenda. Your work can be trusted less than the work of foreign observers who manage to keep their professional distance. This epistemic injustice – enjoying less credibility because you are local (or locally based) and emotional – comes to the fore in the collaboration of reporters who are foreign to the context they cover and local media professionals in the role of fixers or producers.

Local media professionals’ emotions can be seen as emobided knowledge beneficial to nuance, accuracy, and ethics.

I challenge the epistemic injustice by looking into the (local) media professionals’ emotional closeness to their contexts and emotional labour. I illustrate why emotions ≠ biased opinions ≠ ideologically driven behavior. On the contrary: local media professionals’ emotions are often valued as embodied knowledge beneficial to nuance, accuracy, and ethics.

The paper builds on:

  • research on conflict reporters’ professionalism and emotionality
  • an eclectic selection of concepts (philosophy of emotion, social epistemology)
  • 36 interviews with media professionals covering Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine
  • some online ethnography.

The full paper, also highlighted by Mark Coddington’s and Seth Lewis’ monthly media research digest RQ1, is accessible here.

How to decolonize thinking about conflict journalism

Another paper published within the project, together with Professor Mark Deuze, critically looks into previous scholarly research on fixers in conflict reporting. Based on a thematic analysis of work that addresses news fixing, we summarize what we know about fixers in conflict zones while using postcolonial lens to further develop some critical arguments.

Future research should embrace the local media professionals’ multiplicity of identities, hybridity, and agency.

We summarize what the existing studies well describe: what fixers do, who they are, and the inequalities in safety, in authority over the content of reporting, and in the distribution of money that haunt conflict reporting. However, we argue that most of the research too readily accepts as a starting point the division between West and non-West, which assumes that fixers are fundamentally different from and unequal to Western correspondents and emphasizes these disparate identities without questioning them, thus reproducing fixers‘ otherness and exoticism. As these media professionals belong to the most multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual generation of today, we argue that future research should embrace the postcolonial emphasis on the multiplicity of identities, hybridity, and agency.

The full paper, called Decolonizing Conflict Journalism Studies: A Critical Review of Research on Fixers, is accessible here. The argument has already been taken up and developed by Isaac Blacksin and Saumava Mitra in this article.

A series of testimonies by Ukrainian journalists

After the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, I asked five Ukrainian journalists with diverse backgrounds to share their experiences with reporting on the invasion while also being a part of the affected community. Their stories and reflections – e.g., of wartime language or war crime investigations – can be found here.

“Reporting war crimes became a new reality. Some investigative journalists and initiatives have focused entirely on war crime investigations.”

Save the date: Workshop Covering the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Local Media Professionals and Open Source Investigators

Global conflicts are increasingly documented and covered by ‘peripheral’ actors such as locally hired media professionals, remote open-source investigators, local eyewitnesses, activists, and data publics, creating complex and heterogeneous ecosystems. These groups have diverse goals, kinds of proximity to the war, and work with varying sets of values and fact-finding procedures. In this two-day hybrid free workshop hosted by the University of Amsterdam on 12 and 13 October 2023, we bring together:

  • ‘foreign’ and ‘local’ media professionals covering the Russo-Ukrainian War and the Israeli occupation of Palestine,
  • NGOs and open-source investigators documenting and archiving human rights violations in the Russo-Ukrainian War,
  • and academics

to share their work, insights and experience, and to discuss the ethics of collaboration among these various groups of actors in conflicts.

Day 1 of the workshop (organized by Johana Kotišová) is focused on existing research on inequalities in the collaboration between reporters and ‘fixers’ in conflict zones and on well-being and safety in conflict reporting. A part of the program will be dedicated to a collective brainstorming session on the best practices.

Day 2 (organized by Lonneke van der Velden) focuses on NGOs and self-organized groups, increasingly using data circulating on social media and online devices for evidence production while researching conflicts and human rights violations.

The full program, list of speakers, and registration details will be available in September 2023.

Follow the research project and learn more about its future results here, here, and here.

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