Dipping into the Internet as a Digital Fixer

by Mira Nabulsi

Translations of social media conversations in Syria around the Geneva 3 conference. Translations can be found here: https://speakbridge.io/medias/embed/Geneva3

As an undergraduate student in Palestine, I was involved in a youth exchange program “Zajel” which organized academic and cultural programs for local Palestinian and international students. Zajel organized youth volunteer camps, videoconference and study visits to create dialogue between local and international students and academics, with the objective of cultural and academic exchange and to spread more understanding and awareness of living conditions under Israeli occupation. Often we found ourselves responding to inquiries from international students, researchers, activists, and even journalists who had not visited the region before and who wanted help to visit and be able to understand local conditions.

In many ways, I was working as a “fixer”, using my expertise about the region to help others.

The idea of the online fixer or a “digital fixer” came from a few suggestions I brought up in order to develop Bridge beyond a translation app/platform to a platform that does a little more heavy lifting. Beyond translation, a media organization or a journalist may request support covering a place or context where they are not physically present or they do not necessarily understand the local culture, moving beyond language to also include local issues, humor, dialect, and inside knowledge.

Building on my experience in Zajel and the “bridging” Bridge does, I was reminded of “fixers” who work with foreign journalists, reporters and even researchers to:

  • facilitate their ability to communicate with locals
  • understand different dimensions of a story or an issue
  • get an insider look into things they may not be able to grasp without a local’s help and “translation”.
In my early stages of understanding Bridge, I asked myself the question: what is it the digital version of a fixer?

With a huge number of digital media companies rising, I was curious how news is reported. How many medium-size and small media organizations who report international news have reporters on the ground? If they do not, how do journalists connect and keep themselves informed of the latest political, social, cultural, economic issues? As well, to what extent do media organizations depend on first-hand reporting or a real connection to issues and communities they report on, versus repurposing what large international news agencies report?

Meedan and Bridge are at a great place to facilitate and expand the concept and network of media organizations and digital fixers. Consider also the possibility of this process being more interchangeable as opposed to Western and English-speaking media having the upper hand. Would it be possible for this to be a two-way exchange? The network could include people already doing that, or people Meedan may want to help receive the necessary training and curriculum, especially because this type of work could be appealing to students or aspiring journalists who are looking for opportunities for training and professional growth.

Being a fixer is not without its challenges. But done right, it can be a rewarding experience.

The experience has generally been very rewarding to me as a student. Many of us at Zajel developed valuable skills linguistically, in terms of writing, learning as well as teaching and building great connections with people from all over the world. But even after opening up our campus and homes to some of those visitors, we found ourselves sometimes still treated or depicted in ways that, to put it nicely, perpetuated stereotypical if not Eurocentric ways in dealing with us or our community at large. Some have written about similar experiences of exploitation or lack of understanding of the power dynamics between foreign journalists or researchers, fixers, and locals.

In my recent experience with Meedan, providing translation and annotation for different projects and also developing information and guidelines for the translators community, I had the chance to read and follow news, monitor social media discussions, and curate issues and trendy topics. I regularly discuss this with Meedan staff based on which projects we select for translation as well as writing of articles.

I have also conducted research to support the news articles, provide background and context, and was in touch with media and activists to verify information as well as get background information on some of the issues I dealt with while curating and writing pieces. This has been a way to enrich and boost the possibilities of interaction across linguistic, cultural and geographic barriers to produce content that is more comprehensive and centering of what people have to say.

How else do you see the concept practiced? What do you think are some of the barriers? Share your thoughts..

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.