Straddlers not spiralists: Critical questions for research on fixers, local-foreign news work, and cross-border journalism
Isaac Blacksin and Saumava Mitra
School of Communications

As international news bureaus hurried to close shop amidst the Taliban seizure of power in Kabul in August of 2021, global attention was drawn to the dangers faced by local news workers employed by foreign news organizations. The story of the scramble to provide evacuation flights or other contingency plans for local employees clarified not only the dangers facing local Afghan journalists but, as well, the scale of local assistance in international news bureaus. The public visibility granted by these events to a mostly invisible labor force was, however, all too fleeting, and the self-congratulation of news organizations, after their efforts to aid local employees, was perhaps premature. Circumstances in Afghanistan indicate once again the need for more than sporadic awareness of the labor of local journalists and fixers in cross-border reporting, and the continued necessity for information and analysis concerning the risks, uncertainties, and inequities baked into “local-foreign” journalistic collaborations.

This DCU research collaboration challenges current trends in the study of fixers and other forms of “local-foreign news work” through discussion of questions crucial to future investigations. Considering local-foreign news work as a process of straddling political, cultural, and epistemic boundaries allows us to interrogate the conceptual binaries operating in the relevant research, such as west/nonwest, local/foreign, fixer/journalist. By engaging the liminality of local journalistic labor, this study brings into focus dynamics often obscured in current studies, namely, the impact of race and gender identities, and the post-colonial contexts within which much local-foreign news work takes place. Attention to these dynamics challenges the conceptual divisions upon which studies of cross-border journalism often rely, while revealing the consequential – and boundary-defying – positionality of local news workers. By diversifying the research queries we pose, and the theoretical perspectives we employ, future research can better account for the dynamism of local-foreign news work in the contemporary global news landscape.