October 9, 2019

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Good Wednesday morning. There’s quite a sports media controversy brewing and I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, an examination of overlooked journalists.

How journalists get their fix in violent areas

Ever wonder how The New York Times or CNN swoop into a dangerous outpost in a foreign locale and score an interview with a drug cartel hitman or human smuggler?

Chances are, they had help from a journalism fixer.

Gustavo Solis has a compelling story in the San Diego Union-Tribune about fixers near the Mexico border, which raises some interesting ethical questions about how journalism is done.

So what is a “journalism fixer?”

Basically, they are freelance journalists who serve as the eyes and ears for reporters from big publications. Not only do they have their ears to the ground, they can escort reporters around towns to keep them safe because they know the unwritten rules of their regions. They also can set up interviews with sources who might not be easily found or want to talk. They serve as translators, bodyguards, drivers, tour guides and scout locators. But most of all, they serve as fellow journalists, even if they aren’t always treated like them.

These are the people who make it possible for national news outlets to get the stories that make their audiences ask, “How did they get that story?”

These fixers do make decent money for their work — maybe $300 to $450 a day, which is more than most journalists in Mexico make in a week or even a month. However, they rarely, if ever, get credit for their work in the form of a byline. They also are often in danger because they remain in their towns when the big reporters go back to where they came from.

“It does bother some fixers that they don’t get credit for their work,” Solis told me in an email Tuesday. “After all, most of them are local journalists. Although, some are just stoked to get a call from some of the bigger news organizations so they are happy to do the work without getting credit. I definitely got the sense that the more established fixers would like more recognition and the ones starting out are happy to be involved.”

They also believe in the work.

“Some fixers are also motivated by a sense of camaraderie with fellow reporters or an opportunity to mentor younger journalists,” Solis told me. “Three of the fixers I spoke with said they’ve accepted less money to work with young reporters through the International Women’s Media Foundation.”

But it does come with danger. Solis used the example of fixer Jorge Nieto, who was helping a French journalist cover a story about a drug cartel.

Solis wrote, “If they had gotten kidnapped, the French journalist could’ve called his embassy and it would’ve been an international scandal. But Nieto is Mexican; he lives along the border and therefore would’ve assumed a greater risk.”

This isn’t just a Mexican story. Journalism fixers work all over the world, including Europe, Russia and, in particular, dangerous places in the Middle East.

And the work of these fixers is invaluable, even if we never see their names.


It’s speech vs. cash in China/NBA reckoning

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

The most controversial sports news at the moment involves the NBA. The general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, wrote — then deleted — a tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Backlash came because the NBA has huge financial ties with China, which was extremely upset with Morey’s tweet. The NBA wants to protect those ties, yet doesn’t want to squelch Morey’s free speech.

In a really smart piece for The Big League, Bobby Burack writes that those who cover the NBA are now at a crossroads.

“That is because it involves the one thing the new media has declared untouchable: the NBA,” Burack writes. “The Daryl Morey-China situation has really ruined things for the media and narrative. This is a league that most media members under 45 — though, plenty over, too — say is much better than American’s favorite league, the NFL. They call it more progressive, less about the greedy owners, and deserving of praise. Yet, it turns out, the great NBA is just as concerned about their bottom line as the evil NFL is. What a shocker, I know.”

The biggest criticisms of the NBA have come from those who don’t cover the NBA regularly, while those with close ties to the NBA — ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, for example — are backing the NBA and even criticizing Morey for his stance. Deadspin’s Laura Wagner obtained an internal ESPN memo that told on-air talent to avoid the politics of this story and stick to basketball.

(A quick aside: It should be noted that Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix has written some of the best and most critical pieces on this story, as well as being outspoken in an interview with Dan Patrick. And while I’m pointing out good columns on this topic, check out The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, who wrote, “The problem for the NBA is that this isn’t just a free-speech issue. This is a test to see whether the NBA has the stomach to fight for certain values when doing so compromises business.”)

However, the rest of the NBA media writers have come to an important moment. Burack wrote, “This story could make the NBA cheerleaders in the media look foolish. If this exact same situation involved the NFL, it would be open season. They would be thrilled.”

But so far, very few who cover the NBA are thrilled. They are either carrying the NBA’s water or completely staying out of it. Maybe those media members aren’t quite as progressive when their opinions are tied to a paycheck.

Conservative vertical The Dispatch launches

Axios’ Mike Allen had this scoop Tuesday: Steve Hayes, formerly of the Weekly Standard, and Jonah Goldberg, longtime National Review senior editor and columnist, have launched The Dispatch. It will be a conservative digital media company with a website, newsletters and podcasts.

A letter to readers says, “We aim to make The Dispatch a place that thoughtful readers can come for conservative, fact-based news and commentary that doesn’t come either through the filter of the mainstream media or the increasingly boosterish media on the right.”

Allen writes that The Dispatch is “plunging into a tough space — conservative, but not a booster of President Trump.” He also wrote that Hayes and Goldberg are longtime critics of Trump.

Initially, the site will be free, but early next year when the site is at full strength, they will ask for paid subscriptions. Some articles, newsletters and podcasts will remain free. Allen reported that the site will be based in Washington, D.C., with eight full-time staffers. He also reported that the co-founders raised about $6 million from a few dozen investors. Nieman Lab’s Laura Hazard Owen reports that the site will typically have three stories a day — a main 1,500-word piece and then two side pieces around 750 words.

Hayes told Nieman Lab, “We’re not going to do hot takes. This is not a place to come and find a 400-word screed against something that makes you angry in the news today.”


My next guest needs no introduction …

We watch late-night TV to see James Corden singing karaoke in a car with Adele. We watch Jimmy Fallon playing “Name That Song” with Taylor Swift or “Show Me Your Phone” with Kim Kardashian. And of course, we tune in to see movie stars such as Will Smith or Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts promote their latest projects.

But now another frequent late-night guest is emerging: the news anchor. In a piece for Variety, Brian Steinberg writes, “News anchors have always visited the late-night programs, but perhaps not with the star billing they receive in the current climate.”

Maybe it’s the news cycle with Donald Trump, but news anchors do seem to be making more late-night appearances. Steinberg points out that news anchors usually are available, and they are popular, too. He writes that the 9 p.m. cable news hour with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Chris Cuomo attract nearly 7 million viewers a night.


It’s game on for The Washington Post

Courtesy The Washington Post

The Washington Post is set to launch a new section dedicated to video gaming, esports competitions and gaming culture. Launcher will debut Oct. 15 with profiles of personalities and events, the latest gaming trends, tips and tricks from pro gamers, and breakdowns on game updates, tweaks and new designs.

In a statement, Post managing editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz said, “Gaming has become deeply ingrained in our social fabric, significantly impacting industries across sports, tech, business and pop culture, and we are uniquely positioned to cover this burgeoning industry. With Launcher, a dedicated team will look at all aspects of gaming, appealing to the casual player and avid esports fan alike.”


Hot type

Senator Lindsey Graham. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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Correction: This article has been updated to correct the name of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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