What it’s like to work with foreign journalists before and after a crisis.
In international journalism, a local journalist hired by foreign reporters for his or her special knowledge of the local area, culture, and language is called a fixer. This series explores the untold stories behind their largely unrecognized work. You can read about fixing in China here, Mexico here, Belarus here, Afghanistan here, and the Philippines here.
In the wake of the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti, Haitian-American Pascal Antoine moved to the country he grew up visiting. He began working as a fixer for foreign journalists who often flood the island following natural and political disasters. He spoke with Roads & Kingdoms about Haiti’s love-hate relationship with Western media, the country’s fraught race relations, and the frustrations of dealing with journalists hunting for misery porn.
Roads & Kingdoms: What is your connection to Haiti?
Pascal Antoine: I am of Haitian descent but I grew up in the United States. My mother always made sure we knew where we came from, so we eventually learned how to speak Creole, which I perfected after my move here. After, the  Haiti earthquake, I came to Haiti and thought, “Wow, this is really interesting what’s going on here.” I had been coming to Haiti since 1999, but that was the first time that I had seen the country so upside down. That particular trip made me think I needed to see if I could actually live here. I finally made the move in 2012.
R&K: How did you get started as a fixer?
Antoine: I moved to Haiti planning to start a video production company. Haiti is a very difficult place to start any kind of business, so I had a lot of down time. A friend of mine who was visiting Haiti told me about the world of fixers, which I had no idea existed. I knew that people would find local people to help with productions but as far as it being any sort of organized effort—there being a network of fixers—I had no idea that this existed. It’s been about three years now that I could consider myself a fixer.
The journalists came like bees to honey after a calamity
R&K: In Western media there’s often a swell of interest in Haiti around natural disasters or catastrophic events. What is it like to work as a fixer during these moments?
Antoine: It’s a shame that Haiti only gets attention during calamities, during natural disasters, during political unrest. I have to say, I’m a little guilty of that, too, because I came to Haiti to live after the earthquake.
I remember the day after [Hurricane Matthew], I had gone down to a relatively new Marriott Hotel in downtown Port au Prince and the place was swamped with journalists. There were cameras all over the place and I was just sitting there looking at and listening to them. They were talking about going to the south tomorrow and it was just really amazing to me how they came like bees to honey after a calamity. What I didn’t like about that was as I was overhearing a lot of the conversations, it seemed like a lot of these journalists wanted it to be a big calamity, they wanted it to be something huge. And it was big, not as big as the earthquake was, but I could feel that they were hoping for worse in order to prop up their careers, which I really didn’t like.
When I did go to the south the guy who hired me decided he didn’t want to be part of the media circus and specifically wanted to do a story on the aftermath. They arrived afterwards, which I thought was refreshing. I actually didn’t do any work immediately after the hurricane, although I did get some proposals that I didn’t take very seriously. There was a group of journalists and doctors who wanted a fixer to go to the south. I didn’t take those seriously because I didn’t want to be part of the media circus.
R&K: How does Haitian domestic media feel about this influx of international presence?
Antoine: Domestic media and the international presence almost have nothing to do with each other. The coverage is completely different. In Western media, the coverage is always about Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Local media is, at the same time, often inaccurate but it encompasses more of Haitian life.
When you speak to locals here on the ground, a lot of people have a loathing of Western media because they feel that it’s always just projecting the negative. There rarely is any story that is just positive in the Western media. It’s always after a calamity or it’s always about the dirt on the streets. So I can’t say about Haitian media specifically, but with the Haitian populace, there’s a distrust of Western media. But at the same time, a lot of them rely on Western media to give them what they consider accurate news. So it’s a sort of love-hate relationship.
R&K: Are there specific challenges to working as a fixer in Haiti?
Antoine: Working as a fixer in a country like Haiti is always sort of weird; the Haitian relationship with the white world specifically. Oftentimes, you’ll see a lot of Haitians put white people on a pedestal. So when you’re walking down the street with a foreigner, with a white person, you’re noticed. They’ll think there’s money being given out or something like that. I have a lot of experiences where I’ll show up somewhere with someone and all of a sudden we’re invaded by people who sort of tag a long, they think they’re going to get something. They’re so used to receiving gifts and money from white people, from white organizations, from the Western world. Haiti has become a country of beggars. We’ve become a country where we expect—not even expect, we rely—on money coming in to do the most banal things, to be able to just support ourselves. It’s really kind of sad.
With my last fixer job, we were in the south in a place that was really, really hard hit by Hurricane Matthew and we were driving back to the hotel that we were staying in. We found like the one hotel that was still standing in the area, an area called Port Salut all the way in the south. This was right before Carnival season and while we were in the car late at night, we were sort of ambushed by what’s called a Rara group, which is a marching band playing folkloric music with trumpets and drums and stuff like that.
Now, this is a group of maybe about 200-300 people dancing in the street. They saw our car, they surrounded us and they looked in the car and they realized it was me with these two white people. So of course, they’re not going to let us go. There were some other cars on the road that they let go, but with these two white people in the car, we could not pass unless we gave them some money. I didn’t want my guests to be afraid, so I started dancing to the music. I wanted to show the crowd that I wasn’t scared of them. I was speaking to them in Creole and dancing to the music and they started to chant a little rhyme: “we won’t let you pass until you give us cash.” I’m like, “Hey, just because they’re white doesn’t mean they have money,” and they’re looking at me like, yes, you guys have money, give us some money. I’m still dancing, smiling and dancing. In the meantime, while I’m doing all this, my journalist, he’s inconspicuously taking pictures and recording sound for his production. So we finally got out of that and they parted and let the car go. And my guy looks at me with thanks, he got some really really good sound. I remember really making an effort so they wouldn’t be scared; they were probably less scared than I was.
R&K: Do you feel that you need to keep people talking about Haiti when something calamitous isn’t happening?
I still make sure that I keep Haiti in the media by talking to people like you, by making sure that stories that are important locally get spread, which I do through social media to make sure it gets out there. It’s difficult to do because the media, especially Western media, it works the way it does for a reason. People want to get eyeballs, people want to get reads. It’s hard to get people to be interested during times of peace; there’s nothing to report, It’s not interesting to people and as much as I try, I don’t know how successful I am in keeping all eyes on Haiti. It’s very hard to do.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.