Acclaimed filmmaker, sociologist, and photographer examines news production and cross-cultural mediation
Cambridge University Press’ Global Middle East series has published a new book, Fixing Stories: Local Newsmaking and International Media in Turkey and Syria by Noah Amir Arjomand. Noah Arjomand is the Mark Helmke Postdoctoral Scholar in Global Media, Development, and Democracy at the Center for International Media Assistance and the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University. With degrees in sociology and in public and international affairs from Columbia and Princeton University, respectively, his regions of interest in research include Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.
“Fixing Stories is a study of a key but under-appreciated player in the making of international news: the fixer,” Noah says. “I examine how fixers balance relations with foreign reporters and local sources, assert both their professionalism and their values through the ways that they translate and mediate between disparate cultures and political perspectives, and how they shape the news in the process. All these issues can help inform contemporary debates within journalism about fairness, credit, objectivity, and the profession’s reckoning its legacy of cultural colonial.”
Noah’s research centers on the sociology of media and transnational knowledge. His work focuses on cross-cultural communication and its mediators, particularly in the Turkish- and Persian-speaking world. He is also a filmmaker and photographer. He wrote and directed a series of animated videos to explain global media policy issues for the National Endowment for Democracy and the Indiana University Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies. Noah’s first feature-length documentary, Eat Your Catfish, offers an intimate portrait of his mother’s last years with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The film had its world premiere at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam in November 2021 and will have its US premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this month.
“This book has been a long time in the coming,” Noah says. “It began with my dabbling in photojournalism in the Middle East as a student, when I first learned when a fixer was and how important they were to ensure journalists’ access and safety. I then spent three years in Turkey researching the subject as my PhD dissertation project. I interviewed newsmakers about their careers and also worked as both a reporter hiring fixers and as a fixer myself. This method of ethnographic participant-observation allowed me to get a better understanding of the thrills, stresses, and subtle forms of expertise involved in playing the role of broker between worlds.”
Noah continues, “When it came to writing Fixing Stories, I wanted to reach a broad audience beyond academia, especially among journalists. I ended up deciding to structure the book rather unconventionally as a series of narratives of composite characters accompanied by sociological reflections, which I hope combines both storytelling and intellectual insight at a pace that will keep many different kinds of readers turning pages.”
Fixing Stories: Local Newsmaking and International Media in Turkey and Syria explores the world of news “fixers”: local translators and guides who assist foreign journalists. In Fixing Stories, Noah argues these fixers can either be key contributors to bold, original reporting or key facilitators of homogeneity and groupthink in the news media. They play the difficult but powerful roles of brokers between worlds, shaping the creation of knowledge from behind the scenes. Arjomand’s book also reflects on the nature of knowledge production and cross-cultural mediation. Recounting intimate human stories drawn from three years of field research in Turkey, Fixing Stories unfolds as narratives of fixers’ career trajectories during a period when the international media spotlight shined on Turkey and Syria. Notable events under examination include the Syrian Civil War, Gezi Park protest movement, rise of authoritarianism in Turkey and of ISIS in Syria, the rekindling of conflict in both countries’ Kurdish regions, and Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt. Noah provides vivid personal accounts and insider perspectives on earth shaking events alongside a qualitative analysis of the role fixers have played in bringing news of Turkey and Syria to international audiences.
“I have felt incredibly privileged and lucky to be able to work as a postdoctoral fellow at HLS for four years,” Noah says. “The fellowship gave me the freedom and the perfect environment to craft my book, and I have enjoyed many generative conversations with IU colleagues and students as I have presented my work in progress across campus. I was also able to teach courses on my core interests of media and the Middle East, and class discussions helped me to rethink and better articulate many of the ideas that appear in the book.”