On the role of indirect translation in the history of news production

Roberto A. Valdeón

This article aims to problematize the role of translation in news production as a result of the invisibility of indirect translation (ITr). In the first section, I argue that in journalistic translation ITr is not merely ‘hidden translation’ but rather ‘ignored translation’ as a consequence of the traditional status of the translational activity in journalism and because researchers can hardly find traces of ITr in news production, such as the name of sources, attributions, or paratexts. I then move on to discuss the importance of the various forms of translation in the emergence of journalism in the early modern period. Human conflicts and movement meant that news texts were recycled across Europe, often via ITr. News writers used various sources from different languages and adapted the texts taking into account political and cultural considerations. This establishes a link with contemporary journalism, as news articles are characterized by their multi-authored nature. In addition, translations can be embedded and are often circular rather than linear. In the concluding discussion, I suggest that journalistic translation research, including research into ITr, can benefit not only from interdisciplinary approaches, but also from incorporating historical aspects.

Publication history
Table of contents

In an enlightening article published in 1978, Atwood discusses some of the problems of journalism historiography. Among them, he mentions that only a small number of journalism historians had tried to delve into the origins of the profession and stresses that theoretical and methodological considerations also need attention (Atwood 1978, 6). Although the situation has certainly improved since then, one feature remains unchanged: journalism scholars have paid little or no attention to the role of translation during the emergence of journalism as a profession. Translation scholars (Bielsa and Bassnett 2009; Hérnandez Guerrero 2009; Van Doorslaer 2010) have discussed what might be construed as the main reason to explain this paradox: although news production has always required translation, journalism scholars and journalists ignore or downplay the practice of translation as a secondary activity within the profession. Valdeón (2018) has shown that this is related to the conceptualization of translation in journalism studies, where it is understood as word-for-word interlinguistic transfer. In fact, in his analysis of almost 200 journalism studies research papers, he found that when journalism scholars write about translation not only do they tend to mean literal translation, but they also regard the process in a negative way and sometimes associate it with words such as ‘piracy’ or ‘copying’.

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