Translation in global news agencies

Esperança Bielsa

This article presents news agencies as vast translation agencies, structurally designed to achieve fast and reliable translations of large amounts of information. It maintains that translation is of the utmost importance in the news agencies and that it is inseparable from other journalistic practices that intervene in the production of news. Rejecting the naïve view that translations are often improvised by people who do not have the necessary training, the article claims that the news editor has the specific skills required for the elaboration of such translations, and that the organisation of news agencies has been conceived in order to facilitate communication flows between different linguistic communities so as to reach global publics with maximum speed and efficiency. If news translation has traditionally been neglected by Translation Studies it is because it usually is in the hands of journalists rather than translators. A detailed examination of the nature and processes involved in news translation problematises central concepts such as authorship and equivalence and leads Translation Studies in new directions.

Table of contents

News agencies specialised, since their creation in the middle of the 19th century, in the provision of international news, initially to domestic markets and later, through alliances with other news agencies worldwide, on a global scale. This implied dealing with a diversity of languages and with translation from the very start. It is not a coincidence that these organisations were created by cosmopolitan, multilingual businessmen: Charles Havas, founder of Agence Havas, the predecessor of Agence France Presse, had lived and conducted business in Lisbon, while Paul Julius Reuter was a German who obtained his initial experience of news agency journalism in France before settling in Britain and founding Reuters in 1851. In fact, before it was transformed into the first news agency in 1835, Agence Havas [ p. 136 ]was a translation agency known as Bureau Havas (1832–1835), which provided the French media and business community with translations from the international press. Bureau Havas centralised news translations leaving many freelancers out of work and is the first expression of the growing need for international news from around the world. In the first decades after their inception, news agencies already offered news services in different languages directed to the main Western news markets, and developed global networks which efficiently dealt with linguistic diversity. Agency journalists who pioneered in the expansion of their worldwide networks, managing offices in new regions and serving as agents in the furthest corners of the world were, very much like the founders themselves, also characterised by their cosmopolitan formation and multilingual skills.

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