“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
A reader of my blog sent me two issues of the ITI Bulletin, The Journal of the Institute of Translation & Interpreting in United Kingdom, probably because after reading a post in which I criticized an article in the American Translators Association’s magazine The ATA Chronicle, he wanted to induce (provoke?) me into comparing these two publications for translators.
So here it goes.
Although both magazines have about the same number of pages (40 in the ATA Chronicle, 44 in the ITI Bulletin), compared to the ATA Chronicle, the ITI Bulletin contains more than twice as many articles. This is partly because that the layout of the ATA Chronicle seems to be designed to fill up the number of available pages with large graphics (they may be cute, but they sure are huge), and many even larger advertisements. In the May 2014 issue I found the regular ad from the National Security Agency (a whole page), United States Department of State Office of Language Services, FM Transmitters-Receivers for Simultaneous Interpretation Equipment (both of these ads together take up a third of a page), and even one ad in Japanese aimed at Japanese speakers who want to learn English from something called BABEL UNIVERSITY Professional School of Translation (a quarter page), and from the ATA Professional Liability Insurance program (again, a whole page), among several other advertisements, many of them really large.
There were only two small advertisements in the January-February 2014 issue of the ITI Bulletin, one from a translation agency called ATLAS TRANSLATIONS offering training in Trados, and one from SHAW, WALKER, LEES, Chartered Certified Accountants, offering advice for businesses and taxpayers.
Since the advertisements in the ATA Chronicle thus take up more than ten times as much space, while a lot of space is also filled by large, cute graphics (typically one third of a page is taken up by a graphic introducing an article), one gets the distinct feeling that the ads and graphics are the main components of the magazine and the articles are just something that is put in there to fill up the remaining empty space.
Incidentally, this is the same feeling that I have when I watch for a few minutes what passes for news these days on one of the alphabet news channels on American TV: that the commercials are the main reason for the programming, and the news is just fluff designed to fill up the time until the next long series of commercials.
I usually find most interesting articles describing the daily life of actual translators. With the exception of the article that I criticized in my post, I did not find much of interest in the May 2014 issue of the ATA Chronicle (prominently listed on the cover of the ATA Chronicle were articles titled “Helping Researchers Get Published”, “Bilingual Writing for Big Business”, and “Biofeedback for Booth Jesters”, neither of which I read, I just very quickly scanned them), but I did find several interesting articles in both issues of the ITI Bulletin that I read (January-February 2014 and March-April 2014).
Two of these articles were describing the experience and incredible tenaciousness of blind interpreters, one was an article by Judy A. Jenner, who I think lives here in US and who also writes for the ATA Chronicle, and one article was written in first person by Jessica Luke, who is a translator who is registered blind. I found both of these articles really fascinating.
Another article in the ITI Bulletin that I personally found interesting was titled “Believe in change” (which made me cringe as I started thinking about Obama’s hopey-changey pre-election promises, every single one of them broken in due course), was written by Valeria Aliperte, an Italian translator living in London who talked in it about the importance of a healthy diet (Mediterranean in this case), and things like regular exercising and the sleep routine.
I always read with great interest every word of articles about the healthy lifestyle of translators, (which are sometime published even in the ATA Chronicle when they have enough space in there between full-page advertisements from NSA, Trados and other best friends of every translator).
I’m not sure why I read these things because I generally completely ignore all of the helpful advice.
Well, except for the advice to hit the gym at least four times a week. I have been doing that for quite some time, although I have to pace myself now, in an ultimately futile attempt to postpone the effects of unhealthy diet combined with unhealthy (sedentary) lifestyle of this veteran translator.
Unlike in the ITI Bulletin, there was not much in the last issue of the ATA Chronicle that I personally found worth reading.
Some of the columns in it are probably read by very few people. Take the example of the New Queries in the regular Translation Inquirer column in the ATA Chronicle by John Decker:
“New Queries – “Breather roof membranes,” as in “vapor barriers and breather roof membranes for sloping roofs as underlay for clay,” posed a problem for one of our colleagues going into Lithuanian. Please assist.”
Let’s say that the readership of the ATA Chronicle consists of about 10,000 people. How many of them will be interested in this particular thorny translation issue? Half a dozen? Possibly less. There was a need to have this column on a printed page before translators started using Internet about two decades ago, but at this point, I see the continuing presence of it as more evidence of the need to fill the space between the advertisements.
The only regular column that I still usually read in the ATA Chronicle is the Dictionary Review, mostly out of nostalgia because I have not bought a dictionary in at least 10 years now.
I realize that translators cannot expect journalism of the kind that was so succinctly defined by George Orwell from magazines that are published by organizations in which large translation agencies wield enormous power due to the financial advantage they have over mere translators. I personally think that neither the ATA nor the ITI should allow translation agencies to be “corporate members” of an organization of translators.
Only individual translators should be members of an organization of translators. Otherwise, it is an organization of translation agencies. The American Bar Association does not allow mega law firms to be members, the American Medical Association does not have among its members huge health insurance companies and big hospitals, etc., for obvious reasons.
The corporate infiltration of what are officially organizations of translators is evident also in the paucity of articles about important issues that would be really of interest to translators on both sides of the pond.
From what I have seen, the ATA Chronicle prints a lot of what is simply just PR for translation agencies. Even when the articles are about important issues, issues that are often discussed by translators on their blogs and on social media, such as CATs or MT, these issues are always presented from the viewpoint of a large translation agency. To paraphrase George Orwell, this is the way how these issues are presented in the ATA Chronicle (when they are mentioned there at all):“MT and CATs gooood, pointing out that MT is crude and doesn’t work or resisting demands for discounts for “fuzzy matches” baaaad“, talking disparagingly about the wisdom of processing of the MT detritus baaaad – all translators shall become MT post-processors one day soon, all resistance is futile and anyway, it will be goood for all of us!”
Fortunately, we have our blogs and our social media where we can try to address issues that are never critically addressed in the printed publications (I am speaking mostly about the ATA Chronicle in this case because I only read two issues of the ITI Bulletin).
But would it be too much to expect fewer articles written by agency representatives who talk down to translators as if they were morons, fewer full- and half-page advertisements, and at least a few more personal interest stories about translators and interpreters in a magazine that bills itself as “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”, which is the motto of the ATA Chronicle?
I also don’t understand why neither the ATA Chronicle nor the ITI Bulletin is available online. Could somebody explain it to me? Does it have to do with money? If they were online and anybody could access them, people would not be willing to pay the yearly membership fee? Wouldn’t that mean that there are really no other benefits to being a member other than the fact that all members receive a newsletter?
Or are there also other reasons for this?
More than 30 years ago, before there was Internet, a Japanese technical translator by the name of Donald Philippi, who was not an ATA member, but who did read the ATA Chronicle at least occasionally and went to at least one ATA conference before his untimely death, published almost single-handedly in San Francisco a magazine for translators called “Technical Japanese Translation”. The magazine, which was mailed to far-flung paying members and contributors on several continents back then, is now available thanks to Waseda University online here to anybody who would like to compare the issues that translators were facing three decades ago to those that we are dealing with now.
The only thing available online to non-members who would like to read the ATA Chronicle or the ITI Bulletin is a subscription form to be filled out and mailed with payment to an address in US or UK by those who would like to receive paper copies of these magazines.
I wonder, will archived copies of these publications be available online 30 years from now?