Unfaithful Journalism

A while ago we talked about the functionality and faithfulness of translations. We said that, although we must keep a certain faithfulness to our source text, it is often necessary to adapt the target text so that it achieves the desired effect towards the readers. This time, we are going to talk about how journalistic translation, in particular, faces the faithfulness-vs-functionality dilemma.

Translating journalistic texts presents certain challenges known by few. The purpose of a journalistic text is to inform the reader about a current issue; and depending on where in the world where we are, that issue will be more or less relevant, and we will need more or less details about the topic. In general, when a translator receives an article, the mission is not only to translate it, but also to adapt it to the culture and interests of the target audience.

Imagine, for example, a two-page report from a German newspaper about a rail accident in Germany that is going to be translated for the media in Latin America. A Latin American newspaper will probably ask the translator to change the report into a half-page article to publish in the “International News” section. As a professional, a translator must deploy all linguistic skills available to compress the text (a lot!).

In addition to eliminating information that is not relevant, it is possible that the translator has to add information which will help the reader better understand certain facts. Perhaps for a German person certain geographic factors that may have influenced the accident may be obvious because they know the place, but it may be necessary to expand that information for a better understanding as a Latin American reader. The same will happen with the names of certain local institutions, which the target reader may not know.

This is just one example of the many challenges that a journalistic-text translator has to face, not to mention the little heads-up they are given. As we can see, you not only need to know the two languages with which you work, but also having the tools to compress, expand and adapt the text as necessary. And let’s not forget the knowledge of general culture every translator must have in order to see beyond what is written.

Translating journalism is a challenge in which being faithful to the original text is difficult. Translators are faithful because they do not make anything up regarding what the source text says, but they are unfaithful by eliminating and adding information as necessary. Everything, of course, in pursuit of the functionality and effectiveness of the text for the benefit of the reader.