Translating and journalism

The following is a comment I made to Ethan Zuckerman’s post on Financial models for “difficult” journalism.

Translation, I believe is a profitable service, whether it be an English media seeking foreign news or foreign media seeking English news. Many news companies in Korea attract readers through translation of specific foreign news (Daum, for instance, translates Wired). The translating team at Reuters Korea is larger than the reporting team.

But while translation serves as a revenue source, I don’t think a model where reporters serve as translators would work out.

At the JoongAng Daily (an English daily newspaper that is a sister paper to the IHT and run by a media mogul), reporters were translating as a side job because the salary of a reporter never was (and as we perceived never would be) enough for us to carry out the lifestyles that we wished. Reporters make very good translators because they have command of both languages; translating is quite profitable because there is always a consistent demand and not everyone has the expertise.

When the company, however, tried to get reporters to do translating work as part of the job, most were very opposed to doing so. It was not just because translating for the company would not create side revenue for the reporter (although that was certainly one of the reasons). It was more because reporters had pride in what they considered to be the role of a journalist. In the end, full-time or part time translators were hired. It was interesting that while a part-time translator would earn more money, reporters who were able to do that job opted to be a reporter and not a translator. I suppose I am still old-school in that I believe that journalists, like firefighters, are not (or should not) be in it for the money. In that sense, I support the 5% model.

Going back to translation, I think it is a good source of generating revenue (such as hosting marathons). More than a decade ago, the Korea Herald operated for a long time a translation company that was quite profitable; the people there, however, all left and created their own company.

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