Journalism 2.0: Making Headlines Using Google Translate

by Translation Guy on August 27, 2012

Spanish is the only good news in the news business.  Spanish news consumers are growing in the US, while shrinking English-language readership consigns a once-mighty industry to a mere lining for Wall Street’s birdcage.

So dying newspapers look to build new audiences among Hispanic readership by publishing in Spanish. Lots of all-American news brands now have dedicated Spanish-language sections.

The Hartford Courant found a way to both save money and avoid readership decline, and that’s by translating the paper’s home page into Spanish using Google Translate.

“The limitations of this approach are immediately apparent to Spanish-speakers,” wrote Andrew Beaujon of the Poynter Institute. There was a public outcry over the machine-made service to the Hispanic community.

So the Courant published a disclaimer on the lousy machine-translated Spanish, which stated, “Some of the translations of the English headlines and articles don’t always translate accurately word-for-word into Spanish.”

“In an attempt to improve the translation service, “Google has included a wiki/crowdsource feature that allows bi-lingual users to write better English translations for each article,” the Courant wrote. “Simply hover over a story with your cursor, enter the translation and help write a better English to Spanish translation.”

Just the web experience newsreaders are looking for when they go to check out local events. Fixing Google Translate. The response rate must be almost zero.

Bessy Reyna of thinks this is a problem. “I still think that if the Courant wants to truly offer a product that provides information to their Spanish-speaking readership about their community, they could at least hire someone to translate the translator. The guessing game (trying to figure out what the Spanish translation means) is painful and time consuming. Google recommends that each reader “improve” the translation using wiki / crowdsourcing. Thanks, but no thanks. It would take hours to fix the many problems found in each piece.”

My post MT editors say the same thing about machine translation. It’s hard to follow, and harder to fix.

Looks like the Courant has provided the kind of translation that even readers won’t touch.  So is a horrible translation better than none at all? Hispanic media consumers are heartily sick of horrible translation and the Courant en Google Translate Español has to be among the least likely sources a Spanish-language reader would turn to online.

I should disclose that I was formerly employed by the Hartford Courant as a newspaper delivery boy. Actually, I was a subcontractor to my big brother, and delivered half his route for him on Sundays, for which he paid me $0.25 a week. If that doesn’t seem like much money even for 1966, you’re right. I think he was cheating me

From that perspective, I think the Courant is cheating Spanish readers, too. But good or bad, utility is determined by usage on the Web. If people use it, then it is useful, in absence of a better solution. If the market doesn’t work for translation, it may be better to do nothing at all. It would be interesting to talk to the Courant people and get their perspective.


  1. Hello Ken,

    You wrote, “My post MT editors say the same thing about machine translation. It’s hard to follow, and harder to fix.” By reading your previous blog entries, I got a feeling that you were generally against things like MT, crowdsourcing, etc. I am a little bit surprised now to learn that you have post MT editors. Are you offering post MT as a separate service to clients or is it an integral part of a larger translation process?


    • Ken says:

      I think post-edited MT is a lot more common in the human translation food chain than reported, Roman. I need to be able to better harvest those efficiencies to lay a more bountious offering on the altar of price. Post-edited implementations I know about have been big and part of something bigger. I’ve heard different but remain skeptical…. yes Diego, I’m talking about you.

  2. Niko Zeil says:

    This is just lazy hackery, who actually thought this was a good idea?

    • Ken says:

      My guess is someone who didn’t speak Spanish

  3. There are cost cutting measures, and than there are measures that will cut readership, just pathetic.

  4. Nick Zegell says:

    I can understand trying to save some money, but this is just reeks of cheap, and that just more damage to the brand than anything.

    • Ken says:

      In a major way. But the Courant got the message, and the site is now being translated by humans.

  5. You’re being serious? Really? Someone actually went and did this? I’m all for crowdsourcing and all, let the internet help make itself better and all, but asking readers to translate for themselves basically is offensive.

  6. Oskar Thau says:

    Absolutely ridiculous.

  7. Oh lord, this is just hilarious, simply brilliant.

  8. I’m somewhat speechless, someone got paid to make this decision and not only that, the company is sticking withit?

    • Ken says:

      Nope. The newspaper is using real translators now.

  9. So the newspaper has readers essentially doing their work for them.

  10. Is there a large Spanish speaking population in Hartford? Not to sound stereotyppical or racist, but Connecticut always struck me as pretty whitebread.

    • Ken says:

      Hispanics are the lifeblood of the US press in many markets, since they read and such.

  11. I think they will probably offend more readers than they will gain.

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