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Journalism 2.0: Making Headlines Using Google Translate
August 27, 2012 - By: - In: Machine Translation - 18 comments

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.

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