The question of what to leave out of an official report has always been especially important in professional reporting. Every observable detail in an interaction cannot possibly be reported, so reporters must decide what to include as relevant for the official report and what to exclude as irrelevant.
This question is not always hard to answer. The reporters who work with individual clients or small groups may simply ask them what they wish to have included and, on the other hand, left out of the report. Even then, various borderline cases will often require careful consideration.
These choices might become even more complicated when the client of the report is “the public” or another big and heterogenous audience. This is often the case with parliamentary and court reporting, for example. Among the public, there are always many perspectives on what may be considered relevant in the official report – if not in terms of content, maybe in terms of individual expression, social relations or interactional order, to name just a few.
Last autumn, there was a discussion in the plenary session of the Finnish Parliament about sending troops to evacuate people from Kabul airport to Finland after the change in power in Afghanistan. Time was limited, and the chairperson asked MPs to keep the discussion short. Despite this, many MPs wanted to participate in the discussion, and it lasted for hours. During the discussion, when a certain MP got the floor, she stated she would withdraw her request for the floor, when she would have spoken. After that, the chairperson handed the floor to the next MP.
In the past, these short withdrawals have often been left out of the Finnish parliamentary report as irrelevant or non-essential. However, in this case it was decided to report the withdrawal. This turned out to be a good decision. Soon after the session, a person in Twitter applauded the MP for her responsible decision to cancel her speech, and many agreed with her. A small detail in the session which the Finnish reporters have traditionally considered irrelevant in other contexts was seen as very relevant in this session by certain citizens.
This example illustrates that determining relevance, or importance or meaningfulness, of an interactional detail is not always a simple thing. What is seen as irrelevant by some people may be considered surprisingly relevant by others. One part of the reporting profession is getting to know the different audiences of the report and learning to foresee these kinds of situations.
Many key themes of professional reporting are present in this fifth issue of Tiro. Aïda Regel Poulsen introduces us to speech-to-text services for hard-of-hearing people in Denmark and discusses their recent developments and future challenges. In another article, Victor González describes how volunteer stenographers have started to help students with disabilities in the university of Córdoba, Argentina, by providing subtitles and transcripts for video lectures. After careful consideration, the stenographers have decided to use an IT solution that provides automatic speech-recognition (ASR) and subtitling, and improve the result with professional editing.
Taking up ASR in professional reporting has been a popular topic in previous issues of Tiro, and this issue is no exception. Carl Lombard presents details of a pilot project where ASR was introduced in the Irish Parliament, The Houses of the Oireachtas. He discusses the strengths and challenges of the software used and outlines their future plans. Amanda LeBlanc describes another very current, although very different, issue in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada, where the reporters have reviewed their principles of reporting gendered prenominals, such as “Mrs.” and “Ms.”, for the sake of linguistic equality.
Current aspects of parliamentary reporting are strongly present in several other articles in this issue. Richard Maurel writes how the convoy protest movement in Canada affected the work of parliamentary reporters in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Jack Mitchell analyses how different instances of “humour, heckle and hullaballoo” are reported in the House of Lords, UK. Henk-Jan Eras gives a detailed account of how the video speech of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was reported in the Dutch House of Representatives. To complement these modern perspectives, Mark Wyman gives an intriguing and personal account of depictions of official reports in fiction and he focuses on the novel Plague Dogs by Richard Adams.
Ultimately, what is considered relevant or irrelevant for a professional report may involve quite small details in the speech. In his regular scientific column, Carlo Eugeni distinguishes between two types of linguistic meanings, denotation and connotation. He demonstrates that there are many cultural nuances that influence how an expression is interpreted. Differences in this interpretation may prove critical for not only the participants of the discussion, but also the reporter who is reporting for the audience.
Eero Voutilainen is Tiro’s editor-in-chief.