Accessibility has become an important concept in official public communication during the last few years, with a clear emphasis in many countries that public services must be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. In the European Union, a directive now requires all public online communication to be accessible that is, perceivable, understandable and usable with different technologies; for example, screen reader programs for the people with visual impairment. Under the directive, all permanent audio and video content on public websites must include text options, such as captions or written reports, within 14 days of release. This has significantly increased the number of reports and captions found on public websites, greatly boosting demand for professional reporting and transcription services in the European Union.
Reporting and transcription have always been important tools for creating access in communication. The Latin roots of the word “report” – “reportare” – take us back to the original concept of “carrying back” something for the sake of providing access to events that would otherwise have disappeared. We would not have access to the speeches of Roman senator and philosopher Cicero had his slave Tiro not been there to report them with his innovative form of shorthand. According to a common definition, if something is “accessible”, it is “able to be reached or entered”. In the sphere of reporting and transcription, access means allowing speech events to be reached or entered through the written medium. This access can transport us back even thousands of years to a speech culture that would otherwise have been lost forever.
With original texts, the discussion about accessibility is usually focused on readability and legibility. With reporting and transcription, the picture is more complex since it includes a commitment to faithful and accurate representation of the original speech. The choices that we make in professional reporting and transcription determine the kinds of access that we offer to the reader: access to content, access to interaction, and access to styles and identities, for example.
When a report is said to be “substantially verbatim”, we are emphasizing access to content. Such a report can be edited – sometimes a great deal – for accuracy, readability or a host of other practical reasons, as long as the “substance” is not critically altered or omitted. This involves careful choices, such as whether to correct obvious slips of the tongue, whether to shorten or simplify utterances in subtitling, or whether to exclude unofficial content, such as spontaneous interjections or gallery talk, from an official report.
Access to interaction means capturing the communicative nature of the speech event. A well-known example is transcription in conversation analysis where even the sounds of breathing in and out, laughter, creaky voice, gestures and gazes might be reported for research purposes. Another type of access to interaction is offered in parliamentary reporting offices that choose to include the routine administrative interventions by the chairperson such as giving the floor to MPs in the official report. This is one way for the report to show the institutional character of the parliamentary session, not only a collection of official speeches.
Access to styles and identities is offered in contexts where the linguistic profile of the speaker is presented to the reader; for example, by retaining the regional dialect, social register or personal style of the speech. This approach recognises speech as a tool of public identity performance. For example, an MP might use everyday words or regional dialect to demonstrate their identity as an ordinary person who local voters can easily relate to or approach. To create access to this dimension of speech, the report has to find a way to include linguistic features that convey speaking styles and identities without compromising on other criteria demanded by the setting.
These perspectives highlight just some of the aspects that we have to consider when creating access to speech events with professional reporting and transcription. They raise questions about the essentials of reporting: What are the goals of the report, and how should we find the right balance between them? What are the expectations and needs of our clients or audiences? Are there technical restrictions that have to be considered? At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the perfect type of access. Every reporting context is different and, for each, the right solution must be found.
A great range of articles in this issue address many diverse aspects of professional reporting and transcription. Amanda Bavin shares a personal account of her return to making real-time captions on site after a long period of working remotely during covid. Comparing her experiences of the two different ways of working, she gives us a practical and light-hearted peek into the work of a freelance stenographer.
Automatic speech recognition (ASR) has transformed the field of professional reporting and transcription in recent years, so it is especially important to gather experiences on how it has been implemented in different contexts and institutions. Niklas Varisto and Riikka Kuronen describe how ASR was brought into use in producing the official reports of the Parliament of Finland. They focus on how the system was acquired and how the alternatives were evaluated before a final decision was made. Dan Kerr discusses the implementation of a pilot ASR project in the parliamentary reporting of the legislative assembly in British Columbia, Canada, describing different professional, editorial and technical challenges that have been encountered in the process.
Various other aspects of parliamentary reporting are also discussed. Corinne van Dijk writesabout how MPs can suggest corrections for the official report of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands. She also sheds light on the principles determining which kinds of suggestions are eventually accepted in the final publication. Anneke Faaij, in turn, presents us with practical information about the Control and Support division of the Dutch Parliamentary Reporting Department, and how it provides invaluable support for the production of both online parliamentary broadcasts and the modern parliamentary report. D’arcy McPherson provides a conference report on the Hansard Association of Canada’s latest annual conference in Winnipeg. By conveying details of speakers’ contributions, he ensures that their reflections on important topics can be shared with a wider professional community.
The new issue comes also with new academic perspectives. Andrea Wawrzynek writes about speed differences in competitive typing between men and women. Based on both prior and her own research, she proposes that the difference results essentially from biological differences and suggests that there should be a gender classification in typing competitions. Vittoria Ghirardi, on the other hand, presents results from research on how gestures impact on the work of simultaneous interpreters when under increased cognitive load. The results show that gestures help interpreters in reducing stress, working fluently, and coping with different disruptions. Interestingly, Ghirardi argues that these findings might prove useful also when developing respeaking methods in real-time reporting. An important academic perspective to reporting is also presented by Tiro’s scientific advisor Carlo Eugeni in his regular column where he demonstrates, with an amusing real-life example, how some words have different meanings in different language varieties, and how this may create confusion in professional reporting.
Thank you, John!
John Vice, Tiro’s deputy editor-in-chief, is leaving our editorial team after the publication of this issue along with retiring from his job as the Editor of Debates in the House of Lords, UK. On behalf of all the editors, I wish to extend our warm thanks and appreciation to him for his great work from the very beginning of our journal as editor, writer, and the head of sub-editing. Thank you, John! Tiro would not be the same without you.
Eero Voutilainen is Tiro’s editor-in-chief.