FT article on weblogs

There is an article in the Financial Times on weblogs, but it will not be available free much longer. It’s by Patti Waldmeir, an American correspondent, and is entitled A stretch in the virtual stocks for the global village gossip. Thanks to Robin Bonthrone for the reference.

The main interest in the article is the danger of publishing personal or confidential information online, and at the same time it suggests to employers that they should not be too quick to sack an employee who goes too far. It starts from the well-known example of Heather Hamilton (dooce – but look at earlier entries than today’s for the real flavour). It also mentions the danger of webloggers being dishonest in order to avoid problems.

bq. But the issue is not just whether we are wasting time or bandwidth: the bigger question is about freedom. Politicians are far less free than normal people, says Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Centre for Internet & Society, because their every utterance is searched and scrutinised for infelicities. To satisfy that scrutiny, they must always be their public selves, without the luxury of lapsing into private bad behaviour.

bq. Bloggers risk the same peculiar loss of privacy, he says: when every idiocy uttered is permanent – and searchable – individuals may have no choice but to present a sanitised public self in place of the real one. The result is much less freedom; only the man without a blog can be free to think as he pleases.

As a self-employed person, I don’t risk being sacked. But as someone offering my services, I don’t want to make a bad impression. This is not a private and personal weblog. Of course I don’t mention clients and jobs, but it would be in my interest not to offend other translators either (and that includes on mailing lists, UseNet groups and elsewhere).

One thing, for instance, that I promised myself when I started here was not to make fun of bad translations. It seems to me that if I show up a bad translation done by someone else, it reflects badly on me too, and it also makes non-translator and customer readers associate the very process of translation with errors. And every time I mention a mistake, someone is going to be offended, probably for quite mistaken reasons. But this doesn’t stop me from doing it. In fact, it’s inevitable I’m going to comment on language peculiarities from time to time. I suppose the problem may be not criticizing enough rather than criticizing too much.

3 thoughts on “FT article on weblogs

  1. I know exactly what you mean Margaret. I’ve set myself very clear boundaries for my blog and I’m very paranoid about respecting them.

    My blog represents me as a translator and interpreter, but I’m very aware that the way one writes, and what one writes about, tells an awful lot about a person. So to comment on your example, although it may happen that I sometimes am cutting or disparaging about other people in my private life, I would never do so on my blog, because it’s a side of me I don’t particularly wish to promote. Plus I think it’s unprofessional and pointless.

    I suppose that’s what the author of that article means by “a sanitised public face in place of the real one”. I wouldn’t say I present a “sanitised” face, more that I choose to only show one aspect of my personality (the linguist). It doesn’t mean that it is entirely safe: I often explain how I translate things and I run the risk of people coming up with better translations and of being branded bad at my job.

    Of course, the other incentive to stick to talking about language is that there are quite a few people interested in it out there and not that many blogs about it, whereas there are millions of personal weblogs. I doubt anyone would be very interested in someone with no particular talent for writing and no amazing new ideas sharing her private opinions and thoughts.

  2. Maybe the solution for you – as for others – is to have (at least) two blogs: one associated with your public persona, and a subtly anonimized one that enables you to say the rest. That’s what journalists have always done, after all, although Patti Waldmeir may not be aware.

  3. I should add that I find this whole topic, if it is one topic, confusing. I had to work so after revising the entry several times, I posted it in an incomplete state. Even now I still can’t sum up the problems.

    Kaleboel: Actually, I wouldn’t have enough to complain about, at least about other people’s translations, to support a private blog. And if I complained about everything I wanted to, it would seem somewhat formless except to me.

    I think I should make it clearer what I’m referring to: Some translators decorate their websites with sets of bad translations allegedly found in hotels all over the world, on a page called ‘Humour’, for example. This usually irritates me. (And this is one reason I wouldn’t like to do an anonymous Bad Translations weblog). I also think it makes customers associate translation with silly errors. But even pillorying this here would offend some people whom I might not even mean. Another thing: I sometimes comment on bad English on official websites, for instance on the Rechtspfleger site mentioned today, or in the manual for foreigners in Germany. This may also offend the wrong people.

    And it shades over into the question of how to tell a good translator. There is no one qualification, is there? Most of us think that precisely the set of qualifications we have is the one you need. But I refuse to believe that you need to have studied law to do legal translations, or to have studied translation rather than law, or even to be a native speaker, although I think that is problematic. Some people say that ‘true bilinguals’ can’t translate – if you grew up with two languages – but I doubt that’s true either. Experience is very good, but no doubt you can do something badly for many years and not improve much. Some say you have to live in the foreign country, some say you have to live in the country of your native language. I don’t think one can be dogmatic, but every criticism of another person’s translation seems to risk ending in some generalization, such as ‘This was obviously done by a translator with an XXX background’.

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