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New Media and Translation: Technical Challenges, Theoretical Solutions and Opportunities in Social-Media-Based Journalism and the Democratization of Information - Rising Star Winner

By: Ana Lucía López Mendoza - Universidad Intercontinental

27 February 2018

As part of the GALA Rising Star 2018 Scholarship Contest, students across the world were asked to answer this question: "What impact does new media (such as video localization, eLearning, etc.) have on translation tasks and methods?" Participants from more than 30 academic programs submitted responses. The winners received a free registration to the GALA Boston conference and a travel stipend.

The following essay by Ana Lucía López Mendoza (Universidad Intercontinental) was one of two winners. You can read the other winning essay by Laura Linares (University College Cork) here.

New Media and Translation: Technical Challenges, Theoretical Solutions and Opportunities in Social-Media-Based Journalism and the Democratization of Information

In the context of globalization, the information age, and a notably digitized and democratic exchange of information and knowledge, a concept has risen to describe the most recent communication outlets: new media. Additionally, ever-increasing information volumes and an exchange that knows no physical boundaries mean that the global village needs more and more access to information coming in a myriad shapes and forms in a language everyone understands. Yet, much as the term “new media” conveys images of unique, unprecedented or even disruptive means of communication, how much is completely new, and therefore has an unforeseen impact in terms of translation tasks and methods? New media have had their main impact in the material and thematic diversification of translation products, the deep and rapidly-changing instrumental know-how required from translators, and the opportunities available to non-lucrative translation. Yet, communicative and sociocultural approaches to the translation process have mitigated the need for a radical shift in the way the translation process is performed.

First of all, the nature of new media should be discussed to assess their1 characteristics as a translation product. According to Lister, et. al., in New Media: a Critical Introduction, the term itself is blurry, and its definition is torn between those who think of them as unprecedented breakthroughs, and those who think that there is nothing new under the sun, especially since inventions such as the printing press or the television were once classified as “new”2. For the purposes of this essay, new media are considered “methods and social practices of communication, representation and expression that have developed using the digital, multimedia, networked computer and the ways that this machine is held to have transformed work in other media”3. In his book Understanding New Media, Robert Logan goes further into their description by saying that they are “interactive, incorporate two-way communication, […] are very easily processed, stored, transformed, retrieved, hyperlinked, and, perhaps most radical of all, easily searched for and accessed.”4

Yet, this description is still broad and encompasses pieces as distinct as celebrity journalism and e-Learning tools. Therefore, the main focus will be on investigative, citizen or advocacy journalism shared on social media due to their interactive potential, and social impact. With the fragmentation of mass media, 3.8 billion people with internet access worldwide5, and nearly6-free access to social media, audiences have become users, and consumers have become producers. Moreover, audiovisual products have rapidly gained ground on  ̶ and sometimes surpassed ̶  written pieces. Plus, content is no longer limited to the dominant languages of mass media with a specific geographical scope. For example, world issues such as the Rohingya ethnic cleansing and the internal displacement of the Tsotsil population of Chalchihuitán may be shared through subtitled video reports by AJ+ on Facebook rather than on Spanish-only articles on El Universal or La Jornada7.

Going back to the translation domain, the first impact new media have had is that of the creation of target texts aimed at engaging cross-border audiences that know and understand issues to very different extents depending on their geographical location even if their members share similar backgrounds, interests and concerns. For instance, a Mexican promoter of freedom of speech might appreciate to find an English voiced-over audio report on the detention of Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi published by Al-Jazeera with descriptive translations8 or even cultural equivalences9, whereas an Israeli counterpart would rather listen to transcribed concepts10 or formal equivalences1112. Which one should the translator go for? Should priority be given to one or the other, if the purpose of the report is to denounce the situation before the international community, one that both activists are part of?

Much as additional factors need to be taken into consideration before making translation choices, what is clear from a case like this is that localized or fully equivalent attempts are almost out of the question. Yet, a balanced communicative and sociocultural approach is necessary to provide a middle ground to engage both activists. In this regard, new media have not pushed translation studies to invent the wheel, but rather to apply well-settled approaches such as Nord’s Skopostheorie, Reiß & Vermeer’s theory of consistency and adequacy, or Nida’s dynamic equivalence13 in a more conscientious fashion to find the due balance between faithfulness and freedom while translating. Such a challenge is enriching in the sense that it unleashes creativity and flexibility, both of which are essential to overcome the next, and slightly more cumbersome hurdle created by new media: technical expertise.

While the translation industry was consolidating and harnessing new resources such as Computer Assisted Translation, new media already demanded that audiovisual and modern translation skills intertwine. Additionally, projects may require that the same task be performed by the same person for reasons of time, budget, and confidentiality, among others. This has often gone beyond the range of possibilities, and sometimes even interests, of translators. The latter may be due to resistance to change, but also to the challenging task of being up to date with the information age’s technological progress and demands. Yet, the trend towards more dynamic and interactive digital pieces continues to evolve, and is unlikely to stop. In this sense, some deeper concerns might be raised. For instance, should translators try to become jacks of all trades or should specialization be sought in terms of theoretical and technical expertise? What opportunities could be lost by choosing one or the other?

Finally, as audiences have become active producers of information thanks to new media, so may information and knowledge be acquired and spread by anyone. This process, known as the “democratization of information”14 has spurred open access to research from the Global North to the Global South, fired up citizen journalism, and  ̶̶ most importantly for the purpose of this essay ̶ given a new lease on life to militant translation. As described by translator Nancy Piñeiro15, militant translation is defined by the political agenda of the translator and the causes to which s/he seeks to contribute conscientiously or the creation of new opportunities for intervention, regardless of whether assignments are paid or not. Yet, in spite of deeply-rooted, harsh criticism against militant translation, new media have provided initiatives such as Translators without Borders or Traductoras por la abolición de la prostitución (Translators for the abolition of prostitution) with new channels to summon collaborators, foster freedom of speech, and raise awareness about the causes they defend, including their own work.

In conclusion, the deepest impact of new media has taken place in terms of the countless forms, content, origin and languages of translatable pieces of information available at present. Additionally, the coming down of physical barriers to information exchange has resulted in translators requiring to tailor their translation products to several target audiences at the same time, an endeavor that may fortunately be addressed through existing approaches in translation studies. Yet, new media have evolved at a speed that the translation industry and individual translators might have difficulty coping with and which raises concerns about the skills and knowledge required for such tasks. Last but not least, new windows of opportunity have been opened to translators with a political stance about issues they may directly contribute to through their efforts to empower others through knowledge and words at a global scale.


1 Following on Martin Lister’s approach, new media will be referred to in plural throughout this essay to highlight their plural and dynamic nature, rather than a unified and static one. For further reference, see New Media: a critical introduction

2 Martin Lister, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, et. al. New Media: a Critical Introduction. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 10 

3 Ibid, 13.

4 Robert Logan, quoted by Brian Neese. “What is New Media?” Southeastern University SEU Blog, February 15th, 2016: http://online.seu.edu/what-is-new-media/

5 Internet World Stats. “Internet users in the world – by region”. Internet World Stats, June 30th, 2017: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm 

6 Much as fees are not paid for social media like Facebook or Twitter, oftentimes internet access required to use these media is not, meaning that there is an underlying charge that prevents these tools from being truly accessible to everyone.

7 Examples of dominant Mexican newspapers available at a national scale.

8 Concise explanation of a concept by means of a different term (s) (Harvey, 2009)

9 Comparable reference in target language (Harvey, 2009)

10 Literal reproduction of a term in the source language (Harvey, 2009)

11 Word-by-word translation of a term (Harvey, 2009)

12 Malcolm Harvey. «Le traducteur juridique face à la différence » (France: Societé française des traducteurs), 79-85: http://traduire.revues.org/347

13 Betlem Soler Pardo. “Translation studies: an introduction to the history and development of (audiovisual) translation”. (Spain: Universidad Alfonso X el Sabio, 2013), 5-9.

14 Harrison W. Inefuku. “Globalization, Open Access and the Democratization of Information”. EDUCAUSE Review, n° 52. July/August 2017: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/7/globalization-open-access-andthe...

15 Nancy Piñeiro (/nancy.pineiro.9) “Ideas sobre la traducción militante”, Facebook entry, January 2nd, 2017, shared by Atenea Acevedo (/ateneaacevedo): https://www.facebook.com/ateneacevedo?ref=br_rs


Ana Lucía is a conference interpreter based in Mexico City and a recent graduate of the Specialized Translation and Professional Interpreting Diploma Course at Universidad Intercontinental (Mexico City). Her areas of specialization include migration, refuge, human rights and children's rights. Ana Lucía is one of two winners of the GALA Rising Star 2018 Scholarship Contest.