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Superman quit his job at the Daily Planet. At least that’s how the story read; Superman did something. Clark Kent didn’t quit. That didn’t happen. The omnipotent superhero decided to go for broke and become omniscient: “I was taught to believe you could use words… But facts have been replaced by opinions. Information has been replaced by entertainment. Reporters have become stenographers.” And he quit reporting as Clark Kent to investigate fulltime as Superman.
You see, Clark Kent is just a reporter. And like most reporters, he has an all-knowing boss who looks over his shoulder and tells him what to do and yells at him. But then again, Clark Kent is also Superman and omnipresent – potentially – all over the world – thanks to his sparkling reputation as a vindicator and rectifier. What does he need a boss for? He can blog now. He can get his own resources and follow his own stories. Google Translate opens up parts of the world Mr. Kent never thought he could help, and he can become, faster than ever, an international voice of reason instead of just some run-of-the-mill overworked and underpaid Metropolis reporter.
Or so you might think. But Clark Kent is Superman, and his job is to respond to violent situations, shocking situations: situations that require a savior. Mr. Kent should do good business ringing the alarm of injustice as a blogger that insights outrage and celebrates American principles of justice for all. But what of journalism? Of patience and respect and cultural barriers, and, dare we say it, linguistic barriers, in this field by the people, for the people, and about our peoples? How can anybody ever trust a machine to report human affairs? Easy: if the writer’s position is to expose humans rather than exhibit them.
Google Translate doesn’t turn reporters into journalists; it convinces bloggers that they are editors and, even worse, investigative reporters – international whistleblowers and wordsmithing policemen. It provides increased job security – sure – but it also wipes the Daily Planet of valuable cultural diversity and even diplomatic potential. Writers, busy writing under mastheads and behind closed doors, are too busy to report on the fringe and exotic and difficult. They are too busy to debase their audience with shocking and counter-culture truths. They, the writers, are too conservative to report on regions and instead journalize their never-ending struggle to integrate with a world passing them by phenomenon by phenomenon.
Superman has suddenly become just like Spiderman.
Any sensible adult roots for Peter Parker (Spiderman) to grow up and become a reporter who doesn’t have to chase his own shadow and sell pictures of Spiderman – the crime fighter. But that’s what makes the Spiderman comic book so interesting. It’s like Superman. All the power in the world cannot save the hero from having to have a job where he learns to act as a team member by taking orders and doing what he’s told by older exasperated people who must rely on the ignorance and naiveté of the candid superhero.
And that’s what internet-based publications will always be: ignorant and naive. Indeed, the best newspaper men would say that about the oldest, most respected, newspapers with the best contacts and the longest resources, because the writer is always ignorant and naive in comparison with the hero of the story – the real person. And yet, as newspapers and magazines slowly retire in the hype of electronic data platforms, newsrooms are slowly becoming more and more isolated as their writers think that they can cover more, know more, be responsible for more than ever before by using technology and literacy well.
But the fact is that the technology is reliant on literacy and the business of the fourth estate, relationships, has turned more into a business of linking and leaking. The world becomes more dangerous as the number of people delivering international news dwindles. As whistle-blowing increases, the media leaves less people in the know before the pressure cooker breaks and front-page ink is spilled. The omnipresent media is hedging on tragedy and vindication rather than on culture and regionalism.
Pairing exhaustion with ignorance, Superman is stressed, but valiant and perhaps more intrepid now than ever.
To just about anyone, international news means war or unfair labor practices or strikes – injustice – war standing in the way of tourism. To some, international news presents indicators of future trends as markets shift, leaders change and economies continue to meld regionally and globally, informing all who attend how they may profit off all that occurs. International journalists, English writers who count among their expertise foreign affairs, are not necessarily a scarce commodity as any college student who has spent a year abroad probably considers themselves international.
However, with Google Translate, for the first time, writers are counting on fame for writing and nothing else. These authors who sit everyday in newsrooms Google Translating their way to cushy domestic positions are unable to build qualities such as discretion, foresight or taste while pillaging foreign soil for exciting English language stories because they don’t actually live abroad. Why should they? They speak English – Superman’s language – their job is to listen and relay to their fickle faraway public.
And yet somehow the defeatism and humility celebrating stenography reads as arrogant. Suddenly a journalist’s greatest heroism is collecting a check to learn the basics of some foreign language so that they don’t get too embarrassed when socializing.
At least some reporters are beginning to cite Google Translate when revealing a source. Which is at least a sign of diplomacy if not an outright invitation to diversify. They might also try citing the foreign language publisher that they unwittingly work for.
But the poets bridging societies who have real challenging stories to tell beyond any basic ability to translate foreign news are getting a cold shoulder. The Daily Planet newsroom that should have the world by its ear instead contents itself with republishing the published. With the internet, the published word has become more sacred, replacing the written word as writing replaced the word. And the exciting world of journalism, a delicate rubric of tenuous relationships, shatters to leave a harrowing world of pen-pals agreeing on the happenstances of our brutal co-existence.
Those who follow regional opinions and controversies and live a double life with multiple adopted cultures get shuffled in and out of newsrooms like old links to popular stories. They’re accounted and politely swept under the rug. The multilingual reporter is unskilled labor now: surely an asset to the fabulous writers in the newsroom but not a need. The English language media doesn’t seek cultural prognosticators who smash future headlines and internet traffic by focusing the public’s attention on building conflagrations; instead, we want publishers who reify publishing.
If push comes to shove in the news cycle, Google Translate will handle it or our name isn’t Superman.