Sunday, February 12, 2006

My first desk job: a news transcriber

As a little boy, I grew up when the Philippines was under the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos. I do not remember much of martial law. It was lifted in 1981, but Marcos had iron clad control of practically all vital media institions in the country.
I grew up in media. My grandfather set up one of the country's oldest community papers in Bohol province. It has chronicled Bohol's history since 1956, fifty golden years ago.
My father set up what would be the second-generation media outfit in Negros Oriental. The Negros Chronicle was established in 1973. It branched out to the airlances in 1980 by opening the pioneer FM station in the province.
For the community media outfits, other than local news, information depended on those fed in Manila. Most of the time it was controlled by the Marcos government.
I could not discern this of course at that time as I was only a fresh teenager. But now that I am in my mid-thirties, I can recall and see the vast distinction the reportage of today's media outfits and those under Marcos.
I was exposed to many facets of news ---news gathering, news monitoring, news writing, news transcription ---at a very early age.
I was only thirteen when I was given my first formal job as a news transcriber (or transcriptionist?) for my father's newspaper and radio. But we called ourselves "news transcribers".
I transcribed the news for many years.
During those days, the main tools of a transcriber were a typewriter and a tape recorder and a radio. It wasn't just any tape recorder. It was this heavy duty Panasonic recorder/player that had a sturdy facility of 'rewind' and 'forward' buttons, that had no built in radio receiver. It was rectangular in shape, perhaps the size of a cell phone box. I remember we had a black tape recorder and an Olympia typwriter.
One of the best trainings in news transcription is the news from the Voice of America or VoA (I will write my "VoA experience" in a separate article).
It had a special edition where news was delivered in "Special English."
Special English news was delivered slower by the newscaster. It was meant to be heard by people in countries which really did not have English as the main language. The VoA's special Engligh version was good for neophytes in transcription.
I would record the "special English" version of the VoA every 8:30 p.m. At 9:00 p.m. I would begin pounding the rickety trypewriter.
I quickly became very fast with the typewriter.
Then later I could transcribe the English news delivered in regular-speed English.
After graduating in transcription, I moved on to news translation.
When the new government of Cory Aquino took over, the material for our national news was Noli De Castro's TV Patrol.which was delivered in Tagalog.
So it became a different process altogether.
I would play a portion of Noli De Castro's news. Then I would stop the tape recorder. I would embark on a thought process of translating his Tagalog news in my mind. When I begin typing, it would already be my English translation of Noli's news.
This was a much slower process than ordinary transcription. But years of doing it improved my skills.
Another major source of national news at that time were the Cebu radio stations like DYRC and DYHP. But this was delivered in Visayan language.
I would have to translate the Visayan news delivery before typing the substance in English.
I became quite good a transcriber that I could already transcribe the VoA news almost without pressing the 'stop' and 'rewind' buttons anymore, particularly the special English news editions.
I was very thankful I learned this skill. It has been very helpful in my required typing classes and later in my career.
I became very fast in typewriting that I was exempted in my college typing class.
I would feel embarrassed in my typing class because my classmates would stare at how I used the typewriter.
Some of my classmates pressed the typewriter keys like they were trying to kill insects with their fingers.
Those tanscribing days I cannot forget. I now use the computer at work. But even as technology tools have advanced, the skills of yesterday are still as useful.

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