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To what extent does synchronizing a transcript with audio/video affect the editing of verbatim transcripts by reporters?

workshop lead by Ms. Marlene Rijkse

Prague, 29th September 2012


My name is Marlene Rijkse. For many years I have worked at the Dutch Parliament as an official reporter. Since a couple of years I have been working as team coordinator. I am also the immediate manager of a team of staff members of the Parliamentary Reporting Office. One of my duties in the past was the assessment of speaker’s corrections. On the issue of speaker’s corrections I will come back later. In the past few months a working group of the Parliamentary Reporting Office, in which I participated, held our editing rules against the light. The common thread of the amended rules is that reporters have ever less room to make changes to the contribution of the speaker. I will further explain this development hereafter.

Shorthand notes

Before sound recording was introduced, reporters made their transcripts on the basis of their shorthand notes. In those days it was not possible to determine whether the transcript offered a faithful account of the spoken text. That is why the stenographer had a powerful instrument at his disposition. Once, a Dutch official parliamentary reporter even managed to become the Netherlands’ prime minister!

Check against sound recordings

The introduction of sound recordings has made it possible to check whether a reporter has adequately transcribed the spoken text. An official reporter of the Parliamentary Reporting Office has the duty to transcribe spoken text into a readable record. To this end a range of editing rules have been drawn up, laid down in our Style Guide. This is a useful aid, but certainly does not offer a solution to all the problems the reporter will encounter in actual practice. In many cases the choice whether or not to make changes to the speaker’s words “depends on the situation”. Our reporters are highly educated people. They are capable of transcribing vague spoken texts into clear and coherent reports. In the past it was common practice for a reporter to make the report “nicer and friendlier” than was justified by the actual spoken text. Sometimes a speaker “slipped”, for instance because he was very angry. The reporter then toned down the outburst, making sure that “courtesy” in Parliament was maintained, at least on paper.

In the Dutch Parliament, speakers have the right of correction. In case of a dispute about a correction suggested by the speaker, the Parliamentary Reporting Office falls back on the sound recording in order to determine whether a correction will be adopted or not. Through this right of correction the speaker agrees to the transcription of his words in the report. It is my experience that both MPs and members of the Cabinet generally highly appreciate it that reporters turn their sometimes fumbling speech into a readable report. Resigning MPs often compliment us on that.

Reporters stick more closely to the words of the speaker

The appearance of populist parties in the Dutch Parliament around 2002 marked a change in the role of the parliamentary reporters. In the past, reporters used to be complimented on their work. In recent times, however, populist MPs did not always want a more courteous report. They deliberately used swearing as an instrument, and wanted that to be expressed in the report. Some years ago a minister was called “stark raving mad” during a debate. Sometimes the Parliamentary Reporting Office was sent contributions accompanied by a note saying: we want this to be included in the report literally. Since then we refer new MPs to our editing rules, which are mainly aimed at transcribing spoken text into a readable report.

The debate itself has become harder over the past few years. Last year for instance, our Prime Minister and the leader of the Party for Freedom got angry at each other in the course of a debate. One yelled: don’t make a fool of yourself, man! And the other shouted back: don’t you make a fool of yourself! It goes without saying that in such a case, it is no option to include anything else in the report but what has actually been said.

(Ms. Rijkse shows a discussion in the Dutch parliament between the MP and Mr. Wilders of the Party for Freedom.)

Another factor that has recently influenced the report is the social media. During a debate MPs twitter to their hearts’ content. Sometimes a statement is published earlier via twitter than via the draft official report, which is published on the Internet several hours after delivery of the speech.

Moreover, important debates, such as the annual general debate on the Budget Memorandum, is broadcast live on television in the Netherlands. People can also watch debates afterwards, on the Internet site of the House. That is why our reporters must be able to justify any changes they make to the words of a speaker: an alteration is either based on an editing rule, or it is a clarification or correction of a clear mistake. When a speakers stumbles over his words, the reporter is capable of mitigating this stumbling in the report in one situation, whereas he will not do so in another situation, for instance because another MP interrupts him with the words: “Sir, you are terribly stumbling over your words, presumably because you are telling sheer nonsense”.


My presentation so far has been about the edited report. Currently, a subtitling pilot project is carried out in the Dutch Parliament. Subtitling is primarily done for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing, but can be followed by everyone. We have already learned from the pilot project that subtitling requires different skills compared to making a verbatim report. A subtitle editor will primarily follow the speaker and has to work within limited space. That is why some clauses will have to be left out sometimes, although these can be very important, especially in politics.

Subtitling versus the verbatim report

I am convinced that subtitling can never substitute the verbatim report. We hope that we will once publish sound, image, subtitling and the edited report together on our website, enabling the user to see at a glance who is speaking, to hear what is said and to read what the debate is about. Every deviation from the report will then be visible and must therefore be justifiable.

Throughout this presentation about the reporting practice at the Dutch Parliament I have given an answer to the question that will be discussed in the workshops, namely: “to what extent does synchronizing a transcript with audio/video affect the editing of verbatim transcripts by reporters?”


In the workshops everyone will be given the floor in order to briefly answer this question from his or her own working practice.

Subquestions are:

  1. Does subtitling replace an edited verbatim transcript?
  2. What is the added value of a readable report?
  3. Is it possible to draw up general rules for editing?
  4. Is it possible to define the difference between “viewers/listeners” and “readers”?

The following feedback was given by the different groups

Group 1 (Marlene Rijkse)

Participants: Korea (2), Finland, Poland (1), Germany (1).

In all these countries subtitling is not an issue. Sometimes sign language is used.

Does subtitling replace an edited verbatim transcript?

All the participants said: no.

What is the added value of a readable report?

You can always read exactly what has been said and decided.

Is it possible to draw up general rules for editing?

In Poland, Korea, and Finland there are some rules.

Example of a rule in the Netherlands and Germany: when a speaker often uses the word “chairman”, the reporter only includes it twice in the report: at the start of a speech and after an interruption, when the speaker continues his speech. In Poland, Korea and Finland they do not leave the word out. In these countries there are less rules.

However, Korea, Finland, Poland, Germany and Holland all have a style guide.

Is it possible to define the difference between “viewers/listeners” and “readers”?

The answer to this question is more ore less the same as the answer to the second question. There is a difference: viewers/listeners just view a debate and readers want to know what has been decided.

Group 2 (Robert Brown)

Group 2 has primarily looked at the second question. We rephrased the question to: what is the added or additional value of a readable report? We wrestled with the question “what is a readable report”? Does that mean that it reflects a good use of language, so that makes it readable? That it doesn’t have the false starts, the background noise, the interjections that are intrusive as supposed to illuminating? So, a readable report has those features: good language use – elimination of the extraneous and intrusive – it can be printed, published, not only on paper – a set of pages that can be carried away – but also electronically. Then it can be archived as a document. Then we have very good characteristics of a readable report. With the excellent bonus feature in our computer age it we can be searched for the way the words are used, the appearance of what we call “trigger words”, such as “accident”, “guilty”, those kinds of things. So we felt that there is tremendous additional value to invest in the generation of a readable report.

So that is our basic answer to the additional value of a readable report beyond the video file capture of the presentation/discussion proceedings themselves.

Then we got to the difficult part. If we accept the fact that it is a valuable investment to create a readable report after the real time capture, then we have to worry about the potential for not delivering on the exact rendition of what really happened. That is just a dilemma that someone who is going to create the readable report has to face. We talked about: that is an editing function where we are actually altering the contours of the message that has been captured. We think that that is a good thing, because readability is important for a reader, as opposed to just presenting something that is viewable and listenable with all the coughs, byplay, background noises, which obscures the meaning and perhaps the intend of the speaker and the focus of the session. We felt that there is tremendous additional value in investment, in creating a readable report that can be archived as a legitimate document, in the expert use of the prevailing language. Also it can be electronically searched, so that someone who is trying to determine what the flow of information was in the event can go through it and find those trigger words, the phrases that carry the message.

The third question, is it possible to draw up general rules for editing? Perhaps next year it would be possible to have general rules. We all agreed that some guidelines as a starting point are advisable.

Group 3 (Gea Duister)

Group 3 is a mix of speech and text reporters and parliamentary reporters, so we were more talking about the differences between our jobs.

Question 1: Subtitling is so different from making an edited verbatim transcript that the group talked a while about that. We said: it’s an irrelevant question, because they are impossible to compare. We are not interested in subtitling and we are depending on our readers’ purposes, so either readers of subtitles or readers of a verbatim report.

With question 2, we ended up in a discussion about what is a readable report. Is this a verbatim report? Is it a report where all the mistakes are left out? For a deaf person a very short summary may be enough. That could be readable for him. For others readable may mean that all the mistakes are left in.

We did not have enough time to talk about the third and fourth question.

Group 4 (Fausto Ramondelli)

We found that the questions were very stimulating. We had a very interesting debate.

We tried to answer the questions but the discussion went a little bit astray. We agreed that subtitling cannot replace a verbatim transcript. We believe that they are different products related to different audiences. We agreed with the former speaker that subtitling is related to a different audience than a verbatim report. We have also other kinds of products devoted to different people, for example people at universities, researchers, citizens, young people, or old people. They all access parliamentary information in different ways.

Question 3: Is it possible to draw up general rules for editing?

We agreed that many attempt to do this, but few succeeded. We tried to understand why. It is probably because the editing and the way of publishing the information of parliamentary reports depends on many things. For example, I have listed some “depends on the context”, the kind of report we are dealing with, parliamentary reports of the national parliament or reports of local assemblies. Maybe it depends on the country, the culture, the different habits, and also from time to time: today you can no longer work with the attitude of 30, 40 years ago. And it also depends on the device that the person who accesses the parliamentary information uses. But the most interesting discussion was amongst those who think that the written report is and will remain the normal way of accessing the information of parliamentary sittings. Other people asked themselves whether in the future this will change, because audio and video will be replacing progressively the way in which people access information.

We would like to suggest IPRS to focus its attention to this problem, maybe through an enquiry, but preferably with a seminar on the question how the publishing of parliamentary work has changed over time. Because, if we find out that in the future, maybe five, ten years from now, the normal way to access information will be mainly via video and audio rather than via written text, we have to ask ourselves if the categories in this question are still actual. Because probably the transcription will be only the tool for accessing the information, because it will be useful for synchronizing video and audio, but it will not be any longer the object of consultation. The same is true nowadays when we compare how the older and younger generations use the web.

Ms. Schwarz, head of the Dutch Parliamentary Reporting Office, knows exactly what Mr. Ramondelli is talking about, when he talks about report as a source for searching and using metadata. That is the topic of the discussion: what is the report for? It is not only used for reading, but also for metadata, for searching and combining text with video and so on. That’s a new development, which is very interesting for a seminar or whatever. She agrees on that point with Mr. Ramondelli.

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