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Short web summaries – the profession of stenographers in the Internet era

Wouter Zwijnenburg (The Netherlands)

report by Désirée de Jong

In his presentation Wouter Zwijnenburg, reporter at the Dutch parliament, talks about the short web report service of the Dutch parliamentary reporting office. In 2001 the chairwoman of the Dutch parliament put forward the idea of the parliament informing the public about its occupations in an approachable way, not to override the press, but as a complementary service. The chairwoman was looking for a way to inform the public about the content and results of all the plenary debates shortly after they were finished. The parliamentary reporting office was asked to make this possible.

Editing a short web report

In 2007 a select group of specially trained fellow stenographers started with the “Debates in short” as the short web reports are called on the internet site. Nowadays a group of seven colleagues, amongst whom two editors-in-chief, participate in making the reports. Every day every debate in the plenary session results in a web report, which should be completed no more than half an hour after the debate has ended. Mostly there is time before the debate starts to read up. During the debate the editor listens and writes at the same time. The second term of the debate offers the opportunity to consummate the report. After the debate, the editor-in-chief checks the editor's work and publishes it on the website and tweets it on the official Twitter account of the House of Representatives.

The characteristics of a short web report

The newsworthy element is always in the headline and the first paragraph of the short web reports. The length of the reports vary from two to six paragraphs. Each report starts with a headline and contains about one hundred words. To ensure objectivity there are a few guidelines, for instance every participant in the debate is mentioned at least once, often with a quote, even if his or her words were of no importance or were really beside the point.

A big challenge

At the beginning there was great fear of making mistakes or of being accused of one-sidedness. The biggest challenge was nevertheless the writing itself. With so much experience in producing the more or less formal verbatim report, there is always the risk of using too formal language in a web report. Another challenge is to bring variation in the articles. When you produce four or more short web reports a day and the headlines are published on the same front web page, you should avoid too much similarity.

Success

In the past few years the short web report has grown to be a successful product, especially since the reports are mentioned on Twitter. Regularly participants in the debate retweet the reports and sometimes the editors even get an official compliment. It contributes to the working satisfaction of the short web editors, as it is really a personal product and not a small contribution to a daily verbatim report. In parliament, the people in charge and even individual readers or organizations highly acclaim the short web report product. It now is an established product that contributes to the reputation of the parliamentary reporting office.

The presentation slides and notes for this presentation are available on our Downloads page.

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