Finding Trustworthy Translators
The NYT Public Editor gets a question from a reader wondering how journalists operating in Iraq and elsewhere can know that the translators they rely upon are trustworthy and not enemy double agents.
Andrea Kannapell, a staff editor on the Foreign Desk, explains the process the NYT uses to vet their translators. In addition to that starting point, she writes,
There are quite a few ways to double-check the trustworthiness of a translator. Sometimes, correspondents tell me, the interviewees themselves know enough English to warn the correspondent that the translation is not accurate (that happened in Chad, and has also occurred in the Middle East); sometimes the correspondent repeats a question to see if the answer is the same (that is widespread).
Correspondents generally try to use translators that other correspondents have found trustworthy; in South Korea and quite a few other places, as in Iraq, we have hired those we found the best to retain their services. Correspondents rapidly develop relationships with translators, with whom they often spend significant time — not just working, but eating and traveling together.
Beyond that, if a reporter is working with an unfamiliar translator, he or she tends to regard the interview as a starting point for reporting, not its culmination, and to seek more accounts and outside corroboration.
That seems reasonable enough.