In ancient Palestine, methods for conveying what was happening somewhere else were rudimentary but effective, according to various sources, including the book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible, which contains this exclamation: ‘People of Benjamin, save yourselves, flee from Jerusalem; sound the trumpet in Tekoa, light the beacon on Beth-hakkerem, for calamity looms from the north and great disaster’ (6:1). The news of the fall of Troy is said to have been conveyed to Queen Clytemnestra by fire signals, and J. R. R. Tolkien might have had these or similar instances in mind when he described the seven beacons of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings.

It’s a bit different now. When US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River, ‘Manolantern’ tweeted the news four minutes after the plane went down: ‘I just watched a plane crash into the Hudson riv in Manhattan’. What’s more, Janis Crums, a user of Twitter and owner of an iPhone, was on one of the commuter ferries diverted to pick up the passengers, and he used the camera on his phone to take a dramatic first photo, which he uploaded to TwitPic.

The media were not far behind: websites were updated not long after, as they are for all major (or not so major) events. This event drew many commentaries on the nature of news reporting in our times. We’re not that far from the world portrayed in the film ‘Minority Report’, in which a commuter travelling on train sees his electronic newspaper update with a picture of a suspect who is sitting opposite him.

Yet, despite Apple’s best efforts, there is no single medium for getting the news – different people choose to get it in different ways. Some people might sit down at 10 O’clock and turn the television to BBC; others might wake up in the morning and tune in to Radio 5 Live as they eat breakfast. Still others might skim over the Guardian website before starting work, or when they get home. Many people probably do all of these things, hearing, watching and reading the same information several times over!

Those working in the media have constantly to reconsider what it is that people want from news services. If bare information is all that is required, a tweet might be enough; then again, it’s hard to imagine that people would have been satisfied to read ‘2 planes crashed into WTC. towers have collapsed.’ on Twitter on 11th September 2001 and then to carry on with their day, feeling that they had taken learnt all that they needed to know. News services exploit the desire for commentary and for additional information. This information might be another camera angle or a new voice recording; most often, though, it takes the form of an article, a blog or a report.

Whether spoken or written, words are the currency of the news. It might be true that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, but, while almost every newspaper gave their entire front page to a picture of the World Trade Centre attacks, they still filled their inside pages with thousands and thousands of words. This seems to be one thing that has not changed.

That’s good news for translation and transcription agencies. Here at Global Lingo, we do the work that goes on behind the scenes, ensuring that speeches of major politicians and business leaders are accurately transcribed or translated and can be printed in the paper, read out on the radio, uploaded to a blog or referred to in a television report.