“Creating Hansard” with Kathleen Byrne

On Wednesday, May 14, Kathleen Byrne spoke to us about working at the Ontario Legislature as a transcriber at Hansard. She works in House Publications and Language Services, which is part of the Language Services Division. In this role, she transcribes the proceedings in the legislature as well as in the 10 select and standing committees.

Kathleen has a BA in English from the University of Toronto and an MA in journalism from Ryerson University. She can boast a long career in journalism, having worked as a reporter, freelance arts reporter, and reviewer for the Globe and Mail, Mississauga News, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, and Toronto Star. For 20 years, she was a reviewer mostly for the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star but also for the Financial Post, Quill & Quire, Books in Canada, and Ottawa Citizen.

More recently, her roles have included editor/page designer, Globe and Mail; associate editor, Medical Post; senior editor, online news desk, CBC; and content editor, Toronto Star (foreign news and Letters to the Editor page). In addition to working part-time at the Ontario Legislature, she is a freelance editor for a variety of publications, from children’s textbooks to doctor’s e-books to romance novels to scholarly papers. Kathleen lives in Toronto.

Where Does Hansard Come From?

Here is something interesting I found on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website at https://www.ola.org/en/hansard-reporters: “Hansard is the word-for-word account of the daily proceedings of the House and its committees. Named for the family that began the tradition in the British House of Commons, Hansard has been the official transcript of Ontario’s House proceedings since 1944. Transcribers sit at a table on the floor of the Chamber and use laptop computers to record the proceedings. The text is then edited and printed overnight, ready for distribution the following day.”

The Work of the House

The House sits from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. It doesn’t sit on Fridays, and sometimes there are evening sittings. Question Period starts at 10:30 a.m.; this is the part of the proceedings most familiar to people because it’s reported on by the media. Sittings are organized into one or more Orders of the Day, which include Second or Third Reading of bills, Members’ Statements, Reports by Committees, Introduction of Bills, Oral Questions, Motions, and Petitions.

Committees examine bills as well as certain issues – for example, throughout the spring and summer 2020, the Finance Committee invited business owners, large and small to present the hardships that they and their businesses were experiencing because of the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, the two reporters still work in the Chamber. They wear masks, as does everyone else in the room – and, indeed, throughout all the legislative buildings.

Transcribing Proceedings

Kathleen’s day is organized into turns. Each turn represents five minutes of proceedings in the House or committee and can take up to one hour to transcribe. During this time, Kathleen listens to, transcribes, and edits the dialogue. She uses a content management system called Sliq to check out each turn to work on it, then check it back in when she’s finished.

She begins by checking the first stage of transcription – closed captioning – and editing it so that it’s clear and correctly reflects what was said. She then checks all proper names, dates, and any sources that Members may have quoted. French-language text is handled by Hansard’s bilingual transcribers. When there is something to verify – such as a word that she can’t decipher or a quotation that she can’t find to confirm – she types two question marks in front it as a reminder to check it. If there is something that she can’t verify in the time allotted, she can send it to the reference department, which does a fantastic job of verifying everything.

After she’s checked in her transcription, it’s picked up by editors, who double-check everything, including the coding. French text is checked by the French-language editors. Any questions that arise from a Member’s speech – such as the spelling of a name that he or she has mentioned – are passed to the Member to answer by one of the pages who work in the Chamber, directed by one of the Hansard reporters.

When the day’s proceedings have been fully edited, the transcript is made available on the legislature website. It’s also printed and distributed to various libraries as well as the Archives of Ontario.

Kathleen reckons that there about 30 transcribers and editors working at the legislature. Their reference sources are the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, an in-house spelling guide, and an in-house style guide that’s 68 pages long.

Newspaper Editing

Kathleen described working as an editor at the Globe and Mail (2004–09) in the News, Arts, Travel, and Books sections. She was also responsible for page design and layout on the news desk. At that time, there were five sets of eyes looking at all the feature stories, columns, etc. that went into the newspaper. That was a lot of scrutiny. And people felt a sense of pride to be working there. Now, however, after rounds of cutbacks, there are only two sets of eyes, and it shows. The copy editing is no longer done in house but by a separate company (and the pay is half what Kathleen used to make).

Kathleen also worked at the Toronto Star, where the transition in editorial scrutiny has taken the same unfortunate path.

At the National and Twig Level

Webinars – There are quite a few coming up. Have a look at https://training.editors.ca/.

Annual Conference – “Editors Transform”, June 12 and 13, will be completely online. The early-bird price lasts only a few more days – until April 26. Out of the many sessions being offered, you’re sure to find something of professional interest. For example, Kingston’s Adrienne Montgomery will be presenting on “MS Word Essentials – Don’t Start Work Without These”. All the information you need is here: https://pheedloop.com/editors21/site/home/.

Nominations for the national executive council and national committees – Members received an email in early April. Consider nominating yourself or someone else. If you no longer have the email, contact Stephanie Stone (stephaniestone3@gmail.ca) or Nancy Wills (nancwills@gmail.com). You may also find details on the Editors Canada website.

Wednesday, May 12 – The next instalment of “Authors Talk Editing” – Member Carolyn Heald and her sister, Brenda Gayle, will talk about their author-editor relationship. Brenda has published three books in a romantic suspense series and has just released the fifth novel in her Charley Hall mystery series, set in Kingston in the late 1940s. You’ll find more info at https://brendagayle.com/.

Twig Annual General Meeting, later this spring – We’ll be electing one or two new coordinators and discussing the direction of the twig and any initiatives you’d like to see carried out. Please think about these issues and join us with your ideas.

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