Reading for the Blind interview
Name: Matt Jenkins
I understand you are involved with one of the services providing spoken word material for the visually impaired – tell us a bit more about this work.
Yes. I am the “technical editor” for the local Talking Newspaper charity. Every two weeks we take the local newspapers from the past fortnight, pick out the 30-or-so most interesting and relevant pieces, and record them to audio CD. My job involves the technical aspects of the work – the recording, editing and mixing of the audio. I rarely get to do the actual reading – there is usually a team of 4 or 5 readers that do the reading – although we do also provide audio recording facilities to a couple of other local services – the local housing association and the support services for carers – and I get to read on those, which is nice.
How did you become involved with this?
A friend of the family is one of the trustees of the charity. She heard me reading at my parents’ church one christmas (yes, I sometimes get roped in for that kind of thing…) and said “We need you!” so I went along. I rapidly progressed from reading to editing (by rapidly I mean instantly) since they had a lack of anyone with any skills whatsoever in that regard. Now I’m in charge of that side of the operation.
Why is this an important part of your work?
It’s what got me into audiobook reading. A friend at the charity mentioned ACX one day and said I should read audiobooks – so I did. And now here I am. Without the talking newspaper I’d never have heard of ACX and never got into reading audiobooks.
Do you think there are enough resources available to support those who are visually impaired enjoy books, newspapers and magazine? What more can be done?
Yes, I think there probably is enough. With the likes of Audible and iTunes making it easy and cost effective to get audiobooks while at the same time always increasing the library of available books, enjoying books has never been easier. Magazines and newspapers, on the other hand, are a different matter. Most areas in the UK have a talking newspaper service, but certainly, more rural areas are somewhat lacking. Magazines, however – I am unaware of any commercial publications that provide any audio formats for their magazines, but RNIB do provide some of them with thanks to third-party readers. But, with the advances in speech synthesis and screen reading, if you’re online you can get most articles read for you by your computer. It’s not quite the same as a real human voice, but technology is going a long way to filling the gap.
If a person wanted to become involved with this kind of work how would they go about it?
There is a good chance there is a talking newspaper in your area. The best places to go to find out about it would be your local newspaper (all the papers we read from are donated by the local newspaper), or speak to someone at your local council services offices or library. If there are any local visual impairment charities they may also know of (or be instrumental) in your local talking newspaper.
The RNIB also provide a service for national publications (http://www.tnauk.org.uk/) if you want to get more involved at a national level.
How does this differ to narrating an audiobook?
It’s a lot more rough-and-ready. We have limited time between the papers being published on Thursday and the CDs being dispatched on Friday. We get about 3 hours to do all the recording and editing. It’s more important to get the news out on time than to make it sound studio-quality perfect. Although we do strive to get it as good as possible, we don’t mind the odd mistake and stumble over words – to edit out and re-take all that would take longer than we have available (we rent a room from the local Royal Volunteer Service to do all our work).
Anything else you wish to add?
Talking Newspaper societies are always looking for more readers. And if our society is anything to go by they’re crying out for people with technical audio production skills.
But thanks to the internet and technology our listenership has dwindled away to a fraction of what it was. There is still a demand for our services, and we will keep going until the last subscriber cancels.
Where can we find your work?
The Talking Newspaper is not publically accessible – it’s a subscription service. And unless you’re a carer in my local area (and it’s not just people that with visual impairment that like audio versions of documents – there are those that can’t, or have difficulty, reading, or don’t read English well enough) you won’t have access to the material we record.