A broadcast captioner sees the future in realtime

A woman sits in front of a steno machine, set up to work from home. On her desk is her laptop and paper notes propped up for easy viewing. On the wall is a television screen with a news show.By Cathy Penniston

I live in Iowa, but I make my living listening to the Canadian news. I work for The Captioning Group, Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta, as a remote broadcast captioner four days a week. But every Thursday, I take a break from the news and travel to Newton, Iowa, to teach court reporting students at the Des Moines Area Community College. My goal is to share my wealth of experience with my students. I have worked as an official shorthand reporter, a freelance reporter, a CART captioner, and a broadcast captioner, and I bring this real-world experience to my classes.

As a busy broadcast television captioner and an instructor of court reporting students, I encourage my students to embrace realtime. If my students comment that it is difficult to learn realtime, I remind them that when I went to court reporting school, there were manual Stenograph machines and typewriters. Long vowels? That would be taken care of when reporters sat down at the typewriter to type each page into English from their paper shorthand notes. Nowadays, this is all done instantaneously through high-tech machines.

But more so, I believe that realtime is vital to the continued successful future of the court reporting profession. A digital recording in a courtroom cannot accurately provide a real-time speech-to-text feed of the live proceedings to the judge. And a digital recording cannot provide live captions of breaking news or emergency information broadcast over television stations where realtime captions are needed to save lives.

At first, realtime stenography can seem quite daunting. But excellent instructors and programs can get students on the path to achieving their goals and becoming successful in the field of realtime captioning. Here are seven tips from a broadcast captioner and court reporting instructor to get started on your journey to learning realtime.

  1. Enjoy realtime and the great feeling of success when steno words translate into English correctly. Do not be afraid of realtime.
  2. Analyze and correct every word that does not translate from steno to English correctly. There is a reason for every untranslated word. Why did that word not translate? What can you do to correct that word to make it translate properly for your next transcript? Do not ignore untranslates!
  3. Know your dictionary and how words are going to translate with your dictionary. Finger combinations that work well for one student may not work well for another student. Try the suggested way to write the word. If the finger combination does not work for you, try writing it in a way that will translate for you. Define the word in your dictionary that way and write it down. Practice that word until you have memorized it.
  4. Briefs are good only if you memorize them and remember them quickly. A bad brief is worse than no brief at all. Your goal is a good realtime translation.
  5. Write out every word and add it to your dictionary for the time when you forget your brief. Do not hesitate to remember briefs.
  6. Your goal is great realtime translations, not winning a race for having the most briefs and then hesitating during speed tests trying to remember those briefs. Briefs can be your best friend or your enemy in realtime reporting.
  7. Back up your dictionary every week. Email a copy of your dictionary to yourself and back it up in the cloud.

Realtime reporting is the key to the future of our profession. Embrace realtime as you strive to achieve your goal of graduation from school.

After working for many years as an official shorthand reporter in the State of Iowa, Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, CSR, “retired” to pursue her dream of completing her master’s degree in teaching and working as a remote television broadcast captioner and teacher. She can be reached at cpenniston@gmail.com. This article was originally published, in a slightly different format, on the blog for The Captioning Group as “7 Things Your Instructor Wants You to Know About Realtime Writing!”

NCRA member honored by school with Alumni Award of Distinction

RenaNCRA member Rena Nathanail, a broadcast captioner and owner of National Captioning Canada, Calgary, Alberta, was recently honored by her alma mater, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), with its Alumni Award of Distinction. She was recognized in May for her outstanding career as an entrepreneur and her support of the community.

Nathanail’s firm is the largest Canadian-based provider of live closed captioning. With more than 100 employees working from home studios across Canada, the company provides 1,800 hours of closed captioning and realtime transcription services a week for news, sports, political commentary, entertainment, and government proceedings. Their clients include major broadcasters across the country like Rogers, Bell, Shaw and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Alberta Legislature and the House of Commons.

According to the press release announcement, when Nathanail started working in Toronto in the 1980s, the field of closed captioning was a fledgling industry. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had just begun to mandate that broadcast stations provide closed captioning for a certain amount of hours of programming per day as a condition of license. Nathanail, who graduated from NAIT’s court reporting program in 1984, was one of only two realtime closed captioners in Canada working for the sole not-for-profit captioning provider; it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I started the business in 1988, captioned full time at all hours of the day and night until 2001,” said Nathanail. “I hung up my captioning gloves then and focused solely on building the e-business. We have more than 100 employees stationed from Australia to France and everywhere in between,” she added.

Nathanail said she learned she was being nominated for the award by faculty of NAIT’s court reporting program, who she and her firm work closely with.

“We are on the NAIT advisory board, and we were instrumental in having the program changed to the broadcast captioning and court reporting program. We have our own captioners teaching continuing education using their knowledge of closed captioning and work with NAIT and other advocacy groups to set a standard and maintain the quality of closed captioning in Canada,” she said.

“I was honored to have been chosen, but the most important thing was it allowed me to recognize and give credit to my employees that helped build the business and provide such a valuable service to the hard-of-hearing community in Canada,” Nathanail added.

A captioner’s day – what it takes to succeed

A blog posted on March 30 by The Captioning Group based in Calgary, Alberta, and written by NCRA member Susan Hahaj, RPR, provides an inside look at what it’s like to work as a broadcast captioner. Hahaj, who is based in Nevada, Texas, is a broadcast captioner for The Captioning Group.

Read more.

Stenographer captures hearts of players and America during NCAA tournament

ESPNW.Today posted an interview on March 27 with NCRA member Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP, a broadcast captioner from La Mesa, Calif. Christy became an overnight viral sensation last week during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament she was covering, thanks to the curiosity of Nigel Hayes and a couple of other Wisconsin men’s basketball players who thrust her and her profession into the national spotlight.

Read more.

NCRA member listed in Who’s News

The Sheboygan Press posted an article on Nov. 15 in its Who’s New section announcing that NCRA member Michelle Gudex, RMR, CRR, CBC, CCP, Sheboygan, Wis. recently earned the nationally recognized professional certification of Certified Broadcast Captioner. The article was generated by an NCRA-issued press release.

Read more.

New York Times features captioner in Vocations column

The May 31 New York Times interviewed captioner Karla Ray, RMR, CRR, CBC, as part of its Vocations column, a recurring feature that asks people about their jobs. Ray, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, works as a realtime broadcast captioner for Vitac.

“Captioning is a bit like a musician playing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’” Ray told the Times. “Just as that person has to play each note accurately and extremely fast to get it right, we need to capture every word and, when possible, music lyrics or background sounds — at very high speeds.”

Read more.

Captioning corner: From court reporter to captioner, Part II

Have you been practicing your local news, talk shows, and sports? I hope so and that you are still interested in becoming a captioner.

COST

Let’s talk about the costs associated with becoming a captioner. If you think you’d like to become an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee, you will likely incur the expenses of upgrading to captioning software, installing two land lines, and being sure you have reliable Internet. Some employers provide all of the equipment. Some provide everything except steno machines. Employees who work at home must also have reliable Internet.

TRAINING

Your next step should be to seek training. If you are going to be an independent contractor, I recommend attending a boot camp or working with a personal trainer. Some companies provide training, and you can find boot camps and personal trainers online. If you work with a personal trainer, she or he will review your files and help you attain 98.5 percent accuracy. You may be thinking 98.5 percent means a 1.5 percent untran rate, and that you’re already there. This is not related to your untran rate. Your untran rate thinks that the word humanity translated as “hue man tee” is perfectly acceptable because they are real words. In captioning, it is three errors. Use NCRA’s “What is an Error?” as a guide for grading your files. A general guideline is if you write 3,000 words in a half-hour with 30 errors, it is 99 percent accuracy; 60 errors would be 98 percent accuracy.

I hope that you will join the many that have gone before you to find a new, exciting, and rewarding avenue to utilize your skills.