You’re a What? What is That?
I’ve been a captioner for close to a year now. When I meet people, and they ask me what I do for a living, trying to explain my job to them can be really hard, people just don’t get it. They just have no clue what I’m talking about. So hopefully I can explain what and how awesome captioning is, how hard our job really is, and how captioners make it possible for everyone out there be able to enjoy television.
Most people think I do this:
But in reality, I really make these words come up:
And I do it with a steno machine like this:
When people finally get what it is I do I usually get this reaction:
Then they think I just sit there and look pretty
Once people figure out that I’m the one that makes the words at the bottom of the screen come up, they almost always assume I get a script ahead of time and I’ve typed it before and I’m just loading it on a computer screen.
As much as I’d love for my job to be that easy, it isn’t. Sometimes I don’t even know what the show is going to be about, all I have is a title and what little I may find online about it. I write it all live, hearing it for the first time, the same as you.
Which can lead to some funny and embarrassing situations.
Newsflash: Captioning bloopers are not something we do on purpose!
Not too long ago, a captioner (not yours truly, thank the Lord) made a fingering error and Eli Manning became “penguin boy.”
Trust me, the captioner didn’t do that for kicks and giggles. These sorts of accidents are terribly embarrassing, and it’s not a question of if a captioner will make a mistake like that, it’s a question of when.
To kind of give you a scenario so you can understand, imagine you’re sitting at home typing on your computer, but at the same time millions of people are standing over your shoulder seeing what you type. You can’t hit backspace, you can’t hit delete. Every mistroke you make, every misspelled word, goes out live and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I know, scary, right?
But that’s what captioners do everyday.
Captioners freak out when you throw out some random off the wall information
Not too long ago, it made headlines that a reporter in England correctly pronounced the 58 letter name of a Welsh village.
Different keystrokes are defined as specific words are in our dictionary. Some captioners’ dictionaries can have over 250,000 words entered. But if a word isn’t in that dictionary, it’s going to come up as gibberish, not the right word.
Remember what I said earlier that we don’t know what topics TV shows will be about? Captioners woke up and started to work that morning, never knowing that that village was going to be making the headlines. Since it’s not a popular place, I can bet you it wasn’t in most captioners’ dictionaries. Of course, after that first airing, captioning Facebook groups lit up and we all added that sucker to our dictionary just in case anyone happened to say it.
Think it’s tough to say? It’s even tougher to write. It was big news for a few days, and it seemed like everyone on television wanted to say it. Live. On air. Over. And. Over.
Not cool, ya’ll. Not cool.
Yes, I’m a Captioner! Have your People Call My People
Captioning is a really unknown career, but some celebrities have been putting us in the spotlight lately. Heck, we actually made the news there for a couple of weeks. Remember Nigel Hayes during the 2015 March Madness? He put stenography on the map.
All ya’ll were like, “cool, what’s a stenographer?” And all of us are over here like, “finally, somebody actually acknowledged our existence!”
So what do you have to do to be a captioner?
Well, first you have to graduate from a court reporting and captioning school, which means writing at least 225 words per minute. But even 225 isn’t fast enough for captioning. Pay attention to how fast people talk on TV. TV personalities can speak up to 300 words per minute. And captioners have to write every word of it, and must be 99% accurate at the same time.
Read more about how captioners get those captions from their brain to the TV ===>
But not everybody who graduates from court reporting school can pass the accuracy tests needed to become a captioner. It’s tough to make the cut. I like to call captioning the Navy SEALS of stenography.
A Day in the Life of a Captioner
So now that you know what a captioner does and what it takes to be one, I’m going to take you inside a day in the life of a realtime captioner.
TV is on 24 hours a day, so I can work some funky hours. Today my first show started at 6am. I was feeling a little lazy today, so this is what I wore to work:
You didn’t think I’d really let you see a picture of me in my bathrobe, did you? But in case you were wondering, yes, I do work at home. Most captioners do.
Before I ever start working though, I always get up early enough to check the headlines for any breaking news overnight so I can add people’s names or place names to my dictionary so (hopefully) I won’t have any surprises. (Like that Welsh village!)
This particular morning, I was doing cut ins for a station out in California. A cut in is usually local weather and news that is aired during national shows such as “The Today Show.” Think of when Al Roker hands it off saying “…now here’s a look at what’s happening in your neck of the woods” and it goes to the local weather man. I then write what the local newscaster says.
Here I am writing said cut in. LIVE I might add 😉
Now that that’s over, it’s time to get dressed. (I can’t be a slob all day!) I’ve got some time to kill before I go on air next, but that doesn’t mean I can sit around at home and veg. I have a lot of work to do!
This weekend, I am scheduled to caption a college football game.
I know you’re probably thinking, cool, she gets paid to watch football! Sign me up for that job!
Well, hold your horses.
Captioning football, or any sport for that matter, is a lot of work. Watching football for you involves sitting on your plush couch, eating, relaxing and, more importantly, going to the bathroom when the urge hits you.
Yes, I *technically* get paid for watching a football game. But there’s a lot of behind the scenes prep. First off, I have to add every player’s name, plus the coaching staff, the announcers, any outstanding past players on the team just in case they mention them, and the name of the stadium to my dictionary so I can try to avoid a mistake like the penguin boy episode.
Most college football teams have more than 100 players on their roster. That’s a lot of names! Take a look at the list of names I have to enter. And this is just ONE TEAM.
Oh, and the bathroom thing? Well, I can’t just go whenever I feel like it. If I just cannot wait until my programming is over, I have to go during the commercial. I can now pee in 30 seconds or less, can you?
Oh, and if you need to do something more complicated and time consuming in the bathroom than that? Yeah, well, that’s just not an option. Sorry, gotta wait till the show’s over.
I can work weird hours
I don’t work a regular eight or 12 hour shift like most people do. Today I had a couple of hours’ worth of shows during the morning, but I don’t have any shows until 7 pm tonight. So after my prep was done, I did some laundry, went to the store, and did some other mundane household stuff until 7:00. So in total I did six hours of programming today. Not too shabby!
Which brings me to….
When you’re at home on the weekends, or off of work on a holiday what do you want to do? Yep, watch TV. But it’s the law that all programming in the US must be captioned, so that means me and all my fellow captioners have to work so the deaf and hard of hearing can enjoy programming, too.
So that means we work in the wee hours of the morning, on the weekends, and every holiday. So far this year, I have worked during Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and I’ll be working on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s. I don’t mind though, I love my job.
So if you ever run into a captioner, thank them! We work hard and sacrifice a lot to help everyone enjoy TV. Because, remember, captioners do it live!
Captioning is Cool Steno Keyboard MugsFunny Captioning Quote for Captioners T-ShirtCaptioning is Cool Steno Keyboard ShirtI’m a Captioner Browsing History Mug
Wow….I had no idea who did the closed captioning. I find your article on What Does a Closed Captioner Do fascinating. I didn’t even know they had a school for this. Thanks for sharing this information. What a cool job you have as a Closed Captioner!
This is truly awesome!
wow, I had no idea that you work live. So now I know a captioner. Cool!
Are you with US too yet? CCAC is the place to be :-). Great blogpost. Will try to re-blog it. And…for us, hundreds of citizen captioning advocates (consumers) we realize all to frequently that your opening line is too very true – no one seems to know what “captioning” is and it’s not only for TV as you know – for all media (videos, webinars, and more online) and for live events too. Cheers, ccacaptioning.org
I’m so glad you found it helpful! Captioning permeates everyone’s lives, but no one knows how or who does it. I’ve captioned many webinars, telecons, and city and county commission meetings. Captioners are everywhere!
Great post and great read. I used to do closed captioning BUT offline, plus a tiny bit of local online news captioning WITH a qwerty keyboard! It resulted in no penguin boy moments, more like “eh, nothing’s coming out” moments. Silly to think it can even be achieved on a qwerty.
Thank you for reading. I imagine it wouldn’t be as easy to make a mistake being an offline captioner, but that’s probably a good thing!
Captioning has been the biggest miracle of my life with the exception of my cochlear implant, hubby, children and grandchildren. It’s right up there, wouldn’t you say. I didn’t watch TV at all in the 70s and 80s since I didn’t like blasting every one out of the house. Being a member of HLAA, and a long time hearing loss advocate I have so much admiration for the work you and others do. Thank you!
Your words mean so much to me! When I’m writing, I know it’s going out to millions, but I never think about the individual. Thank you for your appreciation!
I know you work hard but are captioneers aware of how often either the network or local station messes up the captions. I have to use captions and I cannot count the times the captions have just stopped or did not start until half the program was over.the local stations blame the networks. The networks blame the cable provider or the local stations and the cable Providers blame the network or local stations.
Yes, we are aware. Trust me, when we notice captions aren’t going out, we freak out. As soon as I notice, I call my company, and we try to figure out the problem as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of technical and electronical things that go into getting captions from my fingers to the rest of the world, so sometimes it can take a bit to troubleshoot. Encoders, decoders, internet connections, dropped modems, when these malfuction (plus a whole lot of other things I probably don’t know about) it can cause captions to stop.
Also each TV is different, and if you always experience this, like it sounds, maybe try another TV. Each TV had a decoder which brings CC to your screen. It doesn’t matter the cost of your TV. An expensive one could have a cheap one, and a cheap TV can have a great one. Weather is also a factor in how you’re receiving CC.
Hi there. Great info. Would you mind sharing pay info? Thx
Because of my company’s policy, I really can’t really give you specifics. But I will tell you that my starting pay as a captioner was comparable to what I made as a court reporter. I consider the pay is very good.
$75 an hour. Anyone that takes less is lowering the standard of captioning.
I’m really proud of you for doing such a wonderful job that helps others to be able to hear what is going on in the world.
Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂
Where can I learn court reporting or becoming a cationier and learning rhe machine?
The National Court Reporters Association would be the first place to check for a certified school in your state. Court Reporting and Captioning at Home is a good online program, too.
Beautifully produced story! Bravo!
Thanks so much!
Brilliantly done! Thank you.
Thanks so much for communicating what we do in this profession in such a great way! That’s my work life exactly too!
I tried to think of every question I get asked and every assumption people usually have. Thanks so much for reading! 🙂
Appreciate the work you all do, but so often it is just horrible and have to ask what can be done to make it better in the future? It is unfair for the deaf/Deaf community to receive such poor communication whenever there is a emergency or breaking news story. There were times I’ve been involved in a conversation about breaking news and due to poor captioning, I have completely misunderstood the story. Not acceptable! Surely something can be done differently in the future?
I’m not sure if you’re referring to the captioning content, or garbled captions. If it’s content, please remember we are only human, and we will make errors. In the case of breaking news, it’s just that. Breaking news. We have no forewarning of what just happened. A lot of times, it includes foreign names, which are not in our dictionary. City names and places not in our dictionary. And more often than not, the news never breaks away to go to a commercial so we can have a few precious seconds to look things up to see how they’re properly spelled and enter them into our dictionary. Another note, sometimes the breaking news can go on for several hours with no break, and fatigue starts to set in. Imagine typing for three continuous hours with no break, our hands get tired 🙂 Please be assured that captioners do the best we can with the information we’re provided.
Also, please make sure to complain to your local station. Sometimes it is transmission errors, but some stations are just “putting a warm body in the seat” to provide captions. They are going with the lowest cost and totally ignoring quality standards. Unless the end consumers complain, they will continue to do so. Some stations hire entry level (as in we’ll train you), and it is not even coming close to meeting the quality standards!
I am a captioner, and yes, I will make mistakes, but I write at 99.8% accuracy most of the time. On my local station, which is in a big market, they have decided to use an in-house system — on the days I’ve watched, they are not even at 75% accuracy. The station has decided that I guess the news is not important enough to be accurate. Oh, but they do use an outside professionally certified company to provide captions for the sports. So I guess they’re telling viewers that sports are more important than news. 🙁
So if you see bad captions, complain! If you see good captions, let the station know that, too, and how much it’s appreciated!
It’s a shame that captions comes down to a dollar. We have lost a particular network to someone who lowballed the contract. I’ve watched the captions since and they are horrible. Even my local news I think they load the teleprompter that the reporters are reading because of the way it reads and when something unexpected happens there are no captions or they’re wrong.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. 🙂
Can I get you to caption your short video? LOL! Seriously, though, I am profoundly deaf and was really excited when the closed captioning system came into existence. It does drive me nuts when you guys flub, but I truly do appreciate everything ya’ll do for us that use CC. Please thank whomever invented the CC devices for watching a movie at the theater, I was finally able to enjoy an animated motion picture with my daughter recently!!
Believe it or not, I don’t know how to add captions to a youtube video! LOL I’ll have to figure that out. I’m so excited and happy for you that you were able to go the movies with your daughter. It must be so difficult not being able to enjoy little things most of us take for granted. PS. It drives me nuts when I flub too! 🙂
Thank you for this “sneak peak” into the life of a captionist! I am Deaf myself and this reminds me how fortunate I am to have any access at all to content on TV. As I am grateful for the access, I do catch myself complaining about captioning on YouTube. Then again, we’ve come a long way to get the access we have now. So thank you for your work and thanks to all the captionists out there!
I’m so glad you liked my post. As for youtube, I’m not sure how that works when it comes to captions. But I’m glad you can enjoy television and watch all your favorite shows! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It really means a lot 🙂
YouTube and online, by no law yet, can have cc produced with auto CC, meaning a live Captioner is not writing it. It’s like an auto voice text by a computer with a ton of mistakes. They need to use a live captioner. 🙂
With an error rate of less than 1%, a captioner would never CC a show as terribly as some think. There has to be another issue going on.
Wow! Thank you very much for this precious information. I just started on You Tube and online Closed Captioning last year but there are not many clients here in our country Kenya, and not many people like to outsource from our country too. I will keep the hope alive. I am so passionate about both transcription and Closed Captioning and this article has been very useful. My passion too help the deaf and less privileged is what drives me.
The mental load is seriously intense for a live captioner. Typing phonetically is one thing (incredible and astonishing), but how do you manage say,
– remembering all the new/old entries in the your dictionary?
– when you can’t understand someone’s heavy accent?
– compensate for slangs or obscure urban dictionary terms?
– when words sound alike such as “To. Too. Two.” Is it confusing remembering the correct keys?
– when people talk too fast, that you missed a part in their speech, but they are probably nervous and talking even quicker, and you can’t remember what they said before, and if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss the next thing they say….
– If someone says something you do not have on your dictionary, can you add new terms on the spot? Or do you post edit them for court reporting?
– When there are multiple speakers who may overlap each other in speech due to the heated debates/conversations? (Do you have a captioner for each speaker?)
Is there anything that you can think of, that would help ease the mental intensity during your job?
Wow, Gabby, thanks for those insightful questions! I’m always glad to know that people are so curious about how captions really work. But if I answered each of your questions in a comment, it would go on forever. I get asked the same questions when people meet me and find out what I do. 🙂 I’m going to write a blog post that answers each of your questions. I’ll post it here in the comments so you can find it. Also, follow Stenofabulous on Facebook and I’ll post it there, too.
I just stumbled across this article in a Facebook post. I want to thank you for what you do. Close captioning has greatly improved the quality of my life. Lost almost all of my hearing at age two. Spent most of my early years just guessing at actors, news anchors, etc., were saying. Usually wrong guesses too. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t think about the blessing of close captioning being available to me.
Oh, wow. I’m so appreciative. It must have been hard to get information in the days before captioning. I’m so happy you left me a comment 🙂
Know this post is old but I am trying to learn more how cc can be added to a YouTube live stream. What is the machine used and how does it work? Can people be hired to cover a YouTube live stream and how would that work? So many questions and I don’t know where to find the answers.
Yes, live captioners can caption to YouTube Live with the same equipment we use to caption to TV, Zoom and other platforms.
How does it work? what is the equipment and how does this work remotely? I’m trying to understand it all. and/or…what are the fees for live cc’ing?
I caption using a steno machine and captioning software that can connect to Youtube so captions can appear real time. Are you looking for someone to caption your Youtube live streams?