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Reporting is I.T.!

Judicial reporting, Closed captioning, Communication Access Realtime Translation

  • Court trials
  • Depositions of expert witnesses
  • Newscasts
  • Sporting events
  • College lectures
  • Business meetings

What do these have in common?

They all are events where court reporters capture information and convert it into digital and readable form.

Whether it's for attorneys with a court case or for someone who is deaf to follow the local news, reporters use unique skills and specialized technology to make spoken information more useful and accessible.

A Career in Judicial Reporting

In their traditional role as the guardians of the record of court proceedings, court reporters are front and center at controversial and highly publicized cases - criminal trials, millionaire divorces, government corruption trials, lawsuits against everyone from rock groups to elected officials to ballplayers.

Most of the estimated 60,000 court reporters in the United States work in court or as freelancers hired to report pretrial depositions. Their job has two parts. First, reporters capture the words spoken by everyone during the proceeding. And second, they prepare a transcript of the proceeding. The transcript helps safeguard everyone's rights in the legal process. When litigants want to exercise their right to appeal an unfavorable decision, they will rely on the transcript to provide an accurate record of what transpired during their case.

Reporters use computers and a specialized machine called a stenotype to do their job. The stenotype enables reporters to write words by their sound rather than how they are spelled letter by letter. This allows them to write much faster than they can on a standard computer keyboard. A technology called computer-aided transcription, or CAT, electronically links the stenotype to a computer, which translates the reporter's notes into English text that can be researched, corrected, telecommunicated, stored on CD-ROM or other computer media, integrated with a videotape - or simply printed out in a conventional or condensed-format transcript.

CAT makes the work of preparing a transcript easier and faster. More important, the computer-based transcript is a powerful tool for the attorneys and an aid to the judge. They can search the transcript for references to specific names or words that come up during the proceeding.

Court reporters are taking their skills and technology to another level by providing instant transcripts on computer screens as the trial or deposition is going on. Known as "realtime," this process allows court reporters to convert their stenographic notes into English text instantly. The text is then displayed on computer monitors or projection screens for viewing by larger groups. It is especially helpful in providing deaf or hearing-impaired people with the same legal benefits as hearing persons.

Captioning Careers

People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can see what is said through realtime translation. Specially trained reporters use this same basic technology to provide captions of live television programs such as news, emergency broadcasts, sports events, the Oscars and the Emmys, and other programs. Captions allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing - and there are 28 million of them in the U.S. alone -- to follow, understand and enjoy TV programs. This is especially important in times of weather disasters or national emergencies.

Captioners are increasingly in demand as more TV programming is captioned. Rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission will require that by 2006 all new TV programming must be captioned.

An offshoot of closed captioning has enabled court reporters to work as captioned radio experts, using their technology to simulcast talk shows, news and sports onto the Internet or an online service. "Listeners" with an Internet connection and the appropriate hardware can also receive the full text of the program's audio.

Communication Access Realtime Reporting

Reporters' ability to transfer spoken words to readable text instantly enables them to provide specialized services to deaf and hard of hearing people. Some reporters work with deaf or hard-of-hearing students in high schools and colleges. They attend classes and translate the lectures and classroom discussions into readable text so students with hearing problems can follow and participate. This service is called communication access realtime reporting, or CART. CART services are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the demand for CART services exceeds the capacity to provide them

The same process allows CART reporters to provide more personalized services as well. CART reporters provide services for deaf and hard of hearing people in churches, at weddings, in business settings, in doctors' offices - just about every where.


Not surprisingly, with the growth of online conferences, reporters have found their services in demand on the Internet. They provide realtime reporting of sales meetings, press conferences, product introductions and technical training seminars and instantly transmit them to all parties involved via computers. As participants speak into telephones or microphones, a court reporter translates their words in realtime. The words appear on everyone's computers, accompanied by any relevant documents or graphics.

Unlike speech recognition systems that have high error rates and are unable to comprehend multiple speakers, reporters write accurately at speeds in excess of 200 words per minute. In addition, their technology enables participants to receive text via the Internet, an online service or their own intranet, all without any special hardware.


Scopists are hired by judicial reporters to edit and proofread transcripts while the reporters work in court or take depositions. The scopist takes a rough copy of the proceeding - whether it is on disk, has been sent as an e-mail file or is simultaneously displayed on a computer connected to the court reporter's machine - and reads the stenotype-to-English translation to check for any "mistranslates," which are homonyms ("here" instead of "hear") or other words such as proper names or technical terms that were not in the court reporter's computer dictionary. Scopists make any necessary edits, ensure the transcript is in the requested formats and send the transcript back to the court reporter. In the case of simultaneous display, scopists make corrections or highlight any questions right there as the transcript scrolls by on the computer screen.

Scoping is an ideal career for a person who needs or prefers to work at home. All the work is completed using computer software that can easily be transferred via online services.

Rapid Data Entry

Hospitals, insurance companies and many other businesses have mounds of data that need to be entered into their computer systems. Using the stenotype for word processing is significantly faster than normal typing. While very fast typists can input text at about 100 words per minute, persons trained as court reporters can input text much more quickly - 200 words per minute and faster. With additional grammar checking programs on the court reporter's computer-aided transcription system, editing time is reduced and jobs can be turned around even faster.

Medical or legal transcriptionists work with material that is not taken as it is spoken, but rather dictated onto audiocassettes or dictation systems. The transcriber plays back the material and transcribes it into text for medical or legal reports. Persons with basic court reporter skills, a CAT system and speed faster than typists can enter the material faster than non-steno transcribers.

Who should become a court reporter?

Reporting educators say prospective students should be intelligent, disciplined, motivated, computer-literate and have above-average language skills. Court reporting students also need to be able to meet deadlines, work well under pressure and concentrate for long periods of time.

A career as a judicial reporter, captioner or CART reporter requires two to four years of technical training. Judicial reporters in some states also must pass a certification test. Reporting students should expect to do college level work. The level of intellect needed to complete a court reporting program is equal to that needed to earn a college degree. In fact, court reporting students learn a variety of subjects that are part of many different post-secondary schools - including civil and criminal law, grammar, languages, legal terminology, anatomy, medical terminology, computer technology and keyboarding.

One of the most essential things to learn as a court reporting student is machine shorthand. Once a student has mastered the theory, he or she will spend a majority of his or her time concentrating on speed and accuracy. In order to graduate, students typically need to write at speeds of 225 words per minute and in some states must pass certification exams that test written knowledge and speed.


Income varies depending on the type of reporting jobs and experience of the individual reporter. The average income for judicial reporters is about $62,000. Earning potential will vary from place to place but often is limited only by the amount of time reporters are willing to work. Official court reporters earn a salary and a per-page fee for transcripts. Freelance deposition reporters are paid per job and receive a per-page fee for transcripts.

Captioners earn a salary and typically can receive from $40,000 to $75,000 per year, depending on experience and the number of hours worked. Many live TV programs take place in the evenings and on weekends, so captioners can expect to work nontraditional hours. Also, technology allows many captioners to work from home.

The role of reporters continues to evolve - from serving as information managers in complicated trials, to capturing depositions and business proceedings in digital format, to assisting millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing persons through advanced captioning technology.

The opportunities in the reporting and captioning field are plentiful. Court and deposition reporters will continue to work within the legal community as it expands in the future, as well as develop their role as information processors and managers in the business and multimedia communities. This career allows persons to choose whether or not to be their own bosses, as many court reporters work as independent contractors or own their own agencies.

Court Reporting Facts

  • Charles Dickens' early days as a court reporter in London's Parliament became a subplot in David Copperfield.
  • The court reporters in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial took down more than one million lines of trial testimony.
  • Actor Harvey Keitel began his professional career as a court reporter at Century Reporting Company in New York City.
  • The federal judge who later became the first commissioner of baseball began his career as a court reporter.
  • Actresses Michelle Pfeiffer and Kim Delaney once studied to be court reporters.
  • Court reporters have taken depositions or court proceedings of multitudes of the rich and (in)famous: Elvis Presley, Bill Cosby, Joan Collins,
  • Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Sinatra, Isley Brothers, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Muhammad Ali, Alex Haley, Michael Bolton, Yoko Ono, Michael Jackson …

National Court Reporters Association

The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) is a 16,000-member nonprofit organization representing the judicial reporting and media captioning professions. Members include official court reporters, deposition reporters, broadcast captioners, providers of realtime communication access services for deaf and hard of hearing people, and others who capture and convert the spoken word into information bases and readable formats.

NCRA is committed to serving its members, the public, the bench and the bar through programs that promote excellence in court reporting. NCRA's continuing education program is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, an organization designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency.

For more information about the reporting profession, visit

National Court Reporters Association
12030 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191-3808
Phone: (800) 272-NCRA (6272) o Fax: (703) 391-0629