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Captioning Community

Does Size Matter?

By Amy Bowlen

Which is better? Working for a small or large captioning company? The answer isn't as straightforward as you think.

So, does size really matter?

Hey … we're talking captioning here. "Sex and the City" may have called it quits on HBO, but Carrie Bradshaw hasn't started writing for NCRA … yet.

The question is: When it comes to working for a captioning company, does size matter? Work for a large company? Work for a small company? There's really no right or wrong size. What's important is finding the size that fits you. With clothing, seemingly, large would mean more room, less restrictive, while small would be a tighter fit. Captioning companies, likely, are the opposite.

What defines the size of a captioning company? The most obvious measure is the volume of work. The work is the foundation of the company. The structure necessary to accomplish the work forms the layers on top of the foundation. The complexity of those layers engenders the culture or climate of the company. A small volume of work requires less management, less structure, to fulfill the contractual obligations and maintain that foundation of work - fewer layers. A company with fewer layers and less structure generates a more relaxed climate. A looser fit, so to speak. As the volume increases for a large company, so do the layers above that foundation. More volume translates into more management, more structure, to fulfill the contractual obligations and maintain the work. A multi-layered company evokes a more bridled atmosphere.

It's easy to see how the layers quickly stack up. The more work, the more captioners needed to perform the work. The more captioners needed to perform the work, whether in a single facility, in remote locations around the country, or both, the greater the need for a manager. With a large group of captioners, the skill level will vary significantly among them. A logical solution is to bring on a trainer to even out the skill variance and assure consistent quality. Combine mega captioning hours with mega captioners, and it's going to take a couple of schedulers to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Multiple clients come with very specific preferences and needs. A client services specialist is the perfect liaison between the clients and the operations. Don't forget the technical staff, systems and engineering, administrative personnel and … well, you get the picture.

Get a couple of contracts, and a once small operation suddenly isn't so small. As more clients and more employees converge, a growing company finds the need for increased organization and structure, which means more procedures and more tracking mechanisms. You know the type - logs, forms, follow-up, checks and balances. Right about here is where some people start to feel a little constricted. This is where a larger size begins to feel kind of tight. Before you completely write off the large company option, loosen your collar, take a deep breath, and read a little further.

There are benefits to big, to organization, to structure, to procedures. "Big" translates into variety and choice in the programming you caption. "Organization" and "structure" are actually the people and resources available to assist the captioners. "Procedures" are guidelines set forth to ensure that the clients get exactly what they need by making sure that the captioners know exactly what to do each time they caption a program. "Tracking mechanisms" assure a smooth workflow from beginning to end. Interpretation: full accountability for the clients of the services provided.

Large captioning companies have much to offer captioners and captioners-to-be. For someone who has been dabbling in captioning, a large company could be the step you need to take your career to the next level. For someone sitting on the captioning sidelines, a large company may be the best way for you to enter the game. A few offer the choice of working from either an equipped facility or working from a remote site. Either way, they provide training, technical and on-air support, and the answers to your questions along the way.

With multiple clients and numerous programming hours, the large captioning company generally has more diversification in programming. The client roster likely includes national networks, local affiliates and cable networks, with broadcasts varying from international and domestic news to financial and regional news. One man's news may be another man's entertainment or vice versa. For instance, there's entertainment news, sporting news, legal news, even travel news. News is only the beginning, though. There are dating shows, reality shows, talk shows, nature shows, awards shows, comedy shows, sports shows, music video shows - let's just say a variety of shows.

Learning to caption all these shows might be task enough to satisfy that insatiable desire most court reporters have for an on-going challenge. The topics are scintillating, the people are interesting, the brain stays sharp and the fingers limber, and as with any court reporting job, you walk away with some great stories.

If a long list of programming seems intimidating, overwhelming, something that could quickly swallow you up, the large captioning company has that covered, too. They have staff to train their captioners and support documentation to guide you through the different types of programming. Technical specifications, encoder numbers, host names, correspondent names, show-specific style issues, and special instructions are some of the items included in the documentation.

Having someone to turn to for assistance, advice, encouragement, or simply to vent isn't lost in the large company configuration. If you work in a facility, all of that is likely just outside the control room door, or if you work from your home, you're only a phone call or e-mail away. You've got a team of co-workers, and hopefully a few friends among them, to make the big company feel a little smaller.

If layers give you a sense of security and protection, then a large company may be the perfect fit for you. If you feel squeezed by too many layers, then maybe the small company is the better option. Small, medium or large, whatever the size, no two companies are exactly alike. Talk to some captioners working for different companies and find out what they like and/or dislike about the atmosphere in which they work. After you do your research, then you can decide if, indeed, size does matter.