By Deanna Baker
Here is an age-old question: How do you get experience when only experienced people are hired?
A soon-to-be captioner can do many things to prepare for captioning local news. One obvious answer is to attend one of the many captioning training seminars to get hands-on guidance from experienced captioners and to learn more about writing styles, format, hardware, and software.
Even on your own, many things can be done. I can assume that you've watched captions on television and know that the 98.5 percent total accuracy is the absolute minimum of what is expected. I recommend taping a local and national newscast and writing the captions yourself. Then rerun your tape and look at your writing. You are probably the best person to decide if you're ready to go on the air.
Many companies will want to see your stenonotes and text files of various shows you've written before they put you on the air. Frankly, you should be leery of a company that didn't want to see your work beforehand. Before you go on the air, you should also expect to go through a probationary period which would possibly involve writing just an audio feed and sending in your text file for quality control reviews.
As far as dictionary building, some good products are available to help, such as www.dictionaryjumpstart.com or Catapult from www.crrbooks.com. But writing your local and national news nightly will be a huge help in building a mature dictionary for broadcast captioning.
Many companies will probably provide you with word and name lists for the station and the area you'll be covering. The websites of the station and local newspaper are also useful for getting information about current events, developing a familiarity with both the names and words you will need to know, and gaining a general idea of the issues that are important in the station's area. A daily project can be to familiarize yourself with all the local names, terms, rivers, streets, politicians, parks, schools, companies, and sports figures, among other things.
And, of course, the last issue is knowing your hardware and software system well enough to troubleshoot any difficulties, up to and including proper phone lines. There are some online courses that NCRA offers for those issues as well as many other captioning-specific seminars to help you understand what you need in your home office.
The more you can prepare ahead of time, the more comfortable you will be with the rhythm of captioning news and understanding the technical aspects of captions, and the better fit you will be for a captioning company to hire you.
About the author
Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, is from Flagstaff, Ariz. If you have a question about captioning, you can ask her at firstname.lastname@example.org.