Captioning Corner: Local News and the Road to Success

By Deanna Baker

Here are some questions posed to me by a new captioner in the past month.

  1. Is local news captioning the bottom-of-the-barrel type of work for news captioning? It's just so hard because of all the local names, places, etc.

    The answer is ... it depends. Yes, local news is tough but once you're well prepared for it, and if you work for the same station on a regular basis, it makes the show much more enjoyable, although I'd never say "easy." It is the most prevalent kind of work, so probably the easiest kind to get.

    Your attitude will make a big difference. If you think of local news captioning as the bottom of the barrel, it will be. If you know you're helping many people understand their local "po-dunk" news and affecting their lives dramatically, it will take on a different feel. Everyone has their own definition for bottom-of-the-barrel. Mine is golf as I don't even like the sport and find it horribly boring!

     

  2. Is there any way to get visuals on these shows by getting satellites? I sure would like to do that.

    Again, another "depends" answer. With a large seven-foot satellite dish and depending on the type of receiver, I can subscribe to "local" New York city, Los Angeles, and Erie, Pa., stations. I get the local ABC, CBS, NBC, and possibly Fox affiliates, but there are very few as most networks are providing digital newscasts.

    With DirecTV, Dish Network, and other small digital dishes, you most likely are restricted to seeing your own local stations, as their kick is to get you off your cable subscription. So, if you're living in Chicago, you might get surrounding Chicago stations. You won't see, for instance, El Paso or Atlanta stations. Some local stations webcast their news, but you can't use that for audio or captioning verification, unless, of course, they are webstreaming with captions, which is rare. Audio only may be all you can get.

     

  3. What should I do when I'm offered lower rates for some work than what I'm getting right now?

    Well, as a new captioner, it's certainly up to you in terms of what you are willing to accept. I'm confident you're not going on the air at less than the industry standard of 98.5 percent accuracy. Of course, the experience you are getting is priceless: Each new show and every new station teaches you something new or gives you a little more experience. And every little bit helps.

    While work is plentiful these days, a captioning company may hire a "new" captioner at a lower rate than a "seasoned" captioner. Ultimately, what you are willing to work for and what price you put on your quality of work is a personal decision. Then again, if you're "willing" to work for lower rates, those lower rates may stick around.

     

  4. Do you think I should just work for others or try to get my own clients? Is it really worth all the extra stress and work?

    Boy, this is another "it depends" answer. My decision to never have my own clients is pretty simple: I don't want a 365 days a year, 24/7 job. If you contract with a news station, that's what you get. You also have to hire other captioners (as you certainly can't be available 24/7), and deal with schedules, paperwork, technical issues, emergency coverage, troubleshooting, etc. Some people thrive on that. You may want to talk with a caption company owner and see what the pros and cons are in that situation.

     

  5. Have you ever captioned arena football?

    I can't say that I have, but I have thoroughly enjoyed captioning NFL games. For sports captioning, you must pay attention to the game, terminology, teams, routines, and so forth, or it may seem daunting.

    I approach all my captioning jobs just like I did depositions. I will try anything once, but I go in completely prepared with a positive attitude and see where it leads me. I think I can say it's led to a very successful captioning career.

     

  6. If I'm scheduled for a show and call in and master control says "we're not doing that show today" but apparently never told the captioner who "hired" me to cancel so that she could cancel me, do I bill?

    Excellent question -- and with the craziness of shows these days, it's possible this might happen. My first blush answer is, yes, you were booked for a time slot and nobody cancelled, so I would invoice.

    There could be two different scenarios here. One is where the station didn't actually tell the contracting captioning company the show was cancelled, which would then mean the captioning company would invoice for the show. If the station did notify of the cancellation and the captioning company forgot to tell you, the company would then have to go out-of-pocket for that show by paying you, even though the company won't get paid. I see that as a bit of a "learning" experience on the company's part for keeping on top of their business practices.

    The difficulty here is maintaining a good business relationship between you and the captioner or captioning company that hired you. How you want to handle that, either personally or professionally, is up to you. It is best to discuss these issues when you are contacted to cover shows so there are no questions after the fact.


About the Author

Deanna Baker, RMR, is from Flagstaff, Ariz. If you have a question about captioning, you can ask her at dpbaker@mindspring.com.