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August 12, 2014

Broadcast Captioner GIFs

Well, good gracious! My Court Reporting GIF post had quite the reception!

Thank you all so much for the responses. I'm very glad that so many of you could get a kick out of it. I've learned that if there's one thing stenographers love, it's relating to one another. And now many of you non-stenogs can understand our unique career as well. And I shall now give you a glimpse into another facet of stenography: broadcast captioning.

I've been a broadcast captioner for just under two years now, and I love it. There are few careers that are as perfect for me as captioning. I work at home, in my pajamas, watching TV all day. That's what I do with myself anyway, and now I get paid for it.

But don't get me wrong -- captioning is not easy. Next time you watch news or sports, consider how fast the people are talking. We captioners are trying to keep up with that. I'm usually writing between 250 and 300 WPM. Sometimes as high as 330+ WPM, and we're distinguishing between homonyms at that speed, or trying to, which many people can't even do normally.

Well, thank you.

A brief explanation of a broadcast captioner: A broadcast captioner is responsible for providing closed caption text during a live television broadcast. A broadcast captioner usually watches a television broadcast feed live, as it is being sent out to homes and other receivers, and provides real time captioning through the use of a keyboard designed to make shorthand typing easier and more efficient.

And now, let us delve into the life of a captioner through the use of GIFs...

When I tell people I'm a captioner:
My career is super obscure. You've probably never heard of it (hashtag: hipster).

After I've explained what it is I do:
"I didn't know that was a person doing that!"

When I feel the slightest pain in my hands or wrists:
Carpal tunnel syndrome: the natural enemy of the stenographer.

People never understanding my sporadic work schedule:
TV is kind of happening always.

When programs don't take commercial breaks or end when they're suppose to:
I plan bathroom breaks around those commercial breaks!

Waiting for the spelling of a proper noun:
The graphics on shows help us out a lot when it comes to spelling random names, but the audio we are listening to is usually a second or two faster than the TV; therefore, we have to work with a delay.

When a proper noun is so ridiculous I don't even attempt it:
Thank heavens for pronouns.

When people speak with indiscernible accents:
Say what?

When weather people joke about how people hate/love them because of the weather:
This shtick is so overused. Give us some credit. We know you don't control the weather.

Captioning a sport like Tennis:
Easy money. Most of a tennis match is supposed to be silent.

Captioning a sport like hockey:

Captioning something I hate:
My number one hated program is WWE Wrestling. Ugh, so stupid.

When multiple people talk off-camera:
In Canadian programming, we distinguish between the anchors with speaker identifications. If there are multiple people of the same gender talking off-camera, this can become a bit of a guessing game.

Captioning breaking news:
Uh-oh, new stuff that may be unknown to me and which many people may tune in for.

Bracing myself for the sports updates:
A ton of random sports information coming to you at the speed of light! And it's often a bunch of local high school sports. Do you know what's going on with Saskatoon high school basketball? Me neither.

When a bunch of numbers are mentioned:
You mess up one number in a series and you've screwed up the whole meaning. Thank you to those who just round the numbers to easy figures.

Captioning sad stories about adults:
Pretty sad.

Captioning sad stories about kids:
Very, really sad.

Captioning sad stories about animals:
I can't see the TV through my tears.

Never knowing the weather in my own city:
I'm often captioning shows for cities and provinces other than my own. As a result, I can be very informed on, say, Windsor, Ontario, but have no clue what's going on in Calgary. Because of that, and the fact that I am a shut-in, antisocial hermit who works from home (and likes it that way), the 2013 Calgary flood came as a surprise to me. "Oh, it's been raining lots?"

Being super informed about everything:
But, in terms of national/international news, I am ridiculously well-informed.
"Have you heard about the incident in Syria where--"
"Did you hear about that wild fire in--"
"Did you know that in Israel--"

When I have an amazing brief for something:
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, you say? Well, let me get that with one stroke.

Let me explain, when stenographers write words, we typically aren't doing it letter by letter like keyboard typing. It's a lot more like piano chords and focusing on the phonetics rather than the spelling of a word. To be able to write faster and more efficiently, we come up with "briefs". Briefs make it possible to write complicated, long, or frequent words with just a stroke or two. For example, I can write the words "federal government" in one stroke: F*G, which looks like this:
(In steno language, TP = F)

When I didn't think there was a chance a word would translate but did:
The computer program we use takes our gibberish steno language (i.e. F*G = federal government) and translates it to English. To do this, we have our own "dictionaries" for our personal writing styles (F*G may not mean "federal government" for other stenogs; it could mean "Freaks and Geeks" -- great show). Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by some words that end up translating due to the fact that, at some point, I put them in my dictionary. Adversely, sometimes very simple, obvious words aren't in my dictionary and, therefore, do not translate (which then remains as our gibberish steno language).

When Brief It saves my bacon:
Brief It is a function on our software. If I'm being an idiot and writing a word(s) inefficiently, it will either remind me that I have a better way to write this or come up with something on the spot to make my life much easier.
Brief It: Paige, you're writing "infectious mononucleosis" in eight strokes, like a dufus. How about this one-stroke option?
Paige: Why thank you, Brief It. What would I ever do without you?

When Brief It doesn't give me good advice:
However, sometimes Brief It doesn't come through and I'm stuck with "finger spelling" (more like keyboard typing) some long name that I didn't have entered in my dictionary until I can come up with something better during a commercial.

When that one word I can never write correctly is said:
The words "electrocution" and "electrocuted" seem to be my nemeses. A good brief for them, which I'll actually remember, eludes me.

Needing to pee during a show:
No! Don't do that story about Niagara Falls!

Going to the bathroom during a commercial break:
Sweet relief!

When I have to write song lyrics:
Ever tried to figure out every single word in Informer by Snow and then write them in real-time? I have.
It didn't go so well.

When people are talking way too fast to even consider throwing in punctuation:
You want punctuation? Tell the crazies on TV to slow down!

When I'm trying to retain what was said so as to not drop words:
Obviously, sometimes we just can't keep up with the speakers. But we try our darndest.

When someone phones or rings the doorbell while I'm writing:
How dare you?

When people start cussing off-camera:
The cameras may have turned off, but my audio line hasn't, potty mouths.

When anchors/reporters make a bad joke:

When stations take forever to do a modem test:
Some stations require us to test our equipment with theirs before the show starts to make sure everything is in working order. Some stations are more timely than others.

When a station plays tone:
Stations will sometimes play tone on our audio line for various reasons, and it's often deafening.

When I realize I've been using the wrong caption placement for who knows how long:
Different stations have different caption placements (bottom, middle, top), and on top of that, some stations will have multiple placements for different segments (i.e. news is middle, weather is top).

When I'm writing and breaking news comes up:
Pretty hard to stay focused when crazy news is breaking. Just a couple days ago I was captioning when the news of Robin Williams's death broke. Luckily, it was right as the program was ending. So I just trailed off, rather ungracefully, as I digested the news and began the mourning period.

When there's only boring news:
There can be some pretty slow news days.

When the modem won't connect:
As always, technology can be finicky. If a modem (or internet) connection cannot be made (for whatever unknown reason) we can't get captions to the TV. Pretty big problem.

Made-up words or modern jargon:
Do you realize how difficult you make my life by saying something "trendy" like "staycation"?

Trying to avoid sneezing during a show:
Sneezing is trouble. A sneeze attack resulted in my most hilarious captioning mishap to date:
(Acutal Excerpt)
(Don't worry, I saved it at the end there...)

When I have an itch while writing:
I have to be speedy with my itching, lest I miss any captions.

How I feel driving a car now:
Court reporting and then captioning has given me a pretty grim view on driving in those death traps called "automobiles". I wonder if I've written a news segment that didn't mention a car accident.

When people on the news are overly cheery in the morning:
It's 5 a.m. Stop smiling!

When names are spelled ridiculously:
This makes life for a captioner so difficult.
Mcynyzy? Alxandyr? Madysyn? Evyrytt? Seriously, people!? GET THOSE Ys OUT OF THERE!

When it's the anchors I like:
Yay! TV fun time.

When it's the anchors I don't like:
Ugh. It's the Speedy Gonzales of the news world.

When the reporter could not have picked a noisier place:
Really? You had to do your story right next to a blender?

When they talk about news that I'm interested in:
What's that about free doughnuts in Calgary?

Those days where I just can't seem to write well:
You have forsaken me, fingers.

Those days when I am a speed demon and can do nothing wrong:
You're welcome, TV viewers.

When my colleagues help me out:
I work with some pretty great people who are always so willing to help out.

When a tremendously bad error gets through the cracks:
All captioners live in fear that something completely inappropriate will get through to live TV 
(i.e child pepperoni!).
At least it's good for a laugh (after a little panic attack): Exhibit A, Exhibit B
(warning: some of the content in these links is a little inappropriate).

But as bad as our human errors can be, it's nothing compared to computer-generated captions.
Thank you, Rhett and Link, for highlighting the deficiencies of automated closed captions through your Caption Fail videos, and thereby validating our careers as broadcast captioners. 

May those evil robots (computers) ever be awful at understanding the idiosyncrasies of human speech, thereby protecting this unique and specialized career. And may all of you who were unaware of broadcast captioners before now join us in celebrating our successes and being amused by our fails.


  1. Bahaha Paige, there you go again killing it with all your gifs. Thanks for the little lessons in stenography! I've always wondered how those funky little typing machines work!

  2. Asolutely intelligent humour and educational for the public!

  3. Roman is so confused at why I am laughing at the computer.

    1. Ha ha. I'm sure he's laughed at funny things on the computer before. It shouldn't be that bewildering.

  4. Absolutely brilliant! Hits every nail on the head - can't wait to share with non-captioners. Thx!!!
    Sonia W.

  5. Absolutely brilliant! Hits every nail on the head - can't wait to share with non-captioners. Thx!!!
    Sonia W.

  6. Love it! I <3 .GIF posts, especially those that are as spot-on accurate as this one!

  7. This is so accurate and sooo funny! I can't stop laughing or looking at it over and over. Hits it all, and what a great explanation for noncaptioners or nonstenogs!

  8. Nice job. I'm curious ... do you (and most broadcast captioners) work in a freelance capacity -- and, if so, individually or through an agency -- or do you work as an employee of the TV broadcaster?