From the TCG Archives (June 2005)

Throwing it back to the early 2000’s, these posts take a look at the more recent history of stenography and broadcast captioning.  A lot has changed in 10 to 15 years – let’s take a look at where the industry was heading and how it’s moving forward in 2019. 


What was IP-based captioning like in 2005?  Who utilized this type of service, and how did captioners properly prepare for this new field?  This article from Robin M. Williams takes us inside a captioner’s mind and answers those questions for us.

The Art of Internet Captioning 

Well, if you’ve run this stupid machine post-school for as long as I have, you’ll understand what would push someone like me to the next frontier of captioning.  1971 is a long time ago, and my hands and arms are reminding me every day how long ago it really is.

Dictated notes, Stenorettes, typists, typewriters and carbon-copy paper, whoa!  Makes me reminisce about my first pair of roller-skates that had a key to tighten the metal brackets around the bottom of my shoes to attach the skates.


Internet Captioning - roller skates


The advent of computer-aided transcription changed the life of a court reporter for sure, opened up the field of captioning, and changed the way deaf folks view television.  I just had to be a part of it all.

A friend of mine bought captioning software and told me she was going to be a captioner.  She hadn’t used her software professionally yet, but she was ready.

Well, marketing was definitely a skill I had been born with, so the first client I tackled was . . . Amway.  I know, I know.  Don’t laugh.  I went back to my friend and said, “Well, you’ve got the software and no clients; I have a client and a gig but no software.  Are you ready?”

The Convention That Changed Everything

Off we went to a convention center with her software, my client and both of us staring at each other saying, “What have we gotten into?”  But we did get into it and that’s where we stayed, all geared up and ready to look at another avenue of captioning.  Broadcast captioning was the next arena.

Didn’t take long for the word to get out that there were two captioners in Washington State looking for work, and they’d actually done convention captioning.  By then I’d purchased my own software.  I kept captioning in convention centers almost every month for years, and I was broadcast captioning daily as well.


Internet Captioning - calendar

Times Must Change

But then 9-11 hit, and so did age 50.  I was really tired of the grind at the airports, and conventions had cancelled right and left after the terrorist attack.  I kind of liked being home all the time, too, so I hung up my convention career, leaving it to the younger, more adventurous ladies and gents with a taste for endorphin pumping.

Due to a staph infection that went unchecked, post-staphylococcal reactive arthritis got hold of my body, and any captioning became impossible for months.  I’d never be able to return to full-time broadcast, but I truly loved my work.

I happened to call a friend who had just started a new captioning agency and said I was looking for part-time work, and that I couldn’t work full time.  To my surprise she said, “How’s Monday through Friday, seasonal, day work only?” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  It turned out that her captioning agency specialized in just one thing: Internet captioning.


Internet Captioning - media


Well, I’d done a fair amount periodically for NASA regarding the Mars Land Rover, so I wasn’t a novice.  She was handling many different types of internet broadcasts, but mostly financial calls, those quarterly reports by the big boys like Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, etc., and because I’m a stock-market junkie, I was in heaven.

Internet Captioning – Rules I learned

Well, now, internet captioning is an animal all its own color and texture, and a lot of captioners out there kind of “honked the moose,” as it were, because they figured, “Heck, I’ll never be a deposition or court reporter again, so I can put all my dictionary entries in capital letters.”

Rule No. 1:

Never say “never.”  Industries change and evolve.


Internet captioning - stop


Rule No. 2:

Never put entries in your dictionary in all caps unless it’s an all cap acronym.  Internet captioning, unlike broadcast captioning, is done in upper- and lowercase, just like depositions.

So if a speaker for Trident Apple Hauling Truck Lines starts talking about Trident Apple, Trident Apple Hauling, Trident Truck or Trident Truck Lines, we build our dictionary with anticipation that they may do that.

We are also very versed in forcing a capital letter just in case they say they will sign a contract with American Truck Lines. Sure “American truck lines” will show up, you had no idea they had a contract in the hopper, and it isn’t going to hurt the viewer to see it show up in lowercase, but we do try to make it pretty.

Finger spelling is really important as well. One analyst is Cai Von Ruhmor, and I had the full name in my dictionary.  But then the corporation putting on the financial call got mighty friendly and kept answering every question Von Ruhmor asked, by preceding the answer with “Cai.”  Well, I had to finger spell it to make it look good.


Rule No. 3:

Internet captioning is verbatim, just like deposition work.


Internet Captioning - Law


Rule No. 4:

Good research before an internet call is your best friend.


Rule No. 5:

Never lose your verbatim skills.  Your work is compared to the taped event.  Yes, we DO mishear, yes, we DO make mistakes, and yes, we sometimes DON’T hear due to background noise, an occasional situation that the people you work for understand.  In this situation, we put [indiscernible] and move on.  Rolls right off the tip of your fingers once you get the hang of it.

We also use our internet recording software to record the live call, and if we have a blowout because someone drank too much coffee and their tongue is in hyperdrive, we write a flag stroke to let us jump back to that location later and check the faux pas.


Internet Captioning - Internet code


Rule No. 6:

Be flexible in your writing skills.  It did ball me up in my bloomers at first when I was instructed to write all acronyms without periods, including U.S., and put every number, even one through nine, as an actual number.

Example:  “I have 3 reasons I like this.”  Why, you ask, would you do that?  Well, in the case of analysts reviewing a financial call they’ve participated in, numbers jump out at them, printed words become a blur.  It gives them a reference point on the transcript to quickly find something that was said.

This situation varies between client, but just like writing for different broadcast captioning companies, each company has their own style.


Rule No. 7:

Lastly, use a researcher for your calls.  It’s a dream come true.  $10 per financial call is a drop in the bucket when you consider research time.

After the financial call, unless the company you are working for has backgrounders correcting your work as you write, before it goes out over the Internet, you will spend 15 minutes doing a quick cleanup and then send the file to the client.


Internet captioning isn’t the last frontier.  There is never a last frontier.  Be flexible and adventurous.


From TCG’s 2005 Archives.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Internet Captioning

  1. Thank you so much for your tips here and your insights. Captioning is an evolving ever-changing industry with so many facets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.