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CART-Wise: A different sort of court reporting

Linda ChristensenWe court reporters all understand the traditional Labels of reporting (freelance, official, captioning, CART). As I enter my 30th year in the court reporting business this October, my résumé reflects the good fortune of holding various titles: freelance reporter, official reporter, CART provider, transcriber, stenographer, mentor, teacher, and trainer. I continue my love affair with this strange little machine, which captured my attention and my heart three decades ago.

In 2005, I was wooed by the opportunity to hold yet another moniker: sports reporter. I am still technically a court reporter, but I am speaking of a totally different type of court — a court with a net, a racquet, a fuzzy yellow ball, two players competing against each other, and a mysterious method of score-keeping.

Over half of my year is now spent traveling the world with professional tennis players. Instead of sitting in a courtroom or deposition conference room, writing hundreds of pages of testimony (what I call the marathon type of reporting), I sit in interview rooms around the world at tennis tournaments writing sprint testimony. Questions and answers in my reporting world are between the international journalists — think of them as the attorneys — and the top tennis players in the world — the witnesses.

The expert testimony I hear, write, and transcribe these days involves jargon related to a tiebreak in the third set; a serve up the T; playing surfaces, such as Rebound Ace, clay, grass, indoor hard, Har-Tru, and “la terre battue”; or string tightness of kevlar, polyester, or synthetic gut.

In a profession that has been threatened from its inception by electronic recording, video, and, most recently, speech-recognition software, I’ve always giggled over the improbability of a computer understanding a Vietnamese or East Indian neurologist describing medical procedures at 200 wpm. My same (sometimes smug) philosophy for defending job security holds true as a sports reporter. I wonder how translation software would handle spitting out English words while a Spaniard from the island of Mallorca is talking about winning La Coupe des Mousquetaires at the French Open, reciting, at break-neck pace, his set-by-set scores, and admitting at one point he had his “doobits” [doubts], even though he was playing on his favorite “soyr-fraz” [surface].

Tennis players often want to acknowledge coaches and trainers, naming the villages they are from in Serbia or somewhere in the Pyrenees. (Oh, and was that player’s French tennis club membership in Colomiers or Coulommiers?) “Hey, Mr. Computer Software, let’s see how the journalists enjoy your accuracy on that spelling dilemma.”

Here’s how my court reporting works. After a player completes his or her match, the press corps almost always want to speak with him or her. Questions range from game-plan tactics, rankings, recent injuries, and, of course, some gossip.

I write the interview wirelessly to either my or a colleague’s computer. At the Slams and various other Masters 1000 and Premier tournaments, we work in pairs or trios. With other, smaller tournaments, I work solo.

Following the press conference, a nifty little transcript is produced, and by the time the journalists return to their tiny cubicles in the press room — Voila! — there is the expected transcript in their inbox. From there, the journalist can write a piece for his or her newspaper or magazine or perhaps use the transcript in his or her role as a commentator for tomorrow’s next-round match. Journalists are assured, because of our presence in the press conference, that the player quotes will be written verbatim. It also reassures the journalists that they do not have to tape record the interview or hunt and peck around their own laptops and produce, in quadruple the time, some written product to meet their newspaper’s or agency’s deadline.

Do I love my job? Absolutely. My motto: “Do what you love and love what you do.” As I write this, I am sitting at Roland Garros — my sixth French Open and my 11th trip to Paris. How could I not love my job?

From this tournament, I take the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel to London for the Queen’s Tournament, continuing on to Eastbourne in the south of England for another grass-court tournament, and finishing up my European tour at Wimbledon — or as we court reporters call it, Wim or Wimby. This is an annual adventure for me — seven weeks in Europe as a court reporter.

As silly as it sounds, I would perhaps like to add yet another title to my résumé: court reporting cheerleader. We all know how bemused juries and witnesses become during trials while watching our hands fly around a perplexing-looking machine with a few keys. Imagine how people from around the world react when they observe our process. Whether court reporter or “court” reporter, we remain a profession surrounded by mystique and intrigue.

My love affair with this funny little machine remains as fresh as it was 30 years ago.