My journey to captioning

By Shawn Condon

Shawn Condon

”My journey has taken me through the initial desire for a new career, the well-documented highs and lows of completing a rigorous court reporting program, and the uncharted waters of seeking employment in an area that was related — but in many ways foreign — to what I had been preparing for in school.”

The prospect of working as a captioner stayed tucked in the back of my mind throughout my time in the court reporting program at Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek, Fla. As I took in the legal terminology and procedures, tenets of courtroom professionalism, real-world stories of my instructors’ time in the field, and of course constantly pushing my speed, it seemed that there was actually no time to even explore the possibility of captioning! The weight of the court reporter’s responsibility loomed large, so on the back burner it stayed.

When the time to acquire an internship came, I felt for the first time in a while that the opportunity to become a captioner could be explored. I must admit I felt a bit unsure of what steps to take next. My entire training and preparation had all led up to a career in court reporting. The only step I could think to take in an alternative direction was to contact a working professional in the field. I searched online for captioning firms in Florida and eventually found one.

I sent a cold email to the administrator address listed on their site with a quick recap of my experience in my program and a request for some basic information on where to start once I graduated.  I soon received a reply from the firm owner expressing interest in answering all of my questions and more! I gave her a quick breakdown of my school experience up until that point and of my aspirations to work in captioning rather than the courthouse.

I was informed that while some remote captioning and video transcription work was occasionally available, the real shortage was in providing CART for both the classroom setting and various situations such as graduations, HOA meetings, and even live sporting events! Admittedly I had never anticipated working as a CART writer, but the opportunity was there, and I was willing to explore any avenue into a new career.

Since graduating,  I have been providing realtime transcription at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in a variety of situations that are specific to the needs of the client. Some are able to participate on their own and only require my transcript for future reference and some with more severe or complete hearing loss rely entirely on my writing on a moment-to-moment basis for the duration of the class. Having my notes streamed in real time to the client’s computer and accessed in a mutual web browser is also an option and allows me to position myself in a more discreet section of the classroom. In addition to working at Nova, I have provided CART for monthly HOA meetings, the Hearing Loss Association of America’s Palm Beach chapter, as well as  some remote video transcription.

My journey has taken me through the initial desire for a new career, the well-documented highs and lows of completing a rigorous court reporting program, and the uncharted waters of seeking employment in an area that was related — but in many ways foreign — to what I had been preparing for in school. However, the thread that runs through my journey is no different than that of anyone reading this now, whether you are a CART provider, a working reporter, or a student in your own program: obtaining the ability to do what we do is hard work. Getting through the schooling to do so is one of the hardest things you ever have or will ever accomplish. Get after what you want and get in contact with the professionals in our field. They’ve been where you are and can’t wait to help!

Shawn Condon is a recent graduate of Atlantic Technical College, Atlanta, Ga..

How an “Evil Zombie Vampire Court Reporter from Hell” figures prominently in NCRA’s Court Reporting & Captioning Week

Maxyne Bursky

By Maxyne Bursky

NCRA’s 2019 Court Reporting & Captioning Week is a great impetus for veteran reporters to head into reporting schools and give both students and newbies a taste of what successful and amazing careers lie ahead of them. As experienced professionals, we have the privilege and advantage (and obligation, I would offer) of being able not only to show them a living, breathing sample of what’s possible, but also to give them a leg up on the mistakes, errors, or omissions (yes, omissions) we have made and bring this whole industry into perspective for a new generation of verbatim reporters. We are the face of the past and present, and they are our future.

On Feb. 9, I, along with my husband, Richard, a reporter of nearly 45 years, was honored to present a film I wrote and produced called “Evil Zombie Vampire Court Reporter from Hell” to students at Brown College of Court Reporting in Atlanta, Ga. The film is a 43-minute spoof of a deposition in which the star commits 47 professional infractions, any one of which could have gotten her dismissed from her job and many of which could have potentially ended her career.

Just to give you a little taste, the court reporter is 15 minutes late to the deposition, and she offers no apology or excuse. In fact, within the first five minutes, her actions clearly point to the fact that the attorneys in the film are in for a very, very long day.

Every time over the past five years that I have presented this film — as well as its sequel, “Evil Zombie Vampire Lawyer from Hell” — I watch it from beginning to end along with the attendees. I never tire of hearing students and veteran reporters alike gasp and giggle at the evil reporter’s bad behavior. It heartens me to know that the principles of preparedness, professionalism, and propriety, not to mention common sense, are ingrained in the majority of court reporters.

Even so, there are those who have come up to me at the conclusion of my lecture at a reporting school or even at a state convention and complained that the film is misguided in that, for example, not being prepared with exhibit stickers, extension cords, and the like is not so bad, or showing up 15 minutes before the start of a proceeding is acceptable. I typically arrive 45 minutes to an hour early, and when a student is shadowing me, I require them to meet me 60 minutes before the scheduled time so that we can chat about what is going to transpire once we are on the record.  My usual response to these naysayers is, “Well, you keep doing that, and next time those clients will call me, not you.”

Each person who watches the film receives a list of those 47 sins that evil reporter has committed, and I encourage everyone to hold off looking at the list and write on a separate piece of paper the number of bad behaviors they observed and then compare that list to the distributed material. I am so pleased to say, when we got to the lecture portion of the session at Brown College, the students were able to volunteer more than half of the unprofessional antics demonstrated in the film.

Brown College requires my book Talk to the Hands, a practical guide for the newbie, to be used by students in their career development class, which is one of the courses offered just prior to graduation. At each film presentation, I supply a workbook for that book, along with exemplars of cover, appearance, and certificate pages, among others, for students to use as a template when first entering into the court reporting workforce.

As a proud participant in NCRA’s online mentoring program, before I get off the phone with a dedicated court reporting student who’s stuck at 150 wpm or who has just emerged from theory and is feeling overwhelmed, I make sure that they know I went through the same angst, managed to get through it, and love (nearly) every minute of my workday.  And the paychecks aren’t bad either!

Because our profession has expanded so rapidly through technology, one of my mantras at every “evil” film presentation, on every mentoring phone call, at every meet and greet for new students, is realtime, realtime, realtime. That skill is what separates the proverbial men from the boys and expands our opportunities for personal and professional growth. In fact, the “evil reporter” is vehement in refusing to provide realtime to the movie’s attorneys.  In my early days of doing realtime, I felt as if I were sitting in the conference room in my dirty pajamas, and everyone present could plainly see how incompetent I was because of a misstroke here and there. I’m not afraid to share this and other similar observations with newbies, to let them know that with time and experience and a commitment to attaining higher speed through practice even after graduation, these insecurities will fade and be replaced with a satisfaction and acknowledgement of one’s own competence that will give rise to that new generation of professional court reporters.

Maxyne Bursky, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter from McDonough, Ga. She can be reached at bullymax1@aol.com.