Court stenographer and closed captioner – two careers that are ostensibly the same but remarkably different! Both vocations require extensive training and education. Both of them use a funny little machine with a “different” kind of keyboard upon which they type really fast. Just a few years ago, when closed captioning began to be necessary for recorded and televised media, there was talk about the court stenographer career going out of business.
The truth is, both vocations are thriving and their appeal – and demand – is on the upswing. Here’s why:
Court Stenographer vs. Recording Devices
Why do you need a person when you can simply put a recorder on a table and document the court session that way? Maybe that will happen someday, when a voice recorder is created that can also explain how the witness jumped out of his chair, shouting angrily while the attorney waved a knife in the air and then stabbed a nearby table, knocking off the recording device and breaking it. Such theatrics are not common in court, but they do occur.
Court stenographers often use recording devices as backup, but they rely on themselves and their stenography machine to capture the visual events in the courtroom as well as identify two or sometimes more voices speaking at the same time. This is a job about preserving history; men and women continue to be the ones who document and protect history while it happens.
Help Wanted: New York Court Stenographer
It was 2014 when the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) released the results of an Industry Outlook independent study: A nationwide court reporter shortage is predicted as early as 2018. “The demand for court reporters will exceed supply within five years, yielding a nationwide shortage (with) the greatest demand occurring in: California, Texas, Illinois and New York.” The study factored-in the increasing numbers of older court reporters who are/will be soon retiring.
The laws of supply and demand dictate salaries, and court stenographers’ salaries remain highly competitive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that the job prospects for graduates of court reporting programs are very good! In an analysis of court stenographer jobs by state, New York was one of the employment leaders, with an annual mean wage salary of $89,560 – the highest in the U.S. As metropolitan areas are examined, the New York metropolitan and White Plains saw a 2015 annual mean wage of $90,190 for court reporters – again, the highest nationwide.
No Need to Read Between the Lines: Closed Captioner Career Outlook is Great!
It was a natural evolution: The demand for professionals who could type more than 180wpm (words per minute) increased for closed captioning. Again, the aging population is a factor in the need for hearing reporting. Okay, this might be where closed captioning vs. court reporting has a slight edge in career outlook. The ever-conservative BLS says, “Those with experience and training in techniques for helping deaf or hard-of-hearing people, such as real-time captioning and Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART), will have the best job prospects.”
Stenographic proficiency is a requirement for closed captioning careers; traditional typing simply cannot capture the spoken word, verbatim, fast enough. As early as 2005, media reports indicated an increasing need for closed captioning professionals: “The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandates that all programs be captioned, with network affiliates providing the service for all local news broadcasts in the top 25 markets. Thus, according to estimates, at least 3,000 stenographers will be needed to provide captions for almost all new TV programs — and the talent pool is woefully shallow,” noted Courier/Medill News Service.
At this time, more closed captioners are needed because of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations ensuring deaf and hard-of-hearing people have the same right to information as unimpaired citizens; and again, New York and New York City’s metropolitan areas lead the way in salary.
The Bottom Line: Both Careers are Customized for You
Court stenography and closed captioning jobs are trending for young students and workers who want a career change, and one of the reasons is this: Each career is flexible and can be whatever you need it to be. If you need to earn more money, now, you can work full-time and at home. Later, as your personal life changes, you can continue to work full-time, part-time, 9-5 daily, at home or make much of your salary transcribing documents and selling them to interested parties. You can go to court or professional offices as often or as seldom as you need, specializing in depositions. Depositions are the recording of questions and answers, under oath, in a setting other than the courtroom. There are many career options and all of them are good!
The foundation for either of these exciting is a Real Time Court Reporter Associate Degree (AOS) and the Stenotype Hearing Reporter Certificate. You could be ready for an entry-level court reporting job – and able to type up to 225wpm! – in as little as two years.