A Day in the Life of a Caption Editor: Christina’s Story

WANTED: Caption Editor, degree in English preferred. Hmmm… a caption editor? I can edit. I have a degree in English. I guess I meet the requirements. But, what exactly is the job? Oh, I know! Maybe I can “google” the term and find a job description…No such luck. Google doesn’t know either. Well, I am always up for an adventure…

These were the thoughts that were running through my head as I was looking for a new job. I was looking for an editing job and my previous experience was with book editing and publishing. I knew very little about closed captions, as did the majority of people I knew. One friend actually thought the television itself transcribed the audio and spit out the words onto the screen. As silly as that may seem, my knowledge of the process wasn’t far from that. However, my curiosity was piqued, so I decided to apply.

Joanna, the post-production manager, called me to set up an interview. She also asked me how I felt about technology. Technology? Well, I know how to use a computer and I can text message with my eyes closed. But, somehow I wasn’t sure those were the exact skills she was looking for. I tentatively replied that I was not intimidated by technology and immediately panicked thinking, “What am I getting myself into?!”

You can only imagine how my fears intensified when I walked into the office to interview and saw large towers full of computers and machines that looked like something out of the Matrix. Cords, plugs, headsets, decks, monitors…yikes! But, what’s the fun in life if you don’t challenge yourself? To make a long story short, I accepted the challenge and here I am today: Caption Editor Extraordinaire!

It took two months of training to really feel comfortable with captioning. There is so much to learn and you never really stop learning. Questions and new challenges arise every day. There are many guidelines to follow and “styles” of captioning to learn. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important but equally important are the placement, line breakage and speed of the captions. Everything is done to ensure that the viewer is getting an accurate understanding of the show. Basically, caption editors work with post-production shows (ones that are already recorded). We have transcribers translate the audio and send us a transcript. We then import the transcript in a computer program that allows us to break up the lines and “press on” the captions in sync with the video/audio. Presto!

Effective caption editing is an acquired skill. And once you know what “good” captions look like, you immediately become a full-fledged critic. It is now impossible to watch captions on television without critiquing the placement, speed, and accuracy. Sadly, you also realize that the majority of captions out there are poor. All of us at Aberdeen care about quality and accuracy and we all take pride in our work. Hopefully, now that most shows are required by law to be closed captioned, more people will understand the importance of not only providing closed captions, but providing good closed captions.

I am so lucky to have found this job. It has truly opened my eyes to the world of closed captioning and the importance of providing closed captioning, not just for the hearing impaired, but for the entire population! Another great benefit of this job is the plethora of knowledge you will receive from watching these programs. I learn something new from every show I caption, whether it is a Bible verse, a recipe for nachos, the history of anthropology, new scientific terminology, or the latest in fashion and design! I am sure to triumph in any game of Trivial Pursuit!

Written by Christina Hill, Caption Editor