Ask a stranger walking down the street to define what a court reporter is and you’re likely to get a weird response. Otherwise known as “stenographers” — we hate that — or as Dom DeLuise referred to our profession in this YouTube video, “stenos.” In truth, the general public is challenged to describe what it is we do, let alone how we do it! Taking it one step further and crossing the threshold into the world of Captioning and people are dumbfounded when it comes to describing our profession.
The other night, catching up with friends over pizza and beer at a local establishment in the little suburb of Chicago where I grew up, a high school friend asked, “What is that thing you do again?” When I responded, “I’m a court reporter,” he did what 90 percent of folks do who have actually heard of our profession: He did “air” steno. “Oh, you do that thing on that little machine,” as he twinkled his fingers above our dining table in the restaurant. (Air Steno defined: Like “air guitar,” only a cross between a seizure and making some wicked finger movements that oddly resemble piano playing!)
Yeah, that’s what we court reporters do. Well, sort of. To explain in technicalities what we reporters and captioners do and how we do it would not only bore the average Joe, but it would erase the mystique from our line of work. Instead, I’ve chosen to put it in layman’s terms.
The answer to the question of what a court reporter or captioner does boils down to this: While working at the pleasure of court and/or counsel (or a demonic broadcaster), we instantaneously translate the spoken word into hieroglyphics using a stenographic machine (consisting of 26 or so keys) that is hooked up to a laptop computer containing proprietary software that houses our corresponding English dictionaries, said software capable of clocking loquacious individuals who like to speak faster than the speed of light, all the while remaining silent, abstaining from regular nourishment and appropriate sanitary breaks, all in an effort to create a verbatim record that either streams across your living room’s plasma screen, or is used in legal briefs, or to impeach a witness testifying at trial, while simultaneously staying alert for hours on end, while, occasionally simultaneously marking exhibits as attorneys continue speaking on the record (picture an octopus), and at all times remaining confident, vigilant, and cheerful as we give the appearance of incredible focus on the prolific and esoteric topics crammed down our throats on a daily basis, and, yes, maintaining the ability to read back with perfect inflection said proceedings whenever called upon.
(And that is precisely why Hallmark does not make a Happy Court Reporters & Captioners Week greeting card.)
So for those of you who have come up short when endeavoring to explain what it is you do all day and then again all night in front of your laptop computers, feel free to print this handy explanation out and distribute it to your friends, family, and/or strangers who just don’t get it. And for those of you–preaching to the choir now–who totally get it, you’re a court reporter or a broadcast captioner (or a CART provider), and I say to you, HAPPY COURT REPORTERS & CAPTIONERS WEEK!