What is Court Reporting?




Court reporting, or stenography, is the verbatim translation of speech into text form.  Generally performed using a stenotype machine or a stenomask, the main purpose of court reporting is to preserve a record, usually of court hearings, depositions, and other official proceedings and meetings.  Court reporters are not limited to the courtroom, however.  Though the job titles may not suggest it, court reporting skills are also necessary for positions in broadcast captioning for television and other media formats, as well as realtime reporting for webcasts over the Internet.  Court reporters also provide valuable Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services for the deaf and hard of hearing.  

Because of the wide range of services that can be provided by court reporters, many court reporting schools offer specialized training that focuses on some of these specific areas.  The more common program divisions are judicial court reporting, realtime reporting, broadcast captioning, and CART reporting.

Court Reporting Equipment

What separates a court reporter from a general transcriptionist is primarily the equipment utilized for the job.  The bulk of the time a court reporting student spends in training involves learning to efficiently operate stenography equipment.  Because of the similarity in services that can be provided, it is basically just a matter of preference for the court reporting student in choosing which method of stenography to learn.

Machine shorthand is currently the most popular method of stenography, and it is produced using a stenotype machine.  Based on phonetic shorthand, this device essentially enables the court reporter to transcribe whole words and syllables, as opposed to spelling them out one letter at a time.  Unlike regular typing on a computer keyboard, the court reporter strokes a combination of keys for the words being spoken.  Those strokes are then instantly translated by a court reporting software program into English text.

Voice writing is another type of stenography.  Using a device called a “voice silencer,” or “stenomask,” a voice writer makes a record by repeating everything that is said during a proceeding.  Advances in technology have caused voice writing to gain popularity in recent years.  Voice translation software and faster computers now allow voice writers to provide realtime services, just like their counterparts using stenotype machines.

Court Reporting and the Legal Field

The most recognized type of court reporting is judicial court reporting.  This work is performed by court reporters serving either in a courtroom with a judge, or in various locations taking depositions for attorneys.  Those reporters who work in a courtroom with the same judge on a daily basis are referred to as “official court reporters,” and they make up about 27% of those working in the legal field.  The vast majority of court reporters are referred to as “freelance court reporters,” and they generally work in a different location with a different attorney every day.  Freelancers are hired primarily by attorneys who require their services to take deposition testimony from witnesses.  Judicial court reporting is a dynamic career field for someone with court reporting skills.

Court Reporting and Broadcast Captioning

The average person would probably be surprised to learn that the scrolling words at the bottom of the television screen at their favorite sports bar were made possible by a court reporter.  Known as “broadcast captioners,” these court reporters use the same skills as those used by judicial court reporters.  Instead of recording legal proceedings, they provide services to produce broadcast captioning to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as other groups.

Broadcast captioning, also referred to as “closed-captioning,” is the process through which the audio track of a television program is converted into text by a broadcast captioner.  The captioner uses a stenotype machine to produce the text, which is most often displayed at the bottom of the viewing screen.  Many court reporting schools offer specialized training in broadcast captioning, in addition to the basic court reporting courses offered.  Court reporting students focusing on broadcast captioning are taught to use realtime technology to produce the closed-captioning text for television broadcasts to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing, those located in noisy environments, and people learning English as a second language.  Broadcast captioning is essential for these types of groups to effectively watch the news or even emergency broadcasts which may be announcing possible life-or-death situations.  

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) estimates that over 100 million Americans per year utilize closed-captioning.  For many of these people, closed-captioning is not just a convenience.  It is a tool that is necessary for them to function normally in society.  Recognizing this fact, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which includes a requirement that all new television programming be provided with closed-captioning.  People skilled in providing broadcast captioning services have significant job security, while also providing a crucial service for many people.

Court Reporting and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
Another way court reporting is used to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing is through Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART.  A court reporter may provide this service to one specific student on a college campus or to a large group of people at a governmental agency meeting.  Also referred to as “realtime captioning” or “live-event captioning,” CART is provided by a stenographer using a specialized court reporting software to transcribe spoken English into a readable format.  That text is then displayed on a laptop monitor or a large projection screen.  In addition to assisting the deaf and hard of hearing, other groups, such as people learning to read or learning English as a second language, also benefit from CART services.

CART reporters are often freelance independent contractors.  In addition to assisting someone individually, they are hired to provide services for events such as conferences, seminars, religious services, conventions, class lectures, and other meetings where large groups of people are assembled.  Whether working with one person or a large group, the CART provider’s job is generally the same.  He or she uses either a stenotype machine or stenomask to listen to the speaker and provide a text translation that can be read by the client or meeting participants.  The CART reporter basically functions as the ears for the people he or she is assisting.

Court reporter training with a focus on CART is another option that is available at many court reporting schools.  As with other types of court reporting, the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) is concerned with the quality of the work done by CART providers.  In an effort to ensure professionalism, the NCRA formed the CART Community of Interest Committee.  A set of guidelines has been issued by the committee, which establishes the accepted standards for style and formatting for providing CART services.  Because of the importance of accuracy as a CART provider, the NCRA offers the Certified CART Provider (CCP) certification.

Court Reporting and Webcasting

An emphasis in webcasting training is another option being offered at some court reporting schools.  The same basic skills of court reporting are required for webcasting, though the court reporter performing webcasting services is generally not in a legal setting.  Using a stenotype machine or stenomask, a court reporter provides webcasting services for gatherings such as press conferences, product introductions, sales meetings, and training seminars.  The webcasting process involves the court reporter’s transcribing the audible conversations and transmitting them to the computers of the meeting participants, so that all of the parties can read the various conversations taking place.  Webcasting is an increasingly popular way of doing business these days, and stenographers with webcast reporting skills are in increasing demand.

Court Reporting and You

With so many employment options available, court reporting is a unique field of study.  The work is both interesting and rewarding, offering various opportunities in a great career.  Choosing a school for court reporter training is the first step towards entering the exciting world of court reporting.  Whichever direction you want to go, most court reporting schools have job placement assistance to help get you started.  Skilled court reporters are always in demand.  Learn about court reporter training schools located near you or online, and set out on the great adventure of being a court reporter.


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