Official records can be made up of written accounts of spoken words. Texts of spoken words may also be needed for letters, records, and proof in court. Court reporters make word-for-word reports of court cases, meetings, speeches, and other events. Court reporters play a critical role in legal proceedings. They are expected to create a complete and accurate legal record. Accuracy is crucial. Legal appeals can depend on the court reporter's transcript. Many court reporters organize official records. They may also search them for specific information. Court reporters provide closed-captioning and translating services for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons.
Stenotyping and voice writing are the two main methods of court reporting.
A stenotype machine allows the court reporter, or stenotypist, to press more than one key at a time. Doing so records symbols that represent sounds, words, or phrases. These symbols are saved on computer disks or CD-ROMs. They are then translated and displayed as text. This is called computer-aided transcription. Stenotype machines used for captioning are linked directly to the computer. As the reporter keys in the symbols, they instantly appear as text on the screen. This process is called communications access realtime translation or CART. It is used in courts, in classrooms, and for closed captioning on television.
The other method of court reporting is called voice writing. Voice-writing involves a court reporter speaking into a stenomask—a hand-held mask containing a microphone. The reporter repeats the testimony into the recorder. The mask has a silencer so the reporter won't be heard. Voice writers record everything that is said by persons in the courtroom. Gestures and emotional reactions are also recorded.
Some voice writers produce a transcript in real time, using computer speech recognition technology. Other voice writers translate their voice files after the event is over. Voice writers can pursue careers as closed captioners or CART reporters for hearing-impaired people.
Before they start to record, court reporters may have to create and maintain their computer dictionary, which is used to translate what the reporter says or types into text format. After they do the recording, court reporters must correct grammar mistakes and make sure the text is easy to follow.
Many court reporters record official proceedings in courtrooms. Some take statements for lawyers. Others record meetings, conventions, and other events outside a courtroom.
Some people need captions on television programs. Stenotypists and voice writers do the captioning on television. These workers are known as stenocaptioners. They work for television stations or networks. They might caption news, sporting events, or emergency broadcasts. Imagine an emergency, such as a tornado or a hurricane. People's lives might depend on the captions made by the stenocaptioner.
Most court reporters work in comfortable settings. More court reporters work in home offices as independent contractors, or freelancers.
Work in this occupation presents few hazards. Sitting in the same position for long periods can be tiring. Workers can suffer wrist, back, neck, or eye problems. Workers also risk repetitive motion injuries. In addition, the pressure to be accurate and fast can be stressful.
Many official court reporters work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed court reporters can work flexible hours. Some work on an on-call basis.
Training to become a stenotypist takes 33 months, on average. It usually takes less than a year to become a voice writer. Training is offered by about 160 vocational and technical schools and colleges. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has approved about 70 of these. NCRA-approved programs require students to capture at least 225 words per minute.
Some States require court reporters to be certified. To be certified, court reporters must pass an exam. The NCRA confers several certifications, from entry-level to advanced, and for particular reporting systems. Advanced certifications may require work experience, additional training, or a college degree.
Court reporters must have excellent listening skills. In addition, speed and accuracy are important. Good writing skills are also needed. Voice writers must learn to listen and speak at the same time. Court reporters working in courtrooms need knowledge of legal procedure. Stenocaptioners should also be good with computers.
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