Closed Captioning on Local TV News

The presidential and vice presidential debates are big around our humble abode aka Larksmith Manor.  As I’ve explained in previous posts my wife is a political junkie.  While I think the political process got started way too early this cycle, she’s in there every day in front of the TV or radio getting her political freak on.  Since I’m a team player, I wanted to do MY part to get the household ready for the Palin/Biden debate so I put in a call to the Memphis Pizza Cafe in Midtown to place my order.  You know you order pizza way too much when halfway through the order,  the person taking down the information finishes your order for you.  When I arrived, the pie wasn’t finished cooking so I sat down in the bar to enjoy an adult beverage.  The waitress asked me if I wanted the usual, which I did, and again it dawned on me that perhaps I sit at that particular bar too often.  When I mentioned this to the young lady waiting on me, she said “No, it’s just good service”.  Okay, I like her explanation better than mine.

So there I was enjoying a frosty cold adult beverage and glanced up on the TV screen to my left and just coming on was the 6 o’clock news with Joe and Donna.  Someone had muted the sound so I was left with watching the closed captioning.  I then started reading the lead news story about the Mayor of Memphis and the convention center brouhaha along with Joe and Donna when I started seeing time code numbers and then saw the abbreviation “ok” in front of one soundbite.  Now I’m sure those who need and read closed captioning  were probably wondering “hey what did the mayor mean by saying 22:44:01” or whatever the number was that came on the screen.  During a later soundbite, the time codes for the start and end of yet another bite came up.  Perhaps this was a late story and the reporter putting it together just cut and pasted and didn’t get a chance to clean it up.  Hey, it happens.  So I watched the next couple of stories and didn’t see any more time code cues until a story about a DUI crackdown in Tipton and Fayette Counties came up.  And once again, there were time code cues.  Yah, in the grand scheme of things, having the numbers mixed in with the closed captioning is not that big of a deal and some might say I’m splitting hairs.  But for those who can’t depend on the sound of a TV report, a clean caption is important.  Having extraneous crap mixed in is like having bad audio.  You really want to avoid it IMHO.

Of course I share this tidbit because when we received our first newsroom computer system at WREG back in late 1989 or early 1990 (was that the NewStar system?) I remember thinking that the whole closed captioning system was going to be a real pain in the rear.  But we were already required to write out our sound bites in news packages, vo/sots and Sony sandwiches (inserts for live shots) so that the person editing and the person running audio would know when and where to cut audio so it wasn’t that big of a deal.  There was the added bonus that if the video piece crapped out and the audio never ran then the anchor could at least sum up the soundbite.  on top of all of this, I remember getting letters from those with hearing problems thanking WREG for having the CC.  On the downside, viewers found out just how lousy spellers people in the TV news business (including me) really are and I’m not talking about name supers.

Fast forward to the last few years I was at the station DOTR when I was anchoring the morning news and I can’t tell you the number of stories that were forwarded from the night before that had only the first few words of the soundbite and the last few words of the soundbite written in.  That left the hearing imparied SOL on the content of the comments.  I brought this to the attention of the dayside and nightside managers on several occasions and ironically it fell on deaf ears.  I don’t know if they still do that DOTR since I haven’t seen closed captioning there since I left in late 2004.

Again, this might now seem like a big deal but as the baby boomer population ages and a growing number find that listening to all that rock n’ roll at full volume for so long has caused some to have diminished hearing and others forced to wear hearing aids, the whole closed captioning thing takes on a bigger meaning in the coverage of the news.  And the problem will continue to grow with the younger folks riding around in their cars with their stereos cranked wide open.  That is if they still watch the news at all.  Now, if we can just get this spelling thing nailed down…..

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4 Comments on “Closed Captioning on Local TV News”

  1. Joe Says:

    I recall in my time at the Wooten Radio and Electric Company, that just doing IN: and OUT: for VOSOTs vas streng verboten because of the ole CC. Most calls about CC were positive, with the exception of the fact that weather and sports were typically unscripted and ad-libbed. In recent years, stations have been fined by the FCC for not properly captioning breaking news reports and severe weather bulletins. Some stations have gone back to live transcription for CC because of that. The live stuff isn’t perfect either. It’s usually done remotely. One of the big CC transcription companies is in Colorado, but uses people from all over the country who call in to the station’s live feed via a toll-free line and start typing through an Internet application.

  2. Anon Says:

    You know, I like to watch shows on closed captioning late at night, that way I don’t wake the kids. I’ve noticed over the years how reporters (or producers) have cut way back on “writing out” the sound bites in news stories. Maybe they are too busy, overworked, or think it’s the reporters job.
    And guess what folks, nothing is ever going to change, unless someone (more than likely who is hearing impaired) sends a letter to the GM’s of their local stations demanding them to not treat closed captioning as an after thought.
    There’s a law out there about severe weather and closed captioning, stations get hefty fines if they don’t do it!
    It’s an expense, it’s tough. I know.

  3. joelarkins Says:

    I keep hearing of hefty fines for NOT doing closed captioning especially for things such as weather. Has anyone in the Memphis market been hit with a fine or is that just a threat?
    Also, on another note. I was approached several times by a person who was apparently completely deaf and who asked that we please incorporate CC for the Outdoor show. Since much of that was unscripted I told him it was not like the local newscasts and that it was not as easy to get that done. I took his concerns to the upper level managers who basically blew it off as too expensive for that 30 minute show. Of course that was back in 2004 and perhaps the rules and regs have changed since then. I’d be curious as to whether the Outdoor show on WREG is now CC.

  4. Ferd Says:

    btw, NC3 Outdoors IS captioned.

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