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Closed-Captioned Local News
Oregon's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (ODHHS)-Technical Assistance Center
ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series

Closed-Captioned Local News:
Getting Started in Your Town
(Source: Caption Center)
Captioning of local news broadcasts and the passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act are the most exciting events for deaf and hard-of-hearing television viewers in many years. This landmark legislation, now in effect, requires all television sets with screens 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the United States to have built-in decoder circuitry.
More than 225 stations around the country have captioned newscasts and the number continues to grow rapidly. (In some cities, caption viewers even have their choice of stations!) In many cases, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community played a key role in bringing captioned news to town. Local television stations, by captioning their local newscasts, can establish a unique identity in their markets by reaching out to a new and deeply appreciative audience of deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
It will take a lot of time, hard work, and persistence to start local news captioning in your city. The following suggestions are based on The Caption Center's experience and the experience of groups of deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens who have been involved with captioned news. If you have further questions after reading this paper, call us. The Caption Center would be glad to help.
  1. Form a committee
    Call together a small, well-organized group which is committed to the project. Working with a local association of the deaf, a local SHHH chapter (Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.), or other organization will lend your efforts added clout and authority. Contact successful organizations in other cities to learn from their experiences.
  2. Research the audience
    The best person to contact at a TV station is either the general manager, news director, or community affairs manager. When you contact the TV station, they will want to know if more viewers will watch their news if it's captioned. Find out how many deaf and hard-of-hearing people live in your area. This number is available from the state commission for the deaf or similar state government office. The TV station will also want to know how many homes have access to captions. It is difficult to determine how many people own decoders or decoder-equipped televisions, but you may be able to get some idea from local hearing aid or assistive device dealers. These numbers may be low, but be aware that there are an average of 4 to 5 people making use of either device. Keep in mind that the first versions of caption-capable TV sets have come on the market relatively recently.
  3. Learn about different captioning technologies and their costs
    The station will want to know how captioning works and what it will cost. While you don't have to be a technology expert, it will help to know the basics. There are two methods for captioning a live newscast: stenographic and electronic newsroom. Each method has its own advantages, disadvantages, and costs.
    • Stenographic Captioning
      A "stenocaptioner" listens to the program and types every word as it is spoken by the anchorperson, reporter, or interview subject. The stenocaptioner uses a special shorthand keyboard and computer to type as many as 225 words per minute, working much like a court reporter. Within less than five seconds, caption viewers see the words on their TV sets at home. Stenographic captioning is also the method used for the nightly network newscasts, The Today Show, The Miss America Pageant, The Oprah Winfrey Show, sporting events, and many other live programs.
      Stations in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, Phoenix, and other cities caption their newscasts using the stenographic method.
      Costs of stenographic captioning
      There are two kinds of costs- equipment and personnel. Equipment can run from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Either the station or the stenocaptioner will need steno equipment and a computerized dictionary for converting steno into English. The station will also need to buy caption encoding equipment which converts English words into data ready for broadcast.
      Stenocaptioners are well paid professionals with years of training in steno. Few people have such highly specialized skills. Once a stenocaptioner is hired, that person trains several more months, and then spends several hours daily preparing for each broadcast.
    • Electronic Newsroom Captioning
      Some TV stations have electronic (or automated) newsrooms. These are computer networks into which reporters type their news stories before each newscast. Anchors and reporters read these scripts from monitors during the newscast. These scripts can also be broadcast as captions if the electronic newsroom is equipped with special equipment and software for captioning. A drawback to this system is that any stories that are not typed into the computer before airtime will not be captioned, such as live reports, interviews, and weather reports. Reporters must be encouraged to transcribe every word of their stories into the newsroom computers so that captions are available for everything but live reports. The advantage of the system is that it doesn't require specially trained personnel.
      Stations in many cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, and Madison, Wisconsin, caption their newscasts with the electronic newsroom captioning method.
    • Costs of electronic newsroom captioning
      First, the station must already own an electronic newsroom, which costs anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many stations do own such systems or are in the process of acquiring one. The station then needs to buy the hardware and software captioning options for its electronic newsroom, plus caption encoding equipment. Together these can cost upwards of $7000. Once the system is set up, there are virtually no additional costs.
    • Combination Stenographic and Electronic Newsroom
      The stenographic method is the best way to caption every word of a newscast, but it can be very expensive. The electronic newsroom method costs less to operate, but some of the news can't be captioned. There is a way to have the best of both worlds. With a combination system, an electronic newsroom captioning option allows the news to be captioned automatically. The station then chooses to have certain reports captioned live by a stenocaptioner. At least one station uses this method, allowing it to caption all its newscasts in the most complete and most economical way.
  4. Funding the captioning
    It will be helpful for you to know how other TV stations have paid for captioning. Many stations have funding from local corporations. These corporations are often acknowledged at the beginning of the broadcast with a credit such as a picture of their logo and the words, "Closed captioning of NewsCenter 5 paid for by the XYZ Corporation." Some TV stations pay the captioning costs themselves while other stations have received grants from local foundations.
  5. Collect letters of support
    Before you approach a TV station, be prepared to show how important captioned local news would be to your community. Collect as much written support as you can. Ask people to send letters to your organization so that you can deliver them in one impressive package to the station. Try to get letters from individuals, organizations, mayors, legislators, community leaders, and prominent business people. You may also want to collect lists of people who want local captioned news. A petition with several pages of names can be very effective in showing the need for captioned news.
    Be sure to hold onto copies of letters and petitions- they may be needed later when fundraising begins.
  6. Prepare for a meeting
    Prepare for your presentation to the station. Be ready to talk about:
    • Why local news captioning is so important and how people in your city will benefit. Give examples of how captioning would have been helpful during a recent election, weather emergency, or important local event where people depended on local TV news for timely information.
    • How captioning benefits not only deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences but also people learning English as a second language and people who are learning to read.
    • How many deaf and hard-of-hearing people can receive the TV station's signal.
    • How captioning will benefit the TV station. As a powerful community service, the project will generate much goodwill for the station. The station can make the most of its involvement with captioning by taking part in related activities, such as promoting or donating decoders or televisions with built-in decoders and making viewers aware that these are now on the market.
    You may also want to bring:
    • Letters of support and petitions.
    • A list of the members of your group.
    • A videotape of the national news with visible (open) captions, which you can record with a home VCR. Show an example of the network news that the station broadcasts-- for example, ABC, CBS, or NBC.
    The Caption Center can send you the following materials, which you may also want to present:
    • Detailed information about the different ways to caption and their costs.
    • Names and addresses to give to the station, including equipment suppliers, news directors at other stations, etc.
  7. Approach the station
    Send a short letter asking for a meeting. Send copies to both the news director and the general manager. Follow up within a few days with a phone call. Consider how your group is going to present itself. It is probably best if only one or two people do the presentation as representatives of the entire group.
    Be patient. TV stations can't change overnight. Remember that captioning is expensive; the station will have to evaluate its budget, its newsroom capabilities, and other resources before making a decision. It may take several meetings or phone calls and several months or even years before the station agrees to caption.
    You may want to approach all of the TV stations in your town which air nightly news programs. You will then be able to concentrate your efforts on those stations that are most cooperative. In some cities, more than one station in town captions its news.
  8. "Thank you"
    If you succeed in convincing a local station to caption its news, congratulations! But it's not too early to think about future years. The funders and TV station need to keep hearing that the audience appreciates the captioned news. If they're reminded about the benefits of captioning, they'll be more likely to maintain their role in it. Many communities have been creative about publicly recognizing those responsible for the news. Here are a few suggestions:
    • Your state association of the deaf can present awards to the TV station and funders.
    • You can encourage dozens of viewers to write thank-you letters, which can be bound together and presented to the station and the funders.
    • You can celebrate the anniversary of the captioned news every year, with an award ceremony, luncheon, article in the community paper, etc.
    • Write appreciation letters praising the TV station and copy them to local publications. Also write letters of thanks to local sponsors of captioning.
  9. Promotion
    As the TV station gets ready to start captioning the news, it will be important to let people know the service is coming. The station can air announcements about news captioning and at the same time promote decoders and other programs that are captioned on the station. Viewers- deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing alike- will begin to associate that station with an important public service. Such announcements are also educational, reaching people who don't yet know about captioning. Millions of people have trouble understanding television due to a hearing loss, but don't know that a simple box attached to their TV set or a television equipped with a built-in decoder can make a world of difference.
    The start of a local news project is a good time to educate consumers about the wonderful service of captioning. There are many ways stations have publicized their involvement in captioning. Here are some examples from around the country:
    • One TV station distributes decoders to nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
    • Another station broadcasts public service announcements about captioning.
    • The first night of one captioned newscast, the television station airing the news showed open captions so people who didn't have decoders at home could see what captions looked like.
    • Some cable companies run the news with open captions on a separate cable channel so people without decoders can enjoy the captions. One city's cable company offers free decoders to new subscribers.
    • Most stations indicate that their news is captioned through a closed-caption symbol  at the start of the news, in all print ads, in the local newspaper listings, and in TV Guide magazine.
There are as many possible promotion ideas as there are people involved in your project. Anything is possible; explore them all!
The Caption Center can provide you with helpful materials. If the people at the TV station require further technical information, feel free to have them call us. We'd be glad to help!
The Caption Center at WGBH
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
(617) 492-9225 V/TTY