Kelly Linkowski watches a lot of television — sometimes four or five hours at a clip without leaving her room.
She’s no slacker.
It’s all in a day’s work.
Linkowski, trained as a court reporter, is one of a handful of broadcast captioners in Ohio who provide closed captions for those with hearing loss. Using stenograph machines (also used by court reporters), the job entails writing the captions that appear on the screen for a variety of television programs.
In her office in her Rittman home, Linkowski’s setup includes a television and two computers, as well as a feed that allows her to hear the broadcast audio seconds before anyone else. She listens through a headset.
“Captioning football is fun,” she said. “My family hears me cheering in my office — I get it six seconds faster than my husband does in the other room because of the audio feed.”
Hockey can be difficult, she said, because of the speed of the game and the large number of foreign names, she explained.
Linkowski, who received an associate degree in court reporting from Stark State College, works for a captioning service on a freelance basis, allowing her the flexibility to go to her two boys’ sports events and be an active volunteer at their school, Kingsway Christian School in Orrville.
“This career has allowed me to be very involved with my family, and have a rewarding career as well,” said Linkowski, who in August attended the annual conference of the professional group called the National Court Reporters Association.
She captions a lot of newscasts — local news shows produced in various cities — as well as sports events.
She and other broadcast captioners are certified at a minimum speed of 225 words per minute. The typical speed of a broadcast conversation is 215 to 280 words a minute, she said.
Accuracy is important; misspellings and other mistakes go out over the air immediately.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 22,000 court reporters — including captioners — in 2010. The median annual pay that year for all those in the profession — including those who work as captioners — was $47,000 per year or $22.93 an hour.
A few times a week, Linkowski sits in her home office and attends a college class via Skype (a computer program that allows for video conferencing) and provides real-time verbatim translation of professors’ lectures back to students with hearing loss.
Earlier this month, she attended a class at Harvard University via Skype.
These days, Linkowski works 15 to 40 hours a week, generally signing up to caption between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. from home.
A breaking national news event can throw any schedule out the window as captioners are called into action to provide wall-to-wall service.
Linkowski has pulled long shifts — four to five hours with no breaks — during breaking coverage, including the Boston Marathon bombings in April, and the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.
She is acutely aware of who could be reading the captions and the need for accuracy.
“You don’t know if somebody is watching the captions who could be the grandmother of a student at Newtown,” Linkowski said. “You have to stay there. It’s up to you to get that information to her.
Last year, she provided captions for Canadian National Broadcasting’s airing of the 2012 U.S. presidential debates.
“That was a career goal,” she said. “The debates are highly watched.”
She said if her door is closed, her children know she is busy and not to come in the room.
Linkowski was about 7 years old when she discovered what would become her career. Her aunt, a court reporter, was using her stenograph machine and typed out Linkowki’s first name — Kelly.
“I thought she was a spy who was writing my name on that funky machine,” Linkowski recalled. “It was very fascinating to me that people could talk as fast as we talk and this person could take it down verbatim and it would be completely accurate.”
After graduating from Stark State in 1993, she worked as a freelance court reporter, primarily transcribing depositions in Cuyahoga County.
In 2002, with federal legislation requiring more broadcast captions, Linkowski began working in that field.
The market for captioners has grown with legislation passed in 2005 requiring that closed captioning be offered on new shows beginning in 2006.
“There’s definitely a need for court reporters and broadcast captioners,” she said. “I could work 24/7, especially with the networks and cable television — every year there’s more channels.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.