On the Job with Kristi Arntzen

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 9:51 AM
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Kristi Arntzen, Communication Access Realtime Transcriber (CART)

Photo: Tom Witta, Dml -

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Kristi Arntzen gets paid to watch football and baseball games. Actually, as a Communication Access Realtime Transcriber (CART), she gets paid to listen to the games and create the closed-captioning that enables hearing-challenged viewers to follow the action on TV.

After graduating with an English major in 1999, Arntzen decided that she didn't want to be a teacher. She found a job as an editor at Caption-Max and "fell in love with it." She saw a demonstration of CART, and was intrigued, but there was no program in Minnesota at the time. When Anoka Technical College started offering stenographer certificate programs, Arntzen saved up the money to go back to school.

Like a court reporter, Arntzen uses a special steno-writing machine to produce shorthand far faster than regular typing. Acceptable stenography speeds range from 120 words per minute for congressional testimony to 200 words per minute for a jury charge. Her mentor, with years of experience in CART, can write 360 words per minute.

The difference between court reporting and CART is that court reporters can review their transcriptions and correct them before anyone sees them, whereas CART specialists are writing in real time, with their work -- and any mistakes -- immediately visible to the audience. Arntzen was the only one in her class at Anoka Tech who chose the CART specialization.

In addition to doing captioning for television, Arntzen also provides CART services in the classroom at St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota and in doctors' offices for hearing-impaired students and patients. That provides a nice balance between working from home and getting out into the community. In addition, she says, "the people who receive CART services are so grateful. It feels good to be connecting with the consumer."

What does it take to be a CART reporter?

I'm fascinated by English and by language in general. I like watching TV -- even bad TV. Most people in the program at Anoka Tech had a musical background of some kind, or they enjoy video games -- something that requires eye-hand coordination. You have to be tech savvy and not afraid of making changes to the equipment and the software. Almost everybody I've encountered in court reporting is good at research.

What are the challenges?

It's physically taxing. I need to take a break every 90 minutes or so. If I'm working at home captioning a game, I'll stretch at my computer. Twenty hours a week is kind of the maximum number of writing hours -- my first week I wrote for 40 hours, and I was a zombie! There's a lot of prep work that I don't get paid for, when I'm reviewing materials and looking up technical terms. When you're working live, you just have one chance -- when it's gone, it's gone. People talk really fast.

Is there a demand for CART specialists?

I graduated and had a job a month later. There's such a shortage. There's going to keep being new TV. As boomers get older, they're losing hearing. People keep saying that it will be possible to provide CART services through technology, with voice recognition software, but the quality isn't the same.

What do you like best about CART?

It's not the same, ever. I'm excited to share my service and help educate people. I love doing this job so much. I feel like I became a teacher even though I said I didn't want to.

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