Monday, February 11, 2008

The pioneer of closed-captioning dies

Thanks to Mike P. who sent along this news article about the death of a pioneer in the development and promotion of closed-captioning.

Phillip Collyer worked for WGBH, Boston's PBS station, and reading a little about him goes a long way in finally explaining to me why WGBH's captions are so superior to many other companies', something I wrote about a while back. In fact, in my reply to Mike's email I referred to WGBH's work today as "the Gold Standard of closed-captioning".

In 1972 Mr. Collyer apparently attacked "this captioning project" with relish. He essentially invented captioning, figuring out that he could combine screen subtitles with courtroom stenography techniques to caption - and even live-caption - television programming. He was innovative - upon running into trouble getting the rights to offer deaf viewers President Nixon's inauguration speech in 1973, he got the rights to air the Spanish-language broadcast - and captioned it in English.

I couldn't help thinking about how wonderful it must've been for deaf people in the Boston area to be able to watch, thanks to Mr. Collyer, ABC World News, with captions, just five hours after it originally aired. How incredibly fresh that news must've seemed to deaf people who normally had to wait for tomorrow morning's papers to get today's news!

He sounds like a creative leader who cared about journalism and was committed to serving his audience. No wonder he's left behind an excellent PBS station and the very finest captioning service in television.

He opened a window to the world for deaf people, and invited us to join in to the local, regional, national and international conversation. That's quite a legacy.




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