We all know how terribly unreliable and inaccurate TV captions can be. On the local TV news in my area (Lubbock, TX), the captions are usually pretty good because the written transcript being fed through the teleprompter is also used for captioning. Problems with captions occur when announcers ad-lib, for example during sports and weather segments.
On the early evening of May 27th we had a number of severe thunderstorm warnings (including one tornado warning), so our regular programming was interrupted numerous times for weather updates. During the most important interruption during this time — the tornado warning for Lamesa (50 miles south of Lubbock) — a single question remained on the screen for the entire weather update:
Can I throw in my handkerchief?
No other captions appeared during this weather update. The handkerchief question was obviously a holdover or “ghost” from regular programming captions. (It’s not uncommon to see captions linger on the screen during commercials, e.g.) This single caption epitomizes for me everything that’s frustrating, unusable, broken, comic, and potentially tragic about TV captions and the (lack of) attention paid to them by TV stations.
It was clear to everyone watching the weather update that we were in the middle of some serious weather. For example, the Fox 34 weather forecaster repeatedly displayed instructions on the screen for surviving a tornado. But I’m not sure the instructions, even when combined with a colorful and swirling radar display, were sufficient for caption users, particularly when lives are at stake, the situation is rapidly changing and uncertain, and some viewers need to be more concerned than others (e.g. viewers who live in mobile homes).