The Transcription Company

featured in

The Los Angeles Times
November 16, 1997

Westside People


Transcriber puts words in other people's mouths


The inverse of E.F. Hutton:  When people talk, Richard Brownstein listens - and transcribes hanging onto every word.


His company, Trailblazer Transcripts, makes the lives of harried journalists and entertainment professionals easier.  He does this by transcribing taped footage they provide into a meticulously scripted version, complete with time codes, table of contents and even an index by key words, to ease future editing.

Roughly 300 clients - including "Inside Edition," "American Journal," Disney, and Warner Bros. use his services, dropping off their Beta tapes for him to dub to an audio cassette and videotape to precisely match sound with pictures.

He then puts on a headset and lets his fingers fly.  As he types, he controls the cassette player with a foot pedal, which allows him to stop, start and pause the tape without taking his hands off the keyboard.

"People who work here can't be afraid of technology and computers," the 35-year-old said.


Brownstein got wind of a job opportunity transcribing tapes back in 1989.  The tedious, hair-pulling process, however, motivated him to find an easier way to encrypt the times.  For six months he toiled with writing a computer program that would automatically pop the time into the transcript, an effort that slowly led to the formation of his two-office company in Brentwood and Burbank.  His staff includes about 10 part-time and full-time employees and contracted off-site typists working around the clock.

"I built this company on sweat, late nights and 120-hour weeks," he said, not to mention a lot of help from his wife, Patricia.


It was midnight one evening when his company received volumes of footage from ice skater Scott Hamilton's comeback performance after a bout with cancer.  There was a push to complete the transcripts by 5 A.M. for "Inside Edition," which works by New York time.

Thus, potential job applicants must be able to type at least 100 words per minute to meet usual 24-hour deadlines.

"There is a direct correlation between speed and accuracy," Brownstein said.  "The faster they type, the more accurate they are."


In an ideal situation, it should take a proficient transcriber three to five times as long as the tape to convert the package.

"That's when people speak distinctly, or are all micro phoned," he said, pointing out that he establishes parameters with clients to determine exactly what they would like to see on a finished transcript, for instance, he asks whether they want the verbatim answers from an interview, complete with ums, ahs, coughs and a telephone ringing in the background.

He also needs to know  whether they want descriptive B-roll, those extra-wide shots of skylines and freeway traffic that can land on the cutting room floor or serve as filler to the reporter's story.

Eventually, those extras are what will cost the client, who pay hourly rates starting at $30."


"I used to watch all the shows we would be working on," Brownstein said.  "I'd get a kick out of seeing what was in my hands yesterday is in America's lives today."

He'd also play the "sound bite game."

"I'd pick what I think what quote should be chosen," he said, referring to the finished story that hit the airwaves.  "More often than not I was right."

Through the countless tapes the company has received, there have been images that no doubt have seen the pause button due to their steamier nature, such as news clips from Internet stories.

"We get a lot of skin," Brownstein said.  "I've had one person quit because of the explicit stuff."

Bottom line:  They are privy to information before people even click on their remote.

"We know a lot of things we shouldn't know," Brownstein said.

- Story by Nola L Sarkisian, photo by Brian Pobuda



Original Article.  Fancy, no!