The Frank N Sense Monster

Came to my attention maybe a year ago that there is an overall interesting blog, Wake Up NCRA. It’s interesting because it’s, as best I can tell, anonymous, someone very concerned about the field, and someone willing to be pretty honest about their feelings. They even take a page from my book, or perhaps I from theirs, and use the word we occasionally so you can’t really tell for sure whether it’s one person or many.

For some the mix of anonymity and honesty doesn’t make sense, but there are honest reasons for wanting anonymity. Batman says it toward the end of the Dark Knight Rises, the mask is not for you, it’s to protect the people you care about. In a real world context, if “they” know who you are they can apply pressure. An agency can “fire” you. Your family can go from pretty comfortable to struggling. You don’t have to be saying anything wrong, just something someone doesn’t like. It’s private sector and it’s the last effective method on censoring someone’s free speech.

All that said, I’ve used the term monster, so I ought to get explaining that. I had linked the article in question at the top. It’s actually perfect. It talks about a group apparently calling itself SOS Plan B, talks about how this group seems to be interested in audio recording, and says straight out: The plan B is steno needs to be the gold, silver, bronze standard. I have mirrored this concern in the past. Realtime will mean nothing if it’s the last of stenographic reporters. Chess is kind of hard to win if all you have left are the king and queen.

Then out comes the monster. The author says the solutions to the reporter shortage are firms paying reporters a fair wage, firms networking, and the shortage scaling back the contracts that sell us so cheaply. And all these things I believe in pretty deeply. I’d love it if that would happen, but I do not believe it is realistic.

  1. The rates will always be a struggle because companies will always want more money.
  2. The companies network now and from my experience it always ended up with me taking a job with ridiculous conditions like don’t say who you work for, change your transcript from your usual 60 page layout to our 30 page layout that we definitely don’t change back, and get an order form but don’t talk to the client.
  3. The shortage will make it easier for firms to switch to electronic reporting and there will be fewer of us in opposition. And this is where I just get confused. It takes probably a minimum of a year to train a court reporting savant. It doesn’t take them much time at all to train someone to set up equipment and take notes during a proceeding. Our barrier to entry is already worlds higher, and if the jobs don’t get covered, people become more okay with alternatives.

That’s the monster. This is an apath’s wet dream. Do nothing. Support the shortage, the whole train falls apart. Dave Wenhold was at a NYSCRA meetup years ago. Told us he did some advisory work for a group of officials elsewhere, some other state. They were unhappy with their conditions and wanted to strike. Being a pretty politically smart guy, his advice was do not strike. They struck. For two days the courthouse was down, and then they hauled in audio equipment, and that was the end of that. Was his story true? I don’t know. Was the message of his story powerful? Oh yes. If you’re not there to do the job, the powers that be will come up with some other way to get the job done. We are valuable. We are so valuable that I have a wonderful career with wonderful colleagues and a whole universe of talented contemporaries. But we are not irreplaceable in the eyes of the people that use us. We are a means to an end. And if we sit back and let stuff happen, we’ll be proverbial fish in a barrel. But what good am I if I do not offer some solutions to the shortage problem? Some of what we at Stenonymous have crafted up:

  1. Promote all forms of stenographic education, from the traditional to the open source. I’m talking to you, NCRA.
  2. Create more and better open source learning materials.
  3. Create networks of people that can go to the high schools and promote court reporting. The logistics of funding this or finding volunteers is the major barrier.
  4. Support the students heavily through formal and informal mentorship. Rework mentorship to include education about the market in which the reporter expects to work.
  5. Shift association focus somewhat to educating reporters on business principles like negotiation, inflation, labor, et cetera. This is the ultimate battle. If expenses rise and income never does, the business, the reporter, becomes insolvent. Make business knowledge more ubiquitous so that reporters, legally considered to be on the same level as agencies, can actually have a chance here. I’m not talking your savants, I’m talking raise your bottom of the barrel people up so that they can be as good.

A lot of love to Frank N Sense. I know the logistics and long-term fruition of our ideas seem further away than yours. I know it’s harder to build than it is to sit back and hope for the best. It resonates better with people. Who wouldn’t want to just let the shortage happen and everything works out? But I don’t believe in my heart that that’s the way it’ll go. But I do believe there’s a way forward. I do believe that things can always get better. And I believe that we’ll all play an important role in making things better if we care to.

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