To some degree, we all enjoy researching pieces of history. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes we learn things that nobody else knows. Sometimes we get to use our knowledge to help those close to us, and that’s a wonderful thing.
But I had quite the experience exiting steno school years ago, I found that knowledge was hard to come by. I wanted to know all about the old Federation for Shorthand Reporters. I wanted to know why it failed, and I wanted to know what people’s rates used to be so I could compare them for inflation. Some stenographers were kind, and gave anecdotes, like they made $2.85 in 1989, which was interesting, because I was offered $2.85 when I began my professional steno career in June 2010. $2.85 in 1989 had about the same buying power as $5.20 in 2018. Sincerely, I’m told some have worked for less than $2.85 a page today. I’m basically saying freelancers should be making $5.20 on a regular easy. Laugh all you want, it’s the math. And that’s the point. How is this not common knowledge? How are we not talking about this? How are we not discussing the best ways to negotiate and pull up whatever we’re making today?
Finding real concrete information was hard, and often, even when I became an established professional, people who had some experience in the field were done with the field and didn’t want to take the time out to share their experiences.
It’s imperative that I write a little bit today about why I started to preserve some of these ideas about the market, competition, and steno in general. Some of it is a modern look at how we might make things better, but also it’s about catching up, preserving knowledge, and putting it out there so that stenographers everywhere might benefit.
Let’s be very honest. How easy is it for an agency to tell a kid out of school that they’re only worth $2.85? The kid doesn’t know! The kid doesn’t have anybody to tell them what was or what may be. The kid only knows they’re in the moment and they’re being offered XYZ. It’s not like agencies can’t afford stenographers, they just have an interest in paying the minimum that’ll get the job done. That’s the reality.
We have probably 100 years of stenography. If we assume there was an average of only 20,000 stenographers in those years, that’s 2,000,000 years of life and steno experiences. The industry has survived and thrived. Our biggest weakness is that nearly all of the information today is locked up behind paywalls, private practice sessions, quiet conversations. This constant limiting of the spread of knowledge has hamstrung us like no enemy ever could. As Ariel Durant said, a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. Connect the dots, lift people out of ignorance, and the civilization will take care of itself.
It’s about training people not to be afraid anymore. It’s about reaching out to students and telling them where you’ve won, where you’ve lost, and how they can be successful. Give them real numbers. Ask how they’re doing. Tell them what people were making in the 80s, 90s, and now. Tell them how people outside of New York City make a dollar on copies. Tell them New York officials make at least dollar on copies. We cannot teach resourcefulness, but we can facilitate an attitude and environment where people understand the market and push for private clients and create stenographic-only firms. We can get to a point where companies like US Legal stop pushing their electronic recorders and start contributing to training more stenographers.
The bottom line is that without a healthy field in multiple disciplines, eventually the train runs off the tracks. I hear a lot of people echo “come to court”, “come to CART”, “come do what I do because it works for me.” But the bottom line is to continue to thrive, stenography needs to continue to grow its market share, and it needs to push to retake where it has lost. A lot of victory has to do with perception. If stenography is perceived as failing, then it is less likely that people will want to get into it, and less likely that people will start schools dedicated to it. Such a perception would be a deathblow for this field.
On the other hand, if it is seen as something new, exciting, and with growth potential, it will encourage people with money, entrepreneurs, and innovators to invest in it. We’ll encourage the building of more free steno materials. It will cause a boom for us, and if we’re smart about it, we may not see that boom end in our lifetime. So I’d say yes, absolutely encourage people to join your particular discipline, but also listen to their problems, and suggest how they might do better where they are too. It’ll make a world of difference for them on an individual level, and save all of us as a whole.