Recording Endangered By Stenography’s Retirement Cliff

A common line from the average person about my job is “why don’t you just record it?” There are numerous arguments against recording, including difficulty issuing a subpoena for testimony of transcribers outside the country, price concerns, and quality concerns. One thing that has not yet been adequately addressed is why recording seems to be working in some places right now and why many court reporters think that may change.

I have to turn to my New York experience. Our Workers Compensation Board took the reporters out of the workers comp “courtrooms” and wheeled in recorders. The legislature didn’t want this. The reporters didn’t want this. And over 50 reporters that didn’t leave WCB for the New York State Unified Court System remain in the background transcribing the recordings. To the outside observer, recording is working just fine. There’s no problem because society took the highly trained professional court reporters and hid them. They’re still there working behind the scenes, guarding the record via their expertise and knowledge.

Same thing happened in Massachusetts. They took reporters out of the courtroom and created an approved transcriber list, where many stenographic services continue our professional duty to protect the record. New York itself has many stenographic services willing to transcribe recorded matters. When jobs disappear, they’re really just shifting from public sector work to private sector work. The need for quality work still exists.

So what’s the problem? Who cares if we’re back office or in front of the courtroom? Well, it exacerbates our shortage. Schools see fewer job postings, they downsize or close. People stop seeing us and fall into the easy illusion that we don’t exist. We can already see it in the transcription industry. Companies like Rev boast about having as many as 50,000 transcribers. Beyond the few articles about their horrible pay and questionable working conditions, they might as well not exist to the average consumer.

It’s time to speak out against that for our field. We need to be bold and loud, albeit polite, and insist that people take us seriously. People need to know that their actions impact our situation. People need to know that recording is going well today because you still have an army of court reporters with court reporting experience transcribing. People need to know things simply won’t go as well when you take that army of reporters and replace it with people who do not have a strong educational or ethics-based culture.

For a fictional example of why recording will become a problem, imagine someone trying to slip me $1,000 to alter some trial testimony. I’d laugh. It’s against my morals. It could hurt the perception of my profession and court reporting family. It’s also nowhere close to worth risking my well-paid job for that amount of money. But for a transcriber, that can be 33 times their monthly pay for transcription work. Ethics are nice, but they take a backseat to things like eating and feeding the kids. But court administrators don’t know what they don’t know, so without input from reporters like you, this issue goes unsung.

It’s completely possible to make $6 an hour working for Rev! Yes, that’s what that breaks down to.

For a real-life example of advocacy, in recent months, a judiciary body reached out to just about every court reporting association in the country asking for help with their shortage. I wrote a personal reply, and I’m going to share it today so that others can see what I’m talking about when it comes to talking about these issues and trying to make a difference. If we do not make an effort to shape the conversation, we will simply be left out of it. So tell it like it is, recording works today because you’ve got a large contingent of reporters working behind the scenes.

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