About a month ago, I stepped away from most volunteer activities in organizations I really love and support. My reasoning at the time was simple. I had to step away for health reasons. Stress is a killer, and to say I was feeling stress in both my personal life and professional life would be an understatement. On a bad day, my commute can be two hours one way. At the point I sent my resignation emails, I was honestly in tears. I saw pretty quickly that I would be ineffective in my positions. I did what I thought was the right thing and stood aside so somebody better could step in. I will probably always keep my memberships going, but my volunteer duties have hit almost a full stop for now.
But there was a much more pressing issue brewing. Juggling the responsibility a board member has to an organization with the self-imposed responsibility of reporting industry news and commentary had become impossible. If anyone threatens to sue me as an individual, I’ll deal with that. But what if someone attempted to drag an organization into a suit because of an article I wrote? What if a leader had to throw me off a committee because of some perceived liability or controversy I was causing? After all, if you ask NCRA, a bylaws amendment I support, which is completely proper under our bylaws, is out of order and illegal. You should vote yes on the amendment proposals this year, by the way. Not doing so makes our association weaker. That said, rather than create those difficult situations, I could step down and continue to be one of many voices out there saying what needs to be said. I didn’t ask permission or advice, I just did it.
But I still need support from you all. The biggest stories arise when people like you send me documents, emails, articles, and research. You don’t ask permission or advice, you just do it in the hopes that a more informed field is a stronger field. For example, I’ve “always” known and written about how copies make the bulk of the money in this business despite how deflated the copy sales are for New York City reporters. But getting a real-life example from a reporter allowed me to tell people they could double their money taking private clients.
With more information it will grow increasingly harder for corporations and unscrupulous people to take advantage of reporters new and old. It will grow increasingly harder for corporations and nonprofits to lie or mislead people. And when people stonewall this blog, they’ll be signaling to thousands of readers that there’s something to hide.
In a conversation with somebody I really love and admire, I was told “you don’t fight guns with bayonets.” That holds true here. We cannot continue to stay silent while corporations treat reporters poorly only to turn around and offer them positions as digital reporters. We cannot continue to stay silent while digital reporters are misled into believing stenography is antiquated or lacks viability as a career. We cannot stay silent while the media mindlessly republishes false or misleading information, or omits important facts regarding our work. My promise is that I will not stay silent. I will do what is necessary to accurately report on the business bonfire of automatic speech recognition. I will keep anonymous sources where appropriate. I will dig for information where I can. I will be honest even when it’s uncomfortable.
Intrinsic to my promise is trusting that reporters will continue to trust me. There are articles on the horizon that will slay sacred cows. From my perspective, this is necessary. Our field suffers greatly from gatekeeping and so much business being conducted solely by word-of-mouth. The simplest example goes back to the beginning of my education and career. In 2008 I was told “court reporting sells itself. It’s the best six-figure salary you haven’t heard of.” By 2011, I had been told there were too many reporters and not enough work. That’s why our rates were low. Attorneys wouldn’t pay extra for medical testimony. That’s what was told to me. “Attorneys see reporters as a dime a dozen.” All that information was wrong. It stands in stark contrast to all that’s said today. “Reporters are the gold standard, there just aren’t enough of them.” At a lawyer conference in New York just a couple of years ago I was told by lawyers “we want court reporters!” “Our firm exclusively uses stenographic court reporters.” The hard truth was reporting was a great skill and in great demand, but people would obfuscate that if it made them a buck. Had there been anyone tracking these claims, anyone would be able to look back and see exactly who did what, when they did it, and how those claims changed over time. And that’s the point of this promise. We collectively take things out of the realm of “I think XYZ happened in 2008” and present names, dates, and evidence that anyone can access.
From time to time I’m hit with a question along the lines of “why bother?” “Why do you care?” As a young reporter, I had to navigate starting life and sorting out who was lying, wrong, or withholding information. All those things I mentioned in the above paragraph happened to a young introvert who just wanted to keep his head down, do his work, and do okay in life. Often when I turned to friends and mentors, I felt more defeated than before I’d asked for help. If I was having trouble finding work, I wasn’t hungry enough. If I was overwhelmed with work, I wasn’t managing my time correctly. I was told by a mentor not to take a civil service test because I did not meet the experience requirement, but I later learned they encouraged someone with less time in the field than I had to take it. I regularly reported my experience in the field back to my school, and my school did not bother to share the information I gave it with students. Once I discovered copies were the bulk of the profit in the field, I shared that with a teacher and mentor. He said “of course. Without copies, these agencies wouldn’t survive.” He’d known all along and never bothered to tell me. These were my allies. They gained nothing from my ignorance. What chance did I ever have negotiating with people that benefitted from my ignorance, from offering me $2.50 a page on 50-h hearings, like Lex Reporting? How could I negotiate with agencies for better copies when market share monsters like Diamond Reporting weren’t paying most of their reporters copies at all and the reporters who were making copies felt pressured to tell no one? The worst of it was being treated like I was crazy. “Nobody pays big on copies. Why would that ever change?” “You have to pay your dues in this field before you can complain.” When did non-reporter owners pay theirs? It wasn’t until Mary Ann Payonk sponsored me going to an Anita Paul workshop, and I got to talk to an Ohio reporter making $2.00 a copy, that I learned just what kind of environment I was in. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that making 12 percent of what other reporters were making in an area with almost 5x the housing cost is well within the territory of “being screwed.” But it does take court reporters having the courage to share that kind of information to stop their fellow reporters from being screwed. But for the bravery of other reporters, I probably would’ve done what many of my contemporaries did and left this wonderful field. Now I have the chance to stop others from doing the same.
Certainly there is some level of personal responsibility, and I bear quite a bit of the blame for the rough times I had. I often was not assertive enough or reluctant to act on the advice of mentors after my initial letdowns. Some of my misfortune in the freelance sector was due to naivety or being a poor communicator. But even so, it didn’t have to be as hard as it was. It was made harder largely by gatekeeping and secrecy. These experiences and revelations culminated in some pretty human feelings, “it shouldn’t be this way.” “Someone should do something.” “No one should ever feel the way I did.”
As I see it, the future of this blog is in providing the news, facts, and accounts that will accelerate reporters’ journey in understanding the field and business. The future of this blog is aimed at making sure we’re not assuring our graduates there’s a future in this field and then letting them drown in the working world like many of us were left to. The future of this blog is in advocating for this field with a ferociousness that will make liars think twice before playing word games. Again, it all relies on submissions and people sharing information. So if you happen to stumble across something newsworthy or informative, please write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. We can stop the next generation of reporters from being railroaded together.