The Economics of Caring

A question often received is “you became an official, why do you write about and focus on freelance so heavily?” It’s usually an honest question, and there’s an easy and honest answer. Hopefully this’ll put things into perspective and everybody can embrace this kind of thought.

It all starts from my freelance experience. I was working very hard at first and making not very much money. I started as many start out, young, zero life experience. I had my mentors, but mentors can only help with their wise advice and their own experiences. They can’t change the market. And at that point the market was just unpleasant to be in if you weren’t in the very upper echelons of real-time reporting. To keep this short, all the things I talked about in my last article came from things I was told, overheard, or saw myself. I had friends leave this field because it was not treating them well. I have a mentee now whose friends are leaving in droves because the field is not treating them well. This shortage likely exists, at least in New York, because stenographers are underpaid or not treated well, and complaints by newbies are not received well. We’re regarded as complainers. Meanwhile, we were given an impossible task of putting in 150 to 200 percent of what people put in in the 90s. I have seen a lot change in 10 years though. We are much more open to discussion. And now I am not dependent on agencies for work. I can’t be fired for blogging. How could I not contribute, like many of you, to being a voice for the voiceless? How could I kick away the ladder I just climbed?

This is the isolation of freelance. It’s not like the old days where everyone sat around and transcribed at an agency. There’s little opportunity for people to say “oh, what’re you making on that job?” Between the isolation and the antitrust laws quashing any discussion of rates in our trade associations, companies were pretty much free to dictate our worth to us. On empathy alone, the right thing to do is to break this cycle by any means necessary.

But the economics of caring are even more compelling. The almighty Ducker Report tells us that the field at large was over 70 percent freelance in 2013. Maybe most places, but especially New York, the entry level job is freelance, and reporters siphon into other positions from that. So the smaller that freelance chunk is, it follows that the smaller everything else will be. Imagine the industry as one giant paycheck. Every single reporter is a dollar in that paycheck. Maybe realtimers want to count themselves as 10 dollars for purposes of this exercise. What happens to a person if they lose 70 percent of their paycheck? What happens to your reputation if you delete 70 percent of a transcript? If we lose the non-real-time work or cede more of the freelance field to other methodologies, we can shrink to a point of novelty and insignificance. If I want my job to be here, I need all of you to have one too.

This is a future that does not have to happen. This is not some inevitable end. I have already shown, using vTestify’s numbers, that we are a robust field and could beat the shortage with some tweaks to efficiency. But we cannot win if we do not try. This blog stands as one avenue for discussion and sharing. So many others are standing up and speaking out today. It’s kind of like the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. In brief, the main character lives the same dark and terrifying day over and over, over a billion years. At the end of each day, he’s punching away at a solid wall. One day, the wall cracks, and the monster terrorizing him is vaporized. We are in a story with thousands of protagonists. On that fact alone, I know that change can be exponential. If it would take one a hundred years to effect change, it could take one hundred a year to effect change.

Next time your anxiety is telling you the situation is un-winnable, that you shouldn’t bother to mentor someone because it won’t make a difference, you shouldn’t share something, you shouldn’t write a JCR article, you shouldn’t go after a private client, or you shouldn’t negotiate better contract terms because whatever you’re up against seems bigger, stronger, or richer than you, just remember we live in a country where people who didn’t have the right to vote secured the right to vote. People who had no workers rights fought and died for workers rights. Victims of serious crime and oppression went systemically unheard for decades — but even they got the world to acknowledge them. What are we fighting for? A permanent place in an industry we own? An industry that takes care of its newbies so they’re not dreading every depo? Not to minimize its importance, but when you look at all the fights people have won in this country, this one will be easy. History has shown us that stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging means the next generation might not have to suffer the same way. So if you’re somebody on the sidelines, or you know somebody on the sidelines, it’s time to reach out, be involved, offer suggestions. When people say Superman isn’t coming, it’s a rallying cry. We are all Superman, and this is a profession we protect together.

The Disappointment Paradigm

There’s something important that every student and new reporter should know before they hit the working world. In life, and especially working life, you’ll be encouraged to be a pleaser. People will ask for tighter deadlines with no additional pay. People will ask for favors that will go forever unreturned. There will be great pressure on some of you externally and internally to be a certain way, do a certain thing, or agree when you’d rather not.

The very unfortunate truth is that you can be all the people and do all the things expected of you. You can get on that hamster wheel of expectation and run until tired. And when you are tired, there is no gold medal or ebb. There is disappointment. The same people that lifted you up when you were doing them a favor will hate you. The same people that told you what a wonderful job you were doing when you were doing a job for them will talk about you behind your back. Those same people who were urging you to speak out and be a part of the conversation will seek to silence you.

Can you stop the disappointment paradigm? I don’t think so. But remember that you are always in full control of your train. You can balance the demands placed on you. The favors you do for people should be done either without expectation or with expectations made clear. You can be a good person and still set boundaries. In fact, I’ve found that you need to set boundaries or you lose the ability to be a good person. You lose your humanity altogether and get treated like furniture. Your favors are there, and “appreciated,” like a fine rug.

So set boundaries. Be willing to help those in need. But also be willing to say no. So many of us suffered so much from being unable to say no that by the time we learned to say no, it became all we could say. Being an altruist requires you to be strong and give yourself recharge time to help others. Being a hard worker requires much of the same so that you can continue to do great work. Listen to your body and mind, give yourself time to recharge, because chances are pretty high that there’ll be work to do and people to save tomorrow. The day you give yourself won’t mean very much to anyone else, even if they go on about how disappointed they are, but it’ll mean the world to you.

Table of Contents

Here we have a table of contents of various concepts and the writing Stenonymous has done on them.

Anticontracting…

Explanation, what is AC?

Antitrust…

Why Not Discuss Rates, association liability.

Associations…

Value of Assoc, NYSCRA

NYSCRA Certs, waiving provisional test.

For Stenographers, NYSCRA and NCRA.

Why You Matter, math behind members.

How Organizations Work, including associations.

Billing…

Simplified, NY billing.

Branding…

Meet Stenographer, reporter got hijacked.

Copies…

Conundrum, copy value.

Digital Reporting…

To Digitals, urging them not to undercut.

US Legal, ads for digital.

Veritext, pushing digital.

Veritext March 2019, pushed digital.

Planet Depos, pushed digital.

Verbit, recording and transcription.

Educators…

Transcript Marker, free.

Todd Olivas’s Slasher, free.

Creating A School, new NY process.

Medical Terms Refresher, for tests.

Legal Terms Refresher, for tests.

WKT Randomizer, geared for NY.

Finger Drill Generator, free.

Guest Writers…

Stay Strong, Joshua Edwards, 2018.

Open Steno, Claire Williams, 2018.

LiveSteno4U Review, J. Edwards, 2018.

How To…

Judiciary FOIL, NY

CaseCAT, characters per line.

Make F Keys Work, when they’re not.

Make Writer Work, on new computer.

Kill Superfetch, with alacrity.

Run A Business, basics.

Understand Holding Companies, basics.

Write Persuasively, basics.

CaseCAT E-Signature, one method.

Think About AI, basics.

Timed Dictation, create timed dictation.

Independent Contracting…

Independent v Employee, differences.

Form SS8, IRS determines status.

Direction & Control, more distinctions.

Jobs…

Real Job – finding work NYC

Law…

Remote Swearing, New York.

Law For Stenographers, New York.

FRCP, USA.

Grand Jury Recording, New York.

Sexual Harassment, USA and NY.

Copyright, a brief overview as applied to us.

Leadership…

Rebel Alliance, how everyone contributes.

Savior Chimera, the numbers make steno a market leader.

Marketing…

Magic, selling a feeling.

Negotiation…

Art of Deal, who you know

Turnaround, considerations.

My Sister, know when to make demands.

Verbit, who’s helping who?

HRD: First Look, historic rate data from California.

Open Steno Project…

Open Steno, steno for all.

Aloft, project by Stanley Sakai.

Typey Type, for self-learners.

Outreach…

To Our Agency Owners, use steno.

To Our Litigators, use steno.

Political Action…

Writing Elected Officials, brief.

Price Fixing…(See Antitrust)

Rates…

Audio Transcription, costly.

Rate Sheet, what’s in them?

Case For Higher Rates, better accounting.

Inflation, higher rates.

What Rate, math tables for rates.

Cost of DB, cover your expenses.

Rate Data FL CA, first look at rate data.

Rate Data 2 NY, 1990s rates.

Org & What, about charging habits.

Pricing Yourself, thoughts on how the game is played.

Shortage Solutions…

Monster, doing nothing not viable.

SS1, remote proceedings.

SS2, coverage area.

SS3, private labeling.

SS4, direct market apps.

SS5, public perceptions.

SS6, pay the piper.

SS7, recruitment.

SS8, retirement.

SS9, listings.

SS10, contracts.

SS11, logistics.

SS12, Stenography

Shortage Stats, March 2020

Strategy…

Diplomacy, keeping our cool.

Public Records, seeking information.

We, why we need each other.

Freelance Loyalty, loyalty to yourself.

Tips on Tricks, be aware of users.

KISS, keeping things simple.

Enforcing Rights, instead of complacency.

Power of Contract, have one.

Allies, have many.

Constantinople, identifying decline.

When Agencies Won’t Collect, ideas.

Stop Gatekeeping, hurts us.

Limits of Institution, how you fit.

Good Reporter, urges resourcefulness.

Commitment, win by any means.

Competing, can’t win if you don’t try.

History, how it informs our future.

Power of No, can make you money.

Getting Involved, you make a difference.

Empty City, don’t buy competitors’ hype.

Big Box, don’t ostracize allies.

Them, emphasizes working together.

Pitchfork, the need for diverse ideas.

Cert Shaming, building each other up.

Sell, why grabbing clients is good.

Lie, the importance of identifying spin.

Guard, about not believing everything AAERT says.

Buying Hype, about promoting facts over a sales pitch.

Why & When, to stonewall.

Pricing In Fear, dealing with a bear market.

Beware Busywork, not letting planning defeat doing.

Students…

Real Job, finding work NYC.

Learn Steno, resources.

Beginner’s Trap, true freelance.

Strike That, do you take it out?

Forgot Caption, NY E-filing.

Off Record, disagreements on going.

Interrupting, when and how.

Take It Out, caution editing.

How Are We Paid, it varies.

Parentheticals, the basics.

Cultural Literacy, its importance.

Hardware 2017, computer basics.

Audio & You, tool or crutch?

Emails, clear communication.

Passive Learning, mastery takes time.

State v Federal, understanding captions.

Briefs, a caution.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, thoughts.

Tax Basics, forms I’ve filed.

Specifically Pacific, verbatim?

Speech & Years, verbatim?

Interpreted Jobs, parentheticals.

Mistakes, you will make them.

Rejection, it happens.

Third Person, messy interpreted testimony.

Stipulations, important.

Inadequacy, why didn’t school teach me?

Employability, truths to consider.

Perfection, sometimes good is good enough.

Tips, general student help.

Value Gradients, different upcharges.

Audio Revisited, more cautions.

Be Social Media Smart, cautions.

Let Go, learning not to backspace.

Errors, how many do you get?

C Bank, technique to short writing.

Log, spreadsheet for logging practice.

Retro, achieving goals by working backwards.

Mentoring, list of all mentoring programs.

Disappointment, importance of boundaries.

Pattern, using pattern writing.

Impostor, forgiving Impostor Syndrome.

Enemies, importance of not saying too much.

Loans, a short discussion of loans.

Workers Rights…

Unionization, freelance.

Workers Rights, cautions.

Gov v Gig Economy, about IC regulation.

– – – –

Writers wanted…

Write Stenonymously, on this blog.

Seriously, write on this blog.

Fundraising…

Fundraising page, support this blog.

Jobs Archive…

March, 2019.

May, 2019.

June, 2019.

July, 2019.

August, 2019.

September, 2019.

October, 2019.

November, 2019.

December, 2019.

January, 2020.

February, 2020.

March, 2020.

April, 2020.

May, 2020.

History…

NYSCRA Prep 2017, for court test.

NY Constitutional Convention, 2017.

Exam Prep, 2017.

Reporter Sharing, 2017.

Disclaimer, 2017.

Exam Prep 2, 2017

Sad Iron Stenographer, first appearance.

Dave Wenhold & Lobbying, 2018.

Typos, Stenonymous PSA.

NCRA Amendments, 2018.

Open Letter to NCRA, 2018.

NCRA Retention Fairness, 2018.

Learn to Caption by Anissa, 2018.

Veritext Buys Diamond, 2018.

License Plates History, 1993.

Positive Reporting, 2018.

New Year, New Rates, 2018.

Wenhold Reaffirms Steno Support, 2018.

Release of Diamond’s Old Renewal, 2010.

Language Study, 2019.

NYSCRA Social, Feb 2019.

Learn About Steno, Plaza, 2019.

Steno v Digital, 2019.

Stenofest, 2019.

Mistaken For The Reporter, 2019.

Stenotrain, 2019.

Wake Up, WUNCRA, 2019.

MA Payonk: Steno First, 2019.

Stenonymous Goes Ad Free, 2019.

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox, 2019.

NCRA: Stenographers, 2019.

NY Courts Want You, 2019.

Language Study Revisited, 2019.

NYSCRA Opens Prep, 2019.

Veritext Scholarships, 2019.

NCRA Survey, May 2019.

NCRA Amendments, 2019.

Burngirl CaseCAT Tips, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite Concept, 2019.

RJR, June 2019.

Leadership Book Review, 2019.

Stenovate, 2019.

Steno Speed, 2019.

Global Alliance, 2019.

Library of Congress, 2019.

Resurgence, 2019.

NCRA Virtual Town Hall 9/21/19, 2019.

Outfluence, 2019.

Raise Your Rates, 2019.

MAPEC 2019, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite EV, 2019.

Impossible Institute, 2019.

Economics of Caring, 2019.

NYSCRA Survey January 2020, 2020.

A Night In Brooklyn, January PYRP, 2020.

Stenonymous on Facebook, 2020.

Eastern District Hiring, 2020.

Trust Issues & Veritext, 2020.

Stenopalooza, 2020.

NYSCRA Student Webinar, 2020.

The Pitchfork Culture

Sometime Sunday I received an anonymous reply from a reader about my post Us and Them. The comment had to do primarily with the cold truth that often reporters who do complain get told to join an association and spread their views, only to be castigated, ostracized, shot down, or ignored. The reader described it as a pitchfork culture, one that is less than helpful, one that is destructive.

To those that feel this way, in many ways I was and still am you. In my career I’ve had maybe three to five ideas I thought were profound. Whoever was in the position of power to make those ideas happen, for one reason or another, didn’t. Didn’t matter if it was an association, a union, or a colleague. We cannot really change how people react or behave towards the idea that we can make things better. We can point out that the might makes right ideology is harmful. We can point out that telling people to join and get with the program or nobody cares about you is a great way to disengage outsiders and shrink membership. But again, we cannot really change how people react.

Why do you think I started blogging? I saw things that should be happening that weren’t. Why was there no guide on where job postings were in my home state? Why wasn’t anybody talking about the copy problem? Why don’t we talk about rates? As early as 2011, I was out there discussing some of these things, and the message at that time was very clear: If you are not happy, change jobs or move. Nobody cared.

Now we have a choice. We can sink very deeply into this idea that nobody cares, or we can, all of us, find ways to progress in the face of adversity or opposition. I could never besmirch somebody that chose the former, but the latter is more likely to change outcomes and make things better. I am decidedly not special. Upon starting this blog, I was told by a friend that people would not listen to me and that I would be just some guy on the internet. Today we’re looking at hundreds of visitors and over a thousand views a month. The actual engagement is lower than I would like it to be, but the message spreads. You can do that. You can do better.

If you are that anonymous commentator, or if you just agree with what he or she had to say, I hope you’ll see how far on your side I really am. The older I get, the more I realize that there is unlikely to be one person, entity, or moment that makes or breaks the day for stenography. What will save us is the collective action of many. I know you’ve complained, and I know you’ve been burned for it, but I’m here to say the complaint was probably valid, and the best thing you can do is rework the message until it’s accepted, or build your idea so that nobody can deny it works.

As for the pitchfork culture, what is there to say? We spend most of our professional lives listening, and it can feel so good to have a voice, power, even momentary power, over someone or a situation. There’s power in telling people that they are wrong, or that we are right, or that everyone is on our side. All I can say to anyone is that in your life you will have these moments of power, and how you use them is a measure of who you truly are.

Us and Them

While regular fans of my work may believe that the them of this story are a company, the digitals, or rock bottom rates, tonight is different. A great writer already addressed the topic of the adversary in the mirror. Mission accomplished. No more them to talk about. Right?

Incorrect. There’s a growing discontent out there. People are upset with our associations. People see the falling rates, the fantastic need for better training across the country, and all the challenges we face in producing the record. People are upset that things too often do not go our way. Some days, despite our best efforts, it seems we are fighting a losing battle. There’s actually another side to this, too. The leaders of associations — the people who are often donating time and money for the greater good — not only face criticism, but also the harsh reality that many, many people find it easier to critique than to help build something greater.

Summarized:

STENOGRAPHERS: Why are you not doing X?

ASSOCIATIONS: Why are you not helping with X?

What does this do? It makes it us and them. Maybe it even makes it us against them. There are, and will always be, personality conflicts and personal squabbles that prevent progress. Can’t help that.

  • But what we can help is how we look at this from a long term, high level of thinking and strategy. To that end, I would like to offer a few assorted suggestions.
  • If you are an association leader, try keeping a log of what you’re doing. Note what is working. Note what has been tried. Note what didn’t work and why it didn’t work. One of our major problems today is that we’ve had decades of leaders and there does not seem to be a good guide on how to lead. Keep lists of ideas and suggestions from members so that even an idea that is untenable today can be examined someday in the future.
  • If you are a stenographer who has complaints, bring them up. Be polite, be professional, be honest. The more developed your idea is, the easier it is to work with. If it is a very developed idea and shot down, you can even seek private funding or commence the idea privately. As an example, a mentor believed that associations should take a more active role in education. I largely agree. Where we disagree is that I believe it is on the proposers to create a program to share with the association, whereas I believe the mentor thinks the association should do it.
  • Telling other people they should do more is unwise. First, you’re alienating the person you are telling to do more. Their first reaction is going to be to consider not doing anything more because their work is clearly unappreciated. Second, their opinion of you is dropping through the floor, and your ability to work together in the future is damned. I do believe in my heart that we can always do better, but I always try to acknowledge that we are all human and can only do so much.
  • What makes a leader? Followers. That’s it. That’s all you need. What keeps followers? Engagement on their level. Everyone has different tolerance levels for engagement. Find out what your followers like to do and then include them at their own comfort level. Hey, Mr. Reporter, you like drawing and design? Would you like to help us create an attractive flyer? Hey, Ms. Reporter, you like science and statistics? Would you help us design a program to track historic price data? Frankly, it doesn’t even have to be purely voluntary. If a small stipend is the difference between a yes and a no, consider paying out to increase the intellectual property of the association and its value to members.
  • Similarly, everyone may now see the inherent power they have as followers. If you have stuff you are willing to do, let your leaders know. It will make it more probable that you will get to take on or design something you’re passionate in.
  • Finally, see some validity in the id and the ego. There is who we are, and who we want to be. You’ve got to respect both. If you know a reporter wants to be a leader, but is not a good leader, but a good writer, then perhaps have them lead a writing project.

Associations face a lot of brain drain. They’re run by volunteers. Many aren’t making any money directly or indirectly off their leadership position. Imagine you are a stenographer that works all day, transcribes for 2 hours a night, goes home, and then sacrifices the little free time you have to jump on a conference call or respond to association emails. It’s not so much that people in power don’t want to fix everything, but the effort behind it is tremendous. Then add the fact that it can be very easy to burn out or become bitter, and perform less-than-optimally as a leader.

This is where you come in. It matters precious little if you are a leader, or a follower, or masquerading as either. It matters very much what you do and how you act. Realize that there are always improvements to be made, and that your inaction, action, words, or silence will change outcomes for all of us.

The Empty City Strategy

Everywhere you look there’s an article about digital reporting. It’s the future! It’s coming! Abandon all hope ye who use steno! We’ve even had articles claim AI is 95 percent accurate or more.

You know what’s missing? Evidence of these claims. Everything is behind a pay wall, a service, a guarantee, a private company. We need to acknowledge that in this country, companies are generally allowed to lie. Anything short of serious fraud is probably not getting investigated. Anything short of serious damage is probably not being sued for.

Anyone can make a claim. Over 400 people read this blog in the last eight days. You have no evidence what we’re telling you is true. You either believe us or leave it. There’s no penalty for us if we’re lying. Decide for yourself while we get into the Empty City Strategy.

The idea is simple enough. When facing an overwhelming force, throw open the gates of the city, sit up in a tower like Zhuge Liang, and start playing your lute. Your enemies, so convinced that there’s a trap waiting for them, flee or fall back. The concept is one of deception and demoralization, and it’s something you see in business and politics.

If a potential opponent is demoralized, they will not fight you. How many people do not start a business because there’s already a huge company in that field that they feel they cannot compete with? If we say to you right now that we have a great idea — let’s begin a business selling burgers and fries — you’d laugh. Right? No! We cannot do that! There are too many big players in the field! McDonald’s would crush us, they’ve been around since 1955. Look at Shake Shack. Born 49 years later, and yet still managed to carve out some of the market for itself.

Nobody knows what the future holds. Giant companies go bankrupt all the time. Bear Stearns, survivor of the Great Depression, a company that had some $9 billion in revenue and 13,000+ employees worldwide, died thanks to the Great Recession. The case we are trying to make here is simple: Don’t be scared of the empty city. If someone is shouting out about how something is the next big thing and how everybody should jump aboard or be left behind, consider their motives, fears, and evidence.

We can go on and on about how ATMs replaced bank tellers, self-service kiosks replaced cashiers, cars replaced horses — or we can realize that this industry is just a little different. Many of us are reliant on these companies to bring us work, but we are not their employees. We are not disposable.

We have the option and opportunity to compete with them directly. It’s as simple as telling the law office secretary you take depos independently. The major startup costs for producing work, steno machine, CAT software, laptop, and printer are largely borne by us anyway. It’s not like your CVS where the employee has no hope of buying a storefront, or your teller that can’t afford to open a bank, or your horse that — well, you get the idea. We pay out the cost of doing business at the very start of our careers. Isn’t that worth thinking about?

So if you’re a stenographer and you’re on the fence about this field because people around you are telling you the future is bleak or uncertain, you can be certain that’s only one perspective. That’s one side of the story. For a field that’s been “dying” for the last fifty years, there’s a whole lot of businesses out there trying to get a bigger slice of the pie and have you forfeit your own. And if you want the unbridled truth, you’ll have to stop taking people’s word for it.

Silence is Deafening

There was a great deal of mirth when we started this blog in the summer of 2017. Perhaps we suffered from pain or fear, but we knew that there was a need to begin preserving and sharing knowledge. We did not expect an audience. We were told, perhaps rightly, that there was no reason for readers to find us credible. There were no delusions of grandiosity. There was only a single belief and overriding directive: It was the right thing to do. We had inspiration and experience in the field. We saw the many questions our contemporaries had. We could begin to document these questions, issues, and answers or simply continue the impossible game of answering each one individually on Facebook.

Imagine ourselves in a plain white room with no windows or doors. There is only a voice every 12 hours that tells us the time. It is now 6 a.m., says the voice. We do not know if it is really 6 a.m. Nor do we know if the last time was really 6 p.m. We do know that the time in between, we are left to our thoughts, as dark or optimistic as they may be.

We saw this in the interactions across the field. One often only gets to talk about the field when one is brave enough to put their face on a question or statement. Is the time 6 a.m.? Groups dedicated to answering questions could also devolve into mocking questions and creating an environment that even the most zealous stenographers did not wish to take part in. Of course it is not 6 a.m., mocks the voice, never bothering to say what we really want to know.

Without input, our newbies and students may stumble blindly into the same pitfalls we did. Without guiding voices, they may lose the ability to tell the time. We have grown in readership not because the things we say are particularly profound, but because we say them. We do not back down from hard truths. We try to give credit when it is due. We are always open to changing our minds when a situation warrants it. We inform whenever we can, and do not assume everyone knows what we know. We feel the field would benefit from these principles, and so we share them freely, hoping to see more discussion and camaraderie grow in New York and across the country for stenographers.

We encourage more voices to join us in guiding those who need guidance. One need not any special qualification to lead. One need only disregard the voice that tells them not to speak out. Continue blogging, talking, encouraging, and answering questions. Our greatest achievement will not be the hours spent dictating the time, but the day we have built a foundation of knowledge so strong that our learners can escape the room and teach others to see the morning.

Knowledge Preserved Is Power

Connecting Dots.

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.

Winning.

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.

 

 

 

The Price of Perfection

This one goes out to my many perfect contemporaries. This one is for every perfectionist, and even some want-to-be perfectionists. There’s no easy way to say it, so let’s start off with a story about Morris. Morris is a perfectionist. Day after day, he takes the time to carefully perfect everything that he does. In fact, he’s got his commute timed, his work scheduled, and everything falls into place perfectly all the time. One day, Morris comes up with an idea, a perfect one, naturally, and begins to work on it. Except it isn’t perfect. It’s just missing something. He can’t release his creation like this. Morris’s perfect idea never sees the light of day because it just wasn’t perfect enough for him.

Why do we let great be the enemy of good? Why do we strive to be perfect when sometimes all the world needs is good enough? For some it’s a code of honor, for others a badge, and for a few, a compulsion. I’ve caught myself many times refusing to act, waiting to do something, or wanting a thing to have better conditions before I set off. Now I wonder, how many ideas in this world never come to fruition because they are never started? The old cliche, “once begun, half done” resonates here.

We can actually see this in history. Many great things came about through apparent happenstance, willingness to share the imperfect, or the imperfect contributions of a collective. The internet, penicillin, peanut butter. It is nice to romanticize and buy into the idea that there is some coordinated sentience pushing things along the “right” way, and that things happen because they’re meant to be, but ultimately every step forward comes with a new set of consequences, whether beneficial or malignant, and the solutions or next steps come from the people who are willing to eschew the cloak of perfection and take up the mantle of doing. So what is your next step? Will you await the perfect condition before contributing, or will you get out there and contribute to something? There’s a world of art, music, computers, steno, literature, and study. You need not despair if the thing you’re working on right now does not work out. There’s a world of things to do and see, but only for those willing to open their eyes to an imperfect world, and only for those willing to open their minds up to being imperfect.

The Truths of Employability

For this purpose we define employability generally as ability to work and be “employed” as employees and independent contractors. There is no secret that I often write about how court reporters need to ask for more money, be confident, and negotiate for better benefits or conditions. It’s true. We constantly have market forces exerted on us to lower our expectations in terms of earnings, or make our deadlines tighter, or make our work harder. We are the polite opposition to those market forces. No, we will not work for free. No, we will not give away expedites. No, we will not reprint the entire transcript because your client disagrees subjectively with the potential interpretations arising from the placement of a comma.

But today there’s an important addition to all of that. Today it’s time to say out loud: In addition to demanding you be paid what you are worth, you must make yourself employable. It struck me as I read this Quora answer to the question, “What is the saddest truth about smart people?” The answer itself has a simple theme: Smart people can be the smartest people in the room, but can be unsuccessful and unhappy if they do not take on risks or new opportunities. Now I adapt to this to court reporting. Imagine you are now the fastest, most knowledgeable court reporter in all the world. Imagine you have nothing more to do or learn. Imagine that you are undoubtedly the best. Now imagine that you cannot write a resume or cover letter. You make great transcripts but your cover letters are just awful with misplaced words or rambling ideas. Who will an employer hire; the best court reporter in the world, or the one who knows how to write a resume? In all likelihood, the one who knows how to write, because they have the skill of being able to write, and that makes them employable.

So now it is my time to urge every student, every current reporter, and every non-reporter to do what a theory teacher once taught me: Never stop learning. You don’t have to learn to be the best x, or y, or z. You don’t have to discover new technologies or be a genius. You need only apply yourself to things that interest you. Take a step back and look at a job you really want. What kinds of things make a person employable for that position? You may find that there are a bunch of tangential qualities that can actually make you much more likely to land a position or career. Indeed, basic life skills, like writing a cover letter, go a long way to landing work. Be sure to spell check, double check, and/or have an honest friend review submissions you will make to an agency. I fondly recall a time when I applied to work at or with Reporter’s Ink (as of writing proper spelling) as a freelancer, and before that, I worked with Jaguar. They wanted a sample of my work, and so I provided it to them. They immediately insisted I use their layout, so I applied their layout, and sent the whole thing without checking. Turns out the swap from Jaguar to Reporter’s Ink’s layout stacked the lettering into one another. Succinctly, I lost myself a job opportunity because I didn’t check myself. Don’t be me, get the job, be employable, check yourself, and succeed!