Trolls and You

We try to keep political stuff from being published here unless it’s educational, about court reporting, or about the industry. I’ve been pretty good about this. Commentators have been great about it. The occasional guest writer has been amazing with it. This topic touches with politics, but it’s not strictly political, so it should be fun to learn about.

It’s established that the United Kingdom, United States, China, Russia and several other countries view the internet as, more or less, another theater of war. They’ve had operatives and people hired to create fake posts, false comments, and advance the interests and ideas of the government. The prices reported? Eight dollars for a social media post, $100 for ten comments, and $65 for contacting a media source. In the case of China, they’re reportedly working for less than a dollar. If the host country allows it, you have trolls for hire.

So in the context of stenography and the court reporting industry, seems like whenever we get into the news, there are regular comments from regular people, such as “why not just record it?” Typical question. Anyone would ask this question. There are fun comments like “Christopher Day the stenographer looks like he belongs on an episode of Jeopardy.” Then there are comments that go above and beyond that. They make claims like — well, just take a look.

“…I gonna tell you that in modern technology we can record something like court testimony for hundreds of years back very easily…” “…the technology is smarter every single second…” “…if you store data in the digital format we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data, it will be very accurate so much so the stenographer loses their jobs.” Wow! Lose our jobs? I felt that in my heart! Almost like it was designed to hurt a stenographer’s feelings. Right?

We can store the video for hundreds of years? Maybe. But consider that text files, no matter what way you swing it, are ten times smaller than audio files. They can be thousands of times smaller than video files. Take whatever your local court is paying for storage today and multiply that by 8,000. Unless we want a court system that is funded by advertisements a la Youtube, the taxpayer will be forced to cough up much more money than they are today. That’s just storing stuff.

The technology is getting smarter every second? No, not really. Whenever it’s analyzed by anybody who isn’t selling it, it’s actually pretty dumb and has been that way for a while. Take Wade Roush’s May 2020 article in the Scientific American (pg 24). “But accuracy is another matter. In 2016 a team at Microsoft Research announced that it had trained its machine-learning algorithms to transcribe speech from a standard corpus of recordings with record-high 94 percent accuracy. Professional human transcriptionists performed no better than the program in Microsoft’s tests, which led media outlets to celebrate the arrival of ‘parity’ between humans and software in speech recognition.”

“…And four years after that breakthrough, services such as Temi still claim no better than 95 percent — and then only for recordings of clear, unaccented speech.” Roush concludes, in part, “ASR systems may never reach 100 percent accuracy…” So technology isn’t getting smarter every second. It’s not even getting smarter every half decade at this point.

“…we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data…” This technology exists, kind of, but perfecting it would be like perfecting speech recognition. Nobody’s watching 500 hours of video to see if it accurately returns every instance of a word. Ultimately, you’re paying for the computer’s best guess. Sometimes that’ll be pretty good. Sometimes you won’t find the droid you’re looking for.

Conclusion? This person’s probably not in the media transcoding industry, probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is in all likelihood a troll. Were they paid to make that comment? We don’t know. But I think it’s time to realize that marketplaces are ripe for deception and propaganda. So when you see especially mean, hateful, targeted comments, understand that there’s some chance that the person writing the comment doesn’t live in the same country as you and doesn’t actually care about the topic they’re writing about. There’s some chance that person was paid to spread an opinion or an idea. Realizing this gives us power to question what these folks are saying and be agents of truth in these online communities. Always ignoring trolling leads to trolling leading the conversation. So dropping the occasional polite counterview when you see an obvious troll can make a real impact on perception. The positive perception of consumers and the public is what keeps steno in business.

The best part of all this? You can rest easier knowing some of those hateful things you see online about issues you care about are just hired thugs trying to divide us. If a comment is designed to hurt you, you might just be talking to a Russian operative.

Addendum:

I understand readers will be met with the Scientific American paywall. I would open myself up to copyright problems to display the entire article here. If you’d like to speak out against the abject tyranny of paywalls, give me money! I’m kidding.

The Question To Ask Yourself When Viewing An ASR Demo

One last point on ASR and its enthusiastic marketing. I’ve hit this topic a lot in the past few weeks. I hit it a few times last year too. There is one very good way to tell that proprietary speech recognition companies haven’t hit the big leagues, and that is looking at the way they’re marketing. It’s behind closed-door demos to people who aren’t likely to know very much about technology. We know for a fact that when you have a product to sell, the giants buy in. Microsoft bought Minecraft off Notch for $2.5 billion. Have you looked at Minecraft? It’s not exactly an example of the latest and greatest technological wonder, but there’s money there, so now it belongs to Microsoft. They didn’t just buy it, they rewrote it from its Java edition to create its Bedrock edition. Another giant buy? Hopstop was a company that figured out how to give really good mass transit directions, and Apple allegedly bought them for $1 billion. That tech ended up in Apple Maps before they quietly killed Hopstop.

“Thanks for the history lesson, Chris. What’s the point?” The point is when you are being told that something is wonderful, new, and that you should buy in, you have to ask yourself why it hasn’t been sold off to someone way bigger than you. With these far less impressive feats of technology being sold off for billions of dollars and tech giants willing to spend real money on promising technology, there’s a solid question as to why a company hasn’t cashed out. Alphabet’s subsidiary Deep Mind has shown a willingness to burn through half a billion dollars a year on AI research. Youtube’s automated captions fall apart whenever there’s a bit of an accent or some music in a video. Ask yourself, if you were running a company, and you had about $100 million in investor money, would you not sell out for $1 billion or $2 billion? Somebody would buy good ASR. Just ask your wife:

To be frank, Youtube’s automated captions dominate proprietary software from what I’ve seen. Voice recognition is open source. Anybody can get their hands on it. That doesn’t mean the claims behind it are true. Take, for example, this blog post, the seven best spots for open source voice recognition software. They boldly claim that it is “more cost effective as the software performs the task of speech recognition and transcription faster and more accurately than a human.” I’m sorry, but if software that is “more cost effective,” “faster and [more accurate] than a human” is available free on the internet, I’m quite sure that Google, and by extension Youtube, would have figured it out by now. As I said over a year ago, there is an indeterminate amount of time and money needed to get this tech from where it is to where people are saying it is. That won’t stop sellers from selling it to consumers or investors anyway. Similarly, we cannot stop being advocates for consumer awareness.

(P.S., you can buy the Stenonymous Blog for about $6 million.)

Turning Omissions Into Opportunity

We’re in an interesting time. Pretty much anywhere you look there are job postings for digital reporters, articles with headlines talking about our replacement, articles with headlines talking about our angst. Over time, brilliant articles from people like Eric Allen, Ana Fatima Costa, Angie Starbuck (bar version), and Stanley Sakai start to get buried or appear dated when, in actuality, not much has changed at all. They’re super relevant and on point. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, we’re going to have to use our professional sense, think critically, and keep spreading the truth about ourselves and the tech we use.

One way to do that critical thinking is to look squarely at what is presented and notice what goes unmentioned. For example, look back at my first link. Searching for digital reporting work, ambiguous “freelance” postings come up, meaning stenographer jobs are actually branded as “digital” jobs. District courts seeking a stenographer? Labeled as a digital job. News reporters to report news about court? Labeled as a digital job. No wonder there’s a shortage, we’re just labeling everything the same way and expecting people who haven’t spent four decades in this business to figure it out. In this particular instance, Zip Recruiter proudly told me there were about 20 digital court reporter jobs in New York, but in actuality about 90 percent were mislabeled.

Another way to do it is to look at contradictions in a general narrative. For example, we say steno is integrity. So there was an article from Lisa Dees that shot back and said, basically, any method can have integrity. Can’t argue there. Integrity is kind of an individual thing. But to get to the conclusion these things are equal, you have to ignore a lot of stuff that anyone who’s been working in the field a while knows. Stenography has a longer history and a stronger culture. With AAERT pulling in maybe 20 percent of what NCRA does on the regular, who has more money going into ethics education? Most likely stenographers. When you multiply the number of people that have to work on a transcript, you’re multiplying the risk of one of those people not having integrity. We’re also ignoring how digital proponents like US Legal have no problem going into a courtroom and arguing that they shouldn’t be regulated like court reporters because they don’t supply court reporting services. Even further down the road of integrity, we know from other digital proponents that stenography is the gold standard (thanks, Stenograph) and that the master plan for digital proponents is to use a workforce that is not highly trained. I will totally concede that these things are all from “different” sources, but they all point to each other as de facto experts in the field and sit on each other’s boards and panels. It’s very clear there’s mutual interest. So, again, look at the contradictions. “The integrity of every method is equal, but stenography is the gold standard, but we are going to use a workforce with less training.” What?

Let’s get to how to talk about this stuff, and for that, I’m going to leave an example here. I do follow the court reporting stuff that gets published by Legaltech News. There’s one news reporter, Victoria Hudgins, who has touched on steno and court reporting a few times. I feel her information is coming mostly from the digital proponents, so in an effort to provide more information, I wrote:

“Hi Ms. Hudgins. My name’s Christopher Day. I’m a stenographer in New York. I follow with great interest and admiration most of your articles related to court reporting in Legal Tech News [sic]. But I am writing today to let you know that many of the things being represented to you by these companies appear false or misleading. In the August 24 article about Stenograph’s logo, the Stenograph offices that you were given are, as best I can tell, a stock photo. In the September 11 article about court reporter angst, Livne, says our field has not been digitized, but that’s simply not true. Court reporter equipment has been digital for decades. The stenotype picture you got from Mr. Rando is quite an old model and most of us do not use those anymore. I’m happy to send you a picture of a newer model, or share evidence for any of my statements in this communication.

Our position is being misrepresented very much. We are not worried so much about the technology, we are more worried that people will believe the technology is ready for prime time and replace us with it without realizing that it is not. Livne kind of admitted this himself. In his series A funding, he or Verbit stated that the tech was 99 percent accurate. In the series B funding he said Verbit would not get rid of the human element. These two statements don’t seem very compatible.

How come when these companies are selling their ASR, it’s “99 percent” or “ready to disrupt the market,” but when Stanford studied ASR it was, at best, 80 percent accurate?

Ultimately, if the ASR isn’t up to the task, these are transcription companies. They know that if they continue to use the buzzwords, you’ll continue to publish them, and that will draw them more investors.

I am happy to be a resource on stenographic court reporting technology, its efficiency, and at least a few of the things that have been done to address the shortage. Please feel free to reach out.”

To be very fair, because of the limitations of the website submission form, she didn’t get any of the links. But, you know, I think this stands as a decent example of how to address news people when they pick up stories about us. They just don’t know. They only know what they’re told or how things look. There will be some responsibility on our part to share our years of experience and knowledge if we want fair representation in media. It’s the Pygmalion effect at work. Expectations can impact reality. That’s why these narratives exist, and that is why a countering narrative is so important. Think about it. When digital first came it was all about how it was allegedly cheaper. When that turned out not to be true, it became a call for stenographers to just see the writing on the wall and acknowledge there is a shortage and that there is nothing we can do about it. Now that’s turning out not to be true, we’re doing a lot about it, and all we have left is to let those outside the industry know the truth.

Addendum:

A reader reminded me that Eric Allen’s article is now in archive. The text may be found here. For context purposes, it came amid a series of articles by Steve Townsend, and is an excellent example of what I’m talking about in terms of getting the truth out there.

How To Spot More Better Marketing

Count out how many times in your life you’ve seen a product in advertising that was similar to something you already do, have, or want. Did the advertiser tell you it would do more stuff? Did the advertiser tell you it was better at doing stuff than its competitors? Did the advertiser try to make you feel good and confident about a purchase in this product? February of last year, I touched on the magic of marketing. Today, we explore marketing that takes aim at us, how to identify it, and how to tell our students not to be swayed by it.

The genesis of this post is actually a marketing blitz by Transcription Outsourcing, LLC. Their ad boldly starts off “Tired of waiting for your court reporter?” They claim their prices are “up to” 50 percent less expensive than a court reporter. Guaranteed accuracy, 3 to 5 day turnaround. Among their many claims are reporters won’t format your documents, send back errors, have overseas teams that are hard to contact, take weeks. For most of us in the business, this is laughable, but we have to take ourselves out of our skin and hop into the skin of a potential client or a stenography student that has zero experience in sitting at a stenotype or desk transcribing legal proceedings. As far as identifying and helping students identify “more better marketing” I’d propose watching out for four red flags:

  1. It’s cheaper than you.
  2. It’s faster than you.
  3. You still have a job.
  4. It promises.

One, if it’s cheaper, why isn’t everybody using it? For this, you can look into your own life experience. Why don’t you buy cheaper food or a less expensive product? Usually doing something cheaper means sacrificing quality or training somewhere in the process. Two, if it’s faster, again, why isn’t everybody on it? Are there problems scaling the product, does the service provider not deliver, or are the costs of being faster too high? Three, you still have a job? Look, Company XYZ says they’re cheaper, faster, better, more better, amazing, and yet the clients are still using stenographic court reporters. This is not to say these types of services could not, through their marketing, supplant reporters. But flag three is all about acknowledging that at least some what they’re selling is hype and hope to customers. Four, it promises. That’s probably the biggest red flag you can get in this type of marketing. We saw it with Theranos, Project Natal, Solar Roadways, Waterseer, Hyperloop. People love to sell things whether they’re possible or not. They promise their solution is the solution. Theranos was going to test extraordinarily small amounts of blood and administer treatments through patches. It had a $9 billion valuation. Didn’t exist. Project Natal and Milo were going to revolutionize gaming. There were videos advertising it! Didn’t exist. Solar Roadways was going to solve America’s energy crisis by throwing out everything we know about efficient solar power generation. It raised millions of dollars. Didn’t work. Waterseer was going to solve the world’s water crisis and forgot to mention that dehumidifiers have the same basic function. The Hyperloop routinely ignores that a single break in the loop or tunnel could implode the entire thing and kill everyone in it. Promises are part of human interaction, but buying into them without reservation is dangerous and expensive. If it promises but doesn’t deliver, take note.

That’s identification in a nutshell. And at this point many are probably saying, “Chris, you’re just picking on these guys because they’re taking a swipe at court reporting. You don’t actually have anything that shows their promises aren’t the real deal!” This is where experience as a court reporter comes in. Take a look, again, at the things they said about court reporters.

  1. They won’t format your documents. Well, in some jurisdictions, we have a prescribed transcript format. Even here in New York City, where there’s virtually no such mandate for freelancers, I know many freelancers who do or have worked for agencies that work with the New York City Law Department or MTA, and both like transcripts formatted a certain way by contract. Bottom line is if you can’t find a court reporter that’ll format your document, it’s either not proper in your jurisdiction or there’s some other stenographic court reporting company that will do it.
  2. They send you back errors. I consider myself an extremely average reporter. I’m so average it took me ten years to finish off my RPR. In that ten years, I can recall exactly once that an error so egregious made its way in that it needed to be corrected and was serious. Humans make errors. News articles make errors every day. I’ve hired a lawyer that made an error. Guess what happens? It gets corrected. The world keeps turning. But, these people guarantee accuracy. I’m sure that means if a client find an error, they get the whole transcription for free, right? Right?! It promises, but there’s nothing really backing that promise. Students, ask your mentor how many mistakes they’ve made in their career. Ask them how many were serious. Mistakes are a non-issue in the context of a larger career if you learn from them.
  3. Their overseas teams are hard to contact. With the majority of court reporting firms I know and have worked with being US-based or having US-based management, I find this an odd claim. Even Israel-based Verbit, to the extent you can consider them court reporters, never came off as particularly hard to contact. Even the smallest firms I’ve ever worked with have a dialing service that makes sure the customer can get in touch with someone or leave questions or comments for the owner.
  4. They aren’t secure. I’ve found the word security to be kind of a red herring in our business. What kind of security are we talking about? SSL Certificates? Haven’t seen a reporting firm without them. Secure repositories? If you spend about sixty seconds Googling reporting firms, you’ll find security. It’s a comfort word at this point.
  5. They take weeks. Six-hour service is available. Interesting. I wonder if Transcription Outsourcing provides six-hour service on eight-hour depositions like many of my colleagues do with their dailies and their immediates. For those not in the business, for a reasonable cost, a properly trained and skilled stenographic reporter can work with their team or scopist to deliver a transcript immediately at the conclusion of a deposition. I am sure that once time travel is developed, court reporters will be the pioneers in producing transcripts before proceedings actually occur, too.

The point is to look at the millions and millions of dollars that have went into ideas that had little chance of succeeding. Look how long it takes to verify that these ideas are scams or false hope. How many people do you think are fact checking transcription and court reporting companies? Even this idea that the service is cheaper is knocked right out of reality by their own rates. Between $1.50 and $5.00 per minute. When I was in the business of freelance court reporting and transcribed audio, I charged somewhere in the realm of $100 an hour, which is about $1.67 a minute. If you take their best rate, by their own advertising, they’re at best 10 percent cheaper. They had no problem making that 10 into a 50 in their advertising. Looking at some of their other rates, you can save yourself 30 percent by switching to steno. If any of this “better, cheaper” stuff was true, why would reporters use scopists? Sorry scopists. We can just send our work into Transcription Outsourcing, LLC, take our 30 percent, and let them do all the work. Doesn’t happen. They don’t care about burning an entire bridge of potential customers because there’s no savings to be had there. They want what our clients are paying today in their pockets, and they’re hoping lawyers fall for it.

The bottom line is we’re going to be seeing more and more puffery and opinion enter our field masquerading as fact. We will be inundated with it. It’s much easier to make up falsehoods or questionable claims than it is to fact check those same claims. So when you see, for example, Protect Your Record Project fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see state associations fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see professionals donating their time to help encourage students and mentoring new reporters, it’s a win. When you see Open Steno, NCRA, and Project Steno advertising this field and ways to get in, it’s a win. Our strength is that there are thousands of us in the field practicing today, and so one minute from each of us amounts to a lot more time and effort than companies can spend on making up BS. Keep taking advantage of that and working together to educate. Keep hitting up social media platforms and making sure people aren’t misled about who we are and what we do. The last ten years have built an impressive online community of reporters. The next ten will be a test of getting that community’s knowledge out to clients and potential stenographers.

Common Scams

I read and learn about scams frequently. The terrible thing about a great scam is that it’s adaptable to almost any market or format. Court reporting’s a got a wide range of people in it, from technological masterminds to the folks that only deal with the bare minimum that they need to know to do their job. This’ll be mostly for the latter! Here are a few common scams you may run across.

  1. The check cashing scam. In American payments and banking, many of us still use checks. Always know where your check is coming from and get your guard up if the check is in the wrong amount. To very quickly run through this scam, someone will send you a check, usually “overpay” by hundreds or thousands of dollars, and then ask for some money back. In our banking system, the bank must release the money to you in one or two days, so most people look at their account and believe the check has cleared. So let’s say you get a $1,000 check. You deposit it and the bank lets you withdraw this instantly. The payer says “whoops, I overpaid, please wire me back $500.” No problem. You send the $500. It can take several weeks for the bank to discover the check is fraudulent. When they do, they deduct $1,000 from your account, and probably add a bounced check fee. So now you have an account that is negative $500, and you’re on the hook for it! This is not like credit theft where the bank must reimburse theft that isn’t your fault, and thousands upon thousands of dollars are lost through this common scam. For court reporters that deal with checks, you are a huge target for this scam.
  2. The infected computer scam. All of a sudden your computer locks up or starts making noise. “Alert. Alert. Your computer is infected. Call Microsoft immediately.” The way this scam goes is someone has gotten a piece of malware on your computer OR they have tricked you into thinking that there is malware on your computer through a popup. Their goal is to get you to call the number and pay them some money to “fix” your computer. The major problem with this is that they are not Microsoft. They usually get you to give them access to your PC through remote PC services, and once they have that kind of access they may steal more information, mess up your PC more, or fix your problem. You’re basically at their mercy. To avoid that, your best bet is usually to NOT CALL, save your work, close all the windows on the computer, and try to restart the computer. CTRL + ALT + DELETE can help you bring up the task manager window on most Windows computers. You can view all the “processes” running on your computer. There’s a lot of stuff there you won’t recognize. In my experience, viruses are usually poorly named, like bwejrj.exe. Once you get the “bad” process done, you can go to the “startup” tab, find it, and disable it there to make sure it doesn’t start when Windows starts. Once the virus is disabled in this manner, you can generally run your antivirus and your computer without worrying too much about it. If it’s not running and never set to run, it’s like it doesn’t exist. On older computers, you should use your search bar to find “msconfig.exe.” This is where the startup tab is on older computers. If you’re not good with computers and you’re using msconfig.exe, only use the “services” and “startup” tab. Don’t touch the other tabs. A family member once had a virus that closed all windows on the computer. By opening the task manager and tapping the delete key, I was able to kill the process (even though it kept closing task manager.) I’m firmly convinced that most malware is programmed poorly and that this trick will help you out. It’s much better than giving your money away to scammers. I’ll leave some screenshots for people that need to visualize it. Our computers are really important for our work, so having this basic knowledge up your sleeve is good.
  3. The fake program scam. This is something we are seeing in gaming, and it’s probably only a matter of time before some scammer tries it on our software. Generally, these types of scams have to do with promising you that an application that is not made for your phone can be run on your phone, or unlocking some special feature in your software. So imagine a world where somebody comes out and says you can get CAT on your phone or you can unlock this super special feature if you just answer some survey questions. Wow! CAT software is so expensive and this feature sounds great. They might even send you a video of them doing it! Generally, the video is faked. What they are trying to do is get you to answer surveys or give up personal information so that they can sell that. Your time is wasted, they make money off your time, and you get nothing. If you’re really not sure, contact your manufacturer. Even if their logo is terrible, the chance they’re helping your scammer is basically nothing.
  4. Gift cards and email scams. To break this one down, I’m going to explain that there are programs that “crawl” the internet looking for e-mails. Once they find an e-mail, automated messages can be sent out by the thousands from thousands of different e-mail addresses. So, for example, when you have something like the NCRA or NYSCRA board, our e-mails are public. We want members to have our e-mails. We want reporters in our state or field to be able to contact us. That’s just how it goes. We can try to put the [at] instead of the @ in our e-mail to throw off the crawler programs, but at the end of the day, scammers have access to our names. If you post your e-mail address publicly, these programs will similarly have access to your e-mail. You may get a fake e-mail that says it’s from your associations, or your association president. The biggest red flag with this scam is that it asks for money or a gift card. Gift cards are basically untraceable and once you send a gift card code to a scammer, that money’s gone. The best way to shield yourself is to never ever give gift card codes over e-mail. If you want to donate a gift card for an association event, it should be done by mail or in person at sanctioned and publicized events. I can’t stress enough that no volunteer board member is going to be asking you for gift cards over an e-mail with no context or clear reason, so do yourself a favor and hit delete. Please note there are variations of this scam where the scammer tries to tell you your friend or loved one is in prison and needs those gift cards immediately. Don’t let them toy with you. You’re smarter than that.
  5. The subscription or spoof scam. Months ago someone wrote to me and stated “I never signed up for your blog, but I’m getting e-mails from it! Did XYZ Corporation sell my e-mail to you?!” No. This is a different type of scam in that it’s not so much money that’s at stake, but reputation. Someone can go to a subscription site and stick your e-mail in the box. They might be doing this with the intention to harass or annoy you, or they may be doing it with the intention to sour your feelings about the other party by getting you hit with unsolicited e-mails. There’s also a variant of this scam where the party may send you nasty e-mails pretending to be someone else, or post on an internet forum or subreddit pretending to be someone else. They can even use masking or spoofing to make it look like it’s coming from the person’s actual e-mail! So, if you’re getting bombarded by an unwanted subscription, take some time out to look for the unsubscribe link in the e-mail, most honest subscriptions have them. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of an e-mail, instead of replying directly, you can compose a new e-mail to the person. For example, let’s say you get an e-mail tomorrow from ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, but it’s saying horrible, nasty, hateful things. That’s very outside my character unless I’m having a nervous breakdown or deeply emotional moment. If you hit reply, you may send an e-mail back to the scammer who can continue to mess with you in my name. If you compose a brand new e-mail to ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, you’ll get me, at which point I can hopefully clear the whole thing up. Same thing goes for cellphones. Someone can make it look like they’re calling from my number very easily, but they can’t receive my calls without some serious hacking. This kind of thing is prevalent. I use myself as an example here, but it can happen to anyone. They can pretend to be your boss, your union president, your agency. The good news is you can outsmart them pretty easily.

The good news for court reporters is that the average scammer’s livelihood depends on scamming as many people as possible. This often means that scams are not often tailored to our specific profession, and that can help raise red flags and identify scams. That said, knowing reporters who have fallen for these, and knowing we can prevent that, I feel it’s important to speak up and beat back the scammers. Reporters are, on average, getting older, and many of these scammers attempt to prey upon older people who may lead very busy lives and are not able to read about these scams. Many of our recruits are younger people who are often unaware of the myriad ways that people can try to take advantage of them. Divided, it might be easy enough for them to fool one or two people. Together, we can outsmart all of ’em.

August Asterisks 2020 (Jobs)

One thing I’ve learned in this business is never be too predictable, and that’s why I completely skipped July. Before we get to actual jobs posts that have popped up in the last two months, we’ll get down to something for our freelance friends. and people looking to make a difference in this field. NYSCRA is promoting no fewer than three online sessions that should have a little something for everybody. First, on August 16, there will be a session with Jason Wisdom on freelance success. On August 24, Jessie Gorry and Joshua Edwards are presenting Zoom for Freelance Reporters and will be talking, as I understand it, about best practices and hardware stuff you can do to make your life easier. Finally, for those of you seeking to build some skills and confidence in making a difference, Project Steno will be hosting courses on clean writing, developing a high school program, and conducting a training course. Even more for people looking to make a difference, you should see NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards’s message in the Summer 2020 Transcript. Without further delay, in steno, if we want to change something, we hit the asterisk, right? So change the job up with August Asterisks.

Onto the jobs. First, a very special posting. Eric Allen, President of ASSCR, was kind enough to post this excerpt from what I believe to be the Chief last month. In my very first post about finding a job in New York City, I talked a little bit about Workers Compensation and how they no longer seemed to be hiring even though the application was up. So to see these very recent, current postings for Verbatim Reporter 1 in New York State is very comforting. It should be a clear message to every jobseeker and our employers that what we do has a lot of value. We will rise to the challenge of filling these positions, but we need the shotcallers to keep the demand for court reporting steady so that people are not scrambling in and out of jobs. Every former Verbatim Reporter 1 that I have ever spoken to has told me that it was an amazing job that they really liked. If you’re a reporter looking for change, this just might be your sign. Also, if any legislation comes up regarding that position, as it had in the past, I urge every reporter to support it, because you are supporting the stability and sustainability of your field. Thank you, Eric Allen, for bringing this job post to everyone’s attention.

For the first time in a while, there do not seem to be any grand jury reporter jobs open in New York City. I’m actually happy to say that because it shows that we can absolutely fill vacancies. We can beat the reporter shortage. Please, take my advice seriously when I say if you want a grand jury job with New York City, check the district attorney sites of every borough every single month, including the SNP, and check DCAS. It is very easy to miss these postings. If you need the links, they’re under the grand jury section of Get A Real Job.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still up. This should surprise no one. We need stenographic court reporters. If you’re waiting for the civil service exam to come out so that you can get a permanent position, make sure you’re checking the exams page every month. You don’t want to miss out on a test that, by law, can only be held every 1 to 4 years. If you’re interested but want more information, why not reach out to Michael DeVito? His contact information is at the bottom of the posting, and it just might help you make your decision.

For the reporters out there looking for a spot in the federal judiciary, there’s plenty for you. We are looking at open spots in New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Illinois, Arkansas, and California. The federal judiciary jobs page remains a great resource for finding these job postings, and every reporter out there should take the time share it and familiarize themselves with it.

For those looking for a little more, NCRA’s got a jobs page too. As of today there are 87 results to flip through. Alternatively, if you’re looking to put down the machine for a little while but stay employed “in the field,” you could apply to become an NCRA Content Specialist. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with NCRA staff before, and it’s always been really positive. I can only hope whoever fills that spot is just as positive, dedicated, and wonderful as the rest of the team. I have a lot of faith in Dave Wenhold and the current Board of Directors. There’s good leadership. There’s good staff. There are good committee volunteers. There are great general members. There’s a real chance for stenographic reporting to prove its adaptability, superiority, and technological advancement despite all the world has gone through in the last six months. Humans have known for a long, long time that when there’s a chance of something happening, it can happen. There’s even a latin phrase for it, a posse ad esse, which translates roughly to “from possibility to actuality.” So let’s take that chance, hold onto it, and make sure that our markets know stenographic reporting is here and ready to do the job.

StenoKey, Stenographic Education Innovation?

On June 19, I had the privilege of getting to talk with Katiana Walton from StenoKey. I’ve mentioned her program from time to time right alongside things like NCRA’s A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno as major positives for this field, but I never had a good grasp of what StenoKey was about. The discussion we had changed all that, and now I get to give readers a synopsis of all the good StenoKey is looking to do for our field and our students.

StenoKey is looking to have a science-based approach to learning. There are many reasons students struggle in stenographic programs, and the way they learn might just be one of them. As it was explained to me, Ms. Walton could’ve opened a traditional school in Florida right now, but because she’s looking to innovate, she must prove to the State of Florida that her method works in order to have a school. That’s where this pilot program comes in.

Centered on Magnum theory, StenoKey utilizes Realtime Coach to grade students instantly. Instead of a traditional model where students learn theory and then move into speed, StenoKey seeks to introduce speed right from the beginning. Students are expected to reach introductory levels of speed in each chapter, as high as 60 to 120 words per minute, before moving on to the next chapter. Briefs relevant to each chapter are also incorporated so that students have an early understanding of the concept of briefing.

Through practice logs, Ms. Walton is able to gauge each student’s level of engagement. This way, students that practice often but have difficulty progressing can receive relevant advice on what to practice to. Students that are not practicing can see in writing that they’re not practicing enough to make meaningful progress. In addition, students have designated times to call in, ask questions about things they’ve encountered during a lesson or take, and receive guidance or support. In the words of Ms. Walton, it “helps build community.”

Similar to our brick-and-mortar institutions, StenoKey seeks to get students to stop looking at the stenotype keys. As early as week two, students are encouraged to stop looking down. The program, by design, acknowledges that five-minute takes may be harder for people who are just starting out. Each chapter has a syllabic 120 WPM test. At chapters 11 to 20, that test is a 2 minute, 140 WPM test. By chapter 41, students are expected to be taking five-minute takes at up to 180 WPM.

The overall goal is not just to reach a working speed of 225, but to have students working towards RMR-like speeds of up to 240 to 260 WPM. Numbers, long the bane of learning reporters, are baked into the program from chapter 12 onward. As it is not yet a school, the program does not offer “academics,” but it does offer one grammar rule every chapter to keep students’ transcription sharp. In addition, it gets into the finer points of realtime writing by explaining conflicts. Magnum theory is conflict free, but the lessons go further by teaching learners about “inconsequential conflicts,” or conflicts that can be spotted and corrected easily during editing on a regular deposition or job.

Asked about superstars in the program, one learner was said to have made it through chapter 12 in six hours. Ms. Walton’s nieces, 12 and 14, also attend the program, and have completed 9 chapters. Part of the success of the program seems attributable to in-depth error analysis. Students are encouraged to identify and analyze their mistakes, either in how they practice or how they write, and fix it. Students are also encouraged to read each other’s notes because sometimes students have an easier time pointing out and learning from others’ mistakes than their own. Asked about the biggest challenge of running such a program, Ms. Walton admitted that not every individual commits to the program. Some just don’t put forward as much effort as they expressed they would during their introduction interview.

StenoKey is looking at helping people with all different learning styles. For visual learners, each chapter has two videos,  a professional video and a “Katiana Teaches” video. The videos work together to give students an in-depth understanding of each chapter. Student feedback from each chapter also goes into tweaking the program to be more successful. Not just for students, StenoKey also has had two working reporters join the program in order to improve their realtime writing. In that sense, StenoKey can also be viewed as a Realtime Development Program. “Magnum Steno is not hard to understand. It’s very systematic” says Walton. She explained that writers do not have to change their whole theory to adopt some Magnum and shorten their writing. “Look for what is holding you back in your writing. There are realtime reporters in every theory out there, and with the right mindset, you can be better.”

One might look at such an idea and wonder if there’s a way to get involved. To that end, Ms. Walton says she’s looking into the possibility of bringing on assistants for administering StenoKey and getting more people engaged with it. She may also be seeking a programmer to develop readback tools or materials.

At that point, Katiana had to go and counsel her program’s attendees. Before we hung up, I was able to get that the pilot program is currently $200 a month and always online. Currently, she’s looking at the possibility of having a longer, more valuable subscription model, and weighing options out. Overall, I think that the idea of fully integrating speed and theory is a valuable one. If students are able to hit working speeds faster than in the past, our shortage becomes a bad memory for the next three decades and beyond. I would urge associations and schools to keep an eye on developments here. If the results start coming in that this is a better method, it may be worth putting some money down on the expansion or adoption of this type of educational innovation. From a distance, I’ve read a little about Walton’s Lady Steno Speed Clinic. I’ve seen the testimonials. I know her heart’s in the right place when it comes to this field. I hope we’ll see similar success and glowing reviews for StenoKey!

Stenonymous on VICE News Tonight

About four months ago, I sat down with Alzo Slade and talked with VICE about the study that showed court reporters had only 80 percent accuracy when taking down African American English dialect (AAE). It aired 6/18/20. There’s a Youtube mirror. This study was a shocker for many because people look at our general accuracy of 95 percent, and then they look to a number like 80 percent, and it worries them. It worried me at the time, and I continued to cover it on this blog as more information came out. I was at VICE HQ Brooklyn for two hours, but only a few seconds made it into the segment, so please be understanding when it comes to what “made the cut.”

I was identified as a stenographic reporter with a lot of knowledge about the study. We all have a choice to make when approached by the press or any individual. Stonewall or try to present the facts? I chose the latter this time. A few things I would love to see more widely talked about:

  • AAE is not spoken by all black people. It’s a specific English dialect. I learned it also has rules and structure. It’s not “slang.”
  • Despite most of us having no formal training, we get it right about twice as often as the average person and 1.5 more often than the average lawyer, if you look at the pilot studies. There’s also no good alternative. AI does worse on all speakers and even worse than that on AAE. We’re talking as low as 20 percent accuracy.
  • In actual court cases we have some context. We don’t just take down random lines. This doesn’t prevent all errors, but it helps court reporters a lot.
  • We don’t interpret. People concerned with our interpretations don’t always realize that. Interpreting only matters in terms of correctly interpreting what we’ve heard. Interpretation of jurors and lawyers matters much more, which is why it’s so important for us to get the words correctly for them. We can educate people on this topic and help them understand big time.
  • This issue is not necessarily a racial or racist one. Mr. Slade himself read the AAE sentence on paper during the segment “She don’t stay, been talking about when he done got it.” His response was something like “what the hell is this?” Anybody can have trouble with a new dialect. I know I have heard some AAE statements and done very well, and heard other AAE statements and done poorly. I’m big on the opinion that exposure is the only way to get better.
  • Studies like this only highlight the need for stenographic court reporters that truly care about the record. If you meet a young person interested in courtroom equality, it might be worth having the “become a court reporter” talk. We care, and we want every single person that fills our shortage to care too.

One thing I learned from this media appearance is always keep your cool. At one point during my two hours there I felt very defensive and even a little worried they’d edit the segment in a way that was not fair to me. I kept my cool and continued the interview. That fear comes out totally unfounded! I am sure if I had overreacted, that overreaction would’ve been the face of steno, and that’s not cool!

Each stenographer is like an ambassador for who we are and what we do. A big part of what I do is getting to the bottom of things and communicating the truth about them so that each of us can go forward and be knowledgeable when the people we work with, judges or lawyers, bring this stuff up. Many of them already know we’re the best there is. The rest are just waiting for you. Your actions and excellence change the future every day. I got my five seconds of fame. Go get yours!

Addendum:

Sometime after the publishing of this article, the VICE story that I linked was locked on their website. You must select your TV provider to gain access. Also, I later learned Alzo actually aced the quiz. The reason he had trouble was because the sentence was not AAE / proper grammatically.

June Jettisons 2020 (Jobs Post)

Time to jettison whatever’s not working for us and have a look at the jobs posted around the internet for June 2020. Having a hard time this year? Consider finding a mentor! There are many mentoring programs available, and even Facebook groups conducting mentoring sessions. There are lots of general job listings to wade through at both NCRA and USCRA. NCRA’s also looking for a content specialist!

In the New York area, we still have the New York grand jury reporter posting up. The DCAS test schedule for reporter/stenographers has not yet been updated. The State’s Verbatim Reporter 1 position remains posted, though it’s a little unclear to me on whether they’re actually hiring. The statewide court reporter provisional posting remains posted by our state court system. Michael DeVito’s contact information is at the bottom of the application. If you are looking to become a court reporter for our courts in New York State, you should contact him. I had one very brief e-mail exchange with him months ago, and it left me with a great impression. Every prospective reporter hire with questions should make an effort to contact him. Court reporter is one of maybe six titles that have been posted throughout the pandemic, and in my view, it outlines the need for stenographic court reporters, even if there are not immediate hirings. There has been no civil service test posting, but it’s worth checking the exams page every month if court is the dream job! In our federal courts, the Southern District has a posting up. The federal judiciary jobs page shows New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and South Carolina all have spots for stenographic reporters.

Many have asked about CART. I have a lack of familiarity with CART, but I do know there’s a CART provider directory. Many are current or past practitioners. Many are out there and willing to answer questions when asked. Let’s put it this way, if you knock on 100 doors, at least a few are going to open. The world is at your fingertips in exploring this wonderful side to reporting and stenography.

Every month I bring jobs posts. I can’t give people the jobs. I can’t post all the jobs. But if one person walks away with an idea, or a place to search, or a plan to move forward in their career, it’s worth it! I encourage people to continue sharing and promoting all the different ways to find work.

 

Expedite Legal, Enhancing Coverage Nationwide?

Everyone is moving faster than ever into new solutions to problems. Adaptation of technology has spiked like never before. There are many hyped technologies out there that promise the world and don’t deliver. Then there are real companies with a tangible product. After taking the time out to review Expedite’s public-facing materials and after having a brief exchange with Expedite’s CEO, Eve Barrett, I am convinced that Expedite is among the companies out there that has a real product. In this case, it’s also a unique product.

We can think of Expedite as the Uber for legal service professionals. It’s helping link providers, namely court reporters and interpreters, with customers, namely courts, lawyers, agencies. I learned that the product is set up to be flexible. People can register as both a customer and a provider. This means that traditional reporting agencies can make use of Expedite to get coverage or get work. This means that independent court reporters can use it the exact same way.

A post I came across on Expedite’s blog, the Docket, sums business up well. Be willing to stick your neck out a little bit. In my view, there is great importance attached to being a skeptic, but we cannot allow our skepticism to hamper our willingness to try new things. I had touched briefly on Expedite’s model in my shortage solutions series. There was some honest skepticism there. But in normal times, we were experiencing a shortage of reporters partially as a result of the disjointed state of the market. There is no central marketplace to just log in and find a reporter. It’s not like the stock market where you can get immediate data on every business out there. There are a lot of tools out there for finding reporters or finding work. Why not add Expedite to your arsenal?

In my exchange with Ms. Barrett, she pointed me right to the Provider FAQ, blog, and vlog. I saw there’s a provider referral program. If a provider refers a provider and both get verified, there’s a bonus. I asked about whether the same was available for providers that refer customers to the program. It was confirmed that anyone can refer anyone, and the bonus shows up in the next job taken with Expedite. This is a smart way to get people using a nationwide app, and I think a robust referral program is a smart move.

The website and app are both available for customers. The app is available on Apple Store and Google Play. The overall message is one of courage and commitment to us. We’ve all been to the recent educational webinars. Presenters have talked about letting go of fear, adapting, making changes to enhance our businesses. I think Expedite is a major enhancement to many reporting businesses.  I asked pretty bluntly if there’s anything she’d tell reporters in the industry, or even people outside the industry. I’ll end with part of the response I got, as it says all it needs to say about the power of the individual. “My goal with Expedite was to help save the profession by alleviating the critical shortage. I also wanted to create a new business model for court reporters whereby they could work more efficiently, keep a higher percentage, receive payment faster, and market their services on a free platform. I’m just one reporter trying to solve the problems that have plagued our industry for decades.”