Collective Power of Stenographers

One piece of feedback I get back from time to time is “we can’t stand up to XYZ Corporation. They make 100 million in revenue!” I deeply empathize with this reaction because I’ve felt that before. Back in freelance, that feeling was constant. How could I negotiate with a company that was only offering $3.25? They were a big company with lots of work. I was basically a kid just out of college with my extremely shiny AOS. I didn’t even have a squid hat yet.

With this thing on, I became unstoppable.

But about 3 years ago I started to teach myself very basic computer programming. I began to learn a little bit more about numbers and math. I had always hated math, and the whole experience completely changed that perception. I started to like math. One the first programs I ever wrote was a simple counter program similar to this one:

This program loops for as long as steno is awesome, and steno never stops being awesome.

In this code, you start with the number 0 and it adds one forever until the computer malfunctions or the program is shut down. What you see happen very quickly is that when you’re adding one several times a second, one quickly becomes 10, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000.

What the hell does that have to do with stenographers? We are the ones that add up in this program called life. For example, let’s say we have XYZ Corporation and it makes $100 million a year in revenue. Now let’s say there are 23,000 reporters, like vTestify said almost three years ago, and let’s assume that reporters ONLY make a median salary of about $60,000 a year. Those reporters make $1.3 billion in revenue annually. You take two percent of that a year and throw it in advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.

5 percent? I said 2 percent. Someone should fix this immediately.

So now to bring this out of theory and into reality, you can see it happening in real life. There’s no group of people that’s going to have a 100 percent contribution rate. But when you look at the numbers, you start to see that overall we put far better funding into our organizations and activities than alternative methods or spinoffs. Take, for example, AAERT, which pulled in about $200,000 in 2018 revenue. For those that don’t know AAERT, they’re primarily engaged with supporting the record-and-transcribe method of capturing the spoken word. As I’ve covered in past blog posts and industry media, it’s an inefficient and undesirable method (page 5), and most digital reporters would do a lot better if they picked up steno.

Published by ProPublica

Then we can look towards the National Verbatim Reporters Association, which seems to focus more on voice writing, but definitely includes and accepts stenographic reporters. We see the 2017 revenue here come in at almost $250,000. Not bad at all.

As far as I’m concerned, every dollar is deserved. I’ve never heard a bad word from an NVRA member.

But then we look to our National Court Reporters Association, which is primarily engaged in promoting stenography and increasing the skill of stenographic court reporters. This is where we see the collective power of reporters start to add up in a big way. In 2018, the NCRA saw more than $5.7 million in revenue. The NCRF brought in an additional $368,000. That’s over $6 million down on steno that year.

I think I can see my membership dues somewhere in there.
When I pay off my massive personal debt, I’m going to become an NCRF Angel / Squid.

What conclusions can be drawn here? As much as the anti-steno crowd wants to say the profession’s dead, dying, or defunct, there’s just no evidence to support that. Here you get to see some fraction of every field contributing to nonprofits dedicated to education, training, and educating the public. We know from publicly-available information that our membership dues are not 30x more than these other organizations, so we know that there are a lot more of us, and we know that there are a lot more of us participating in continuing education and sharpening our skills. We’re the preferred method. We’re the superior method. We’re training harder every day to meet the needs of consumers. There are only a few ways this goes badly for stenography.

  1. We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
  2. We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
  3. We spend time tearing each other down instead of boosting each other’s stuff.

See the common theme? There’s really nothing external that’s going to hurt this field. It all comes down to our ability to adapt, organize, and play nice with each other. In the past, I equated it with medieval warfare and fiction. The easiest way to win any adversarial situation is to get the other side to give up and go home. It’s an old idea straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Applied to business, if you can convince people not to compete against you, you win by default. This might be in the form of a buyout. This might be in the form of convincing people that stenography is not a viable field so that there are not enough stenographers to meet demand. This might be in the form of would-be entrepreneurs believing they cannot compete and never starting a business. This might be in the form of convincing consumers that stenographic reporters are not available. This might be in the form of casting doubt on stenographic associations. This might be in the form of buying a steno training program and ostensibly scrubbing it out of existence. These are all actions to avoid competition, because as the numbers just showed you, we only lose if we do not compete. If you do nothing else for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, please take the time to promote at least one positive thing about steno. If a guy in a squid hat could get you to think differently about just one topic today, what kind of potential do you have to make a difference in this world?

I’ll launch us off with an older quote from Marc Russo. “If you are a self-motivated person with a burning desire to improve your skills, this is the field.” This is our field. This is our skill. All we have left to do is stand up to the people that take advantage of our stellar customer service mentality and the public perception that we’re potted plants.

Can a potted plant do this?

PS. That $3.25 I was having trouble negotiating up from? Some of my friends were making $4.00+ with less experience than me. The limitation was me and the way that I was thinking about it. We have all had to deal with hurdles that seemed insurmountable. Max Curry talked a little bit about it in his NCRA Stenopalooza presentation “Fear…Let It Go!” when he talked about his father and introversion. It was an amazing presentation. But here’s my takeaway for those that missed it last year. If you’re having a problem, try looking at it another way.

NYSCRA’s CRCW 2021 & My Thoughts On The Future

Besides being a full-time PC gamer, I’m also on the board of the New York State Court Reporters Association, patiently waiting for one of our members to run against me and take the seat so I can go back to playing Steno Arcade and Space Court all day.

Space Court is no joke.

Fortunately, I have a window into what the organization is doing to strengthen stenographic reporting and captioning. Historically, some of that had to do with getting brochures out to attorneys and members about reporting and NYSCRA. Some of it had to do with advertising our “Find A Reporter” feature. Some of it had to do with mentoring. Some of it had to do with discounts. For Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, we’re embracing NCRA’s theme of “all you need is steno & love.” NYSCRA issued a press release detailing just a few things that are being done to commemorate the week and the importance of all stenographic reporters and captioners. There are some really powerful quotes in there. There’s a quote from ASSCR President Eric Allen reminding us of the general excellence of reporters. There’s a quote from NYSCRA President-Elect Dom Tursi remarking on the tenacity of reporters. There’s one from NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards noting the limitless potential of court reporters coming together. There’s also a major announcement from First Department Director Debra Levinson telling members to look out for more information on the CertifyNow voluntary certification program. Members will be able to schedule tests without waiting for block testing!

On February 6 there will be a student panel. Often these panels are used to create a forum where students can hear from working reporters or professionals from the legal field. Sometimes students get to ask questions at the event or submit questions after the event. There’s a whole lot to love about student panels. So if you’re a working reporter who wants to get in and speak on the next one, definitely engage with us. For everybody else, check out our wonderful speakers. It may say student panel, but anyone is invited to come listen in as long as they register.

That last guy sounds sus.

After the student panel there will be three member-exclusive free CAT trainings for StenoCAT, Eclipse, and CaseCAT. For any members who use a software that is not represented in our lineup, every single member of the board keeps their contact info up on the association website. Reach out. Let us know what you need. We’re already the best when it comes to taking the record. Additional training just keeps your lead strong. If CAT training is not your thing, we also have a dictation session coming up that you can use to build your dictionary or get some writing time in. We’ll be dictating the United States Constitution on February 12. If using the Friday before Valentine’s Day to practice doesn’t scream steno & love, I don’t know what does. Sign up today!

Also happy to say that a private person sponsored prize memberships for reporters that make a submission to our CRCW 2021 Acrostic Poem Contest. Five lines are all that stand between you and a free NYSCRA membership. One student membership and one working reporter membership is up for grabs. Maybe you’re a member that wants to extend your current membership. Maybe you’re a non-member that just doesn’t want anybody else to have the prize. Whatever your deal is, give it a shot. Submissions must be in by February 8.

On a much more somber note, I rarely mingle my blog with my board service. I never let my opinions drive my decisions as a board member. But let me just say this: NYSCRA is the nonprofit in New York for stenographers. There are a lot of people out there who want to say court reporters are done. They want to say that times are changing, that standards are shifting, and they want to spread the message that court reporters are obsolete. In that article I just linked, they literally depicted the court reporter phasing out into digital static or computer code. We need to answer resolutely: We are here to stay. We are the standard. We need to give our associations ammunition in the form of memberships so that their leaders can go to decision makers and let them know that we’re not relics, we’re real people, and there are thousands of us. We opened up our NYSCRA board meetings to members for the first time on January 21, 2021. Many saw the membership report. I guesstimate that ten percent or less of our New York field has a NYSCRA membership. We need to turn that around so that when these folks start pressing New York the way they pressed Massachusetts, we come out on top. It’s about keeping this field viable, vibrant, and lucrative. When you hold a NYSCRA membership you’re purchasing all that and more. In this next decade a large percentage of the field is forecasted to retire.

There will be a strong push from certain entities to say that there aren’t enough of us. That will happen regardless of the truth. Please join us in the counter-push. Give us the numbers we need to loudly and proudly refute those claims. Defend what we love for the next ten years and we won’t have to worry for the next thirty. If you’re in another part of the country, that’s fine too. Arizona and its fight to educate the legislature. Florida and its work to educate consumers. New Jersey and its move to keep reporters defined as independent contractors. Our National Court Reporters Association and its constant push to highlight individuals, projects, and associations. There are other notable nonprofits dedicated to stenographic court reporting such as Protect Your Record and Project Steno. There are online communities such as Open Steno creating free resources for learners and the public. Wherever you hang your hat and do your business, there are causes worth backing, and every single one plays a part in making sure this career stays here for us and all the reporters that come after.

NYSCRA Student Webinar May 2020

NYSCRA’s got an upcoming webinar that all students are encouraged to register for. RSVP is required for security. I’m going to be talking about everyone’s favorite topic, politics and legislation. My colleagues are going to be discussing important things like CAT software, words, CART v traditional freelance and deposition reporting, money, and associations. If you don’t believe me, check the flyer, it’s happening. As many who saw our last webinar will know, we go through our agenda  and then allow questions from the audience. Questions that we don’t readily have an answer for can be addressed as an addendum or in a supplemental followup.

As for general NYSCRA news, we always need students and mentors signing up for the mentorship program.  Everybody’s got value. Everybody’s got a superpower. So if you want to reach out to a board member and let them know yours, definitely do.  The bottom line is when there’s an event, or a workshop idea, or even just time to spotlight someone in our quarterly newsletter, The Transcript, outreach can make all the difference. Also, if you haven’t had a chance to renew this year, renewals are open and reporters can get a little more exposure via the Find A Reporter feature on the site.

There are a lot of great times ahead. For stenographers and students, this is or will be your association. Come join us on May 20th and let’s all keep 2020 going strong!

 

NYSCRA 2020 Survey, Lobbying

NYSCRA released a survey to its members today. As always, people are encouraged to sign up and stay in touch with the state association. If you’re a member, check your email, pop open the survey, and answer it. It’s only fifteen questions, and many of the questions are short. It’s a great way to give the board your input.

In my view, one of the more important questions was what legislative issues or lobbying ideas members have. I’m going to share my response so that people can use it as food for thought, maybe discuss these ideas, or come up with better ones.

This is a straight copy and paste of what I had to say with the links added for my blog readers. I just really encourage everyone getting active and being involved. We’re stronger together.

-Copy protection in NY similar to copyright for reporters.

-Monitor legislation like Robert Jackson’s 2019 S6699A, as it may impact freelancers.

-Consider moving again for 2013’s S4471 by Diane Savino. It will create more opportunities for freelance reporters and make the jobs of any workers compensation reporters much better.

-If Savino is running again, consider pledging money to her re-election, as she has always been stenographer friendly.

-Consider reintroducing John DeFrancisco’s 2013 S7168, which would ensure the courts make every effort to retain stenographic reporters before turning to alternatives. John is no longer with the senate, but this is a good idea.

-Consider modifying John DeFrancisco’s 2015 S5533B. In the second paragraph it says a court may. Changing that to a court shall would provide litigants with a right to a stenographer if they made such a motion.

State Associations With Mentoring

Quick news blast. I contacted pretty much every court reporting association in the world this week and got together a list of associations with mentoring. Some have not gotten back to me yet, so this is a work in progress.

This’ll be made available at the student webinar hosted by Joshua Edwards and NYSCRA Sunday. If you are a student that has not yet RSVP’d, do so now! Connecting with working reporters is invaluable and every effort we make for students is an investment in the future of court reporting.

Shortage Solutions 8: Retirement

The document that alerted us to an impending shortage was the 2013 Ducker Report. In there, it told us that in about 20 years from then, a very large percentage of reporters would be retiring. Off the top of my head, I think it was as high as 70 percent, but you’re free to read it. That point is about 10 to 14 years from today.

Obviously, this brings great opportunity, because if supply can’t meet demand, the price for the service should rise. In many markets, it has risen, especially where reporters have pushed to be paid more. Some reporters are getting out there and grabbing their own private clients because it’s a seller’s market. In response to the shortage, the field had a great many recruitment ideas including A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, and many schools got online to reach a larger pool of students.

A big issue for us has been if enough jobs go completely uncovered, there are interests in the market ready to jump on that and say we don’t need stenography. We can use digital recording. We can use AI transcription. We can use whatever. Veritext, from my perspective, led this charge. Notably, they’re also putting money into stenographic initiatives, but this seems to be a clear case of hedging bets in case our commitment to what we do beats the money being poured into our replacement.

So here’s where we stand: We have a large group of people slated to retire. Do we tell them not to retire? No chance. But we can collectively start spreading the word that the retired are valuable. We had this push maybe a year ago in New York. Our Association, NYSCRA, didn’t give retired reporters or educators power. Not because of any ill will or resentment, but because of a simple bylaws issue. As luck had it, who had the most time to take part in and help shape up ideas? The educators and retired! So we took a stand and voted to give them equal voting power and right to be on the board.

Let’s face facts. If we are working 9 to 6 and then going home to transcribe for an hour, it leaves us very little time to advocate for this field. We may not be able to financially take time away from work or training to be a recruiter or voice in support of this field. We may not be able to advocate for others or mentor students. It’s a great time to consider forming programs and workshops for the retired who want to remain in the field as advocates. Look at the lobbying industry. Somebody works in a field for 30 years, a private interest or association grabs them up, and then they are the spokesperson who goes out and educates politicians on the issue — sometimes for big money.

If you’re retired, if you’re about to retire, or if you know someone about to retire, and especially if you’re somewhat of an altruist, you’ve got a chance to make a difference. Anything from a kind word to a student to full-blown involvement on a board or in a professional management corporation can change outcomes. As a matter of fact, a lot of these large corporations keep veteran stenographers at the head of their court reporting programs. Even traditionally transcription-oriented companies, like Escribers, had a stenographer in management. There’s no reason why the retired can’t, if they are so inclined, put down the machine, pick up the phone, and continue to make money from this field, for this field, and grow it in a way that keeps the career bridge they just crossed standing firm.

NCRA Bylaw Amendment Proposals 2019

Like many of you, I got the email proposing bylaw changes. You’re free to read them for yourself if you are a member of NCRA. I wanted to give a brief summary of each and my general thoughts. Voting will take place August 15, 2019, so set that in your calendars and make sure you make your voice heard in the next election. Remember, they send out the emails to electronically vote, and they hold that vote open the whole day, meaning you do not have to be present.

  1. Amendment 1 is going to make it so members may submit written or verbal requests to be reinstated. This is a great choice for all those members who have left who want to join back up because they’ll have more options. I’ll vote yes.
    Amendment 2 would make it clear that registered members can be reinstated as registered members as long as they fulfill educational requirements. This is also a great move. It shows that the NCRA is not money grabbing for the exam dollars. In my view, if it was a money grab amendment, they’d demand returning members retest and re-qualify for certs. This is pretty much the opposite, pro-stenographer, and I’ll vote yes.
    Amendment 3 seems to be about moving the proration of dues from the bylaws to the policies and procedures. Without an argument as to how this might hurt us as members, I’ll vote yes.
    Amendment 4 deals with how leadership seats will be assigned in the event of a vacancy. It seems to streamline the process and simplify it. The only thing I will caution here is that the language might be challengeable or confusing in that the previous language was that in the event of a vacancy, the president-elect would take the president’s office, and if that term was six months or less, have the opportunity to serve a full term. This new proposed language just says “half a term” when it should probably say “half a term or less.” This new language could probably be argued to allow someone who serves more or less than half a term to still go on to serve another full term. I would urge us to revisit this language next year. That said, I’ll be voting yes.
    Amendment 5 just changed the language to make more sense, saying the nominating committee will meet before the election instead of before the next election. This is an easy yes.
    Amendment 6 changes the National Committee of State Associations to the National Congress of State Associations. Oddly enough, I had written about this in the recent NCRA survey, saying we need more emphasis on state action. This is definitely more emphasis on state action, and I’ll be voting yes.
    Amendment 7 would change the requirements to be a state association affiliated with the NCRA. Currently you must show your organization is in line with NCRA’s bylaws and constitution and that most of your members are stenographic reporters. This would remove that majority stenographic members requirement. Now, some people will likely urge a no vote on this one because it can come off as anti-stenographer, but there is a clever catch. NCRA’s bylaws and constitution are all about promulgating stenographic reporters. So basically it would allow hybrid state associations to affiliate with NCRA if they were in line with promoting stenography. This is a creative way to be inclusionary, and I’m voting yes, but I also have to urge us to make sure we have a process for taking away affiliation if an association shifts from our team to against us.

NYSCRA Test Prep Opens To All

As many know, NYSCRA is conducting prep classes for the upcoming court exam. It has reaffirmed its commitment to stenographers in and around New York State by opening up the classes to nonmembers for a nominal fee of $50.00. Even further, according to President-Elect Joshua Edwards, the classes will not be canceled regardless of the registrant numbers.

There are lots of ways to show gratitude for such a move. Shoot them an email saying thanks, sign up for the class, sign up for a membership — do whatever you’ve got the time to do. But don’t let this kind of thing go unnoticed. For a long time, many of us have felt a need for associations to reach out, to show they care about nonmember reporters too before the nonmember reporters make that leap to become members. Here’s our sign.

We’ve had a lot to say about engagement here. But one thing holds true throughout: The engagement starts with us, as professionals, reaching out, giving feedback, and pushing for our associations and fellow stenographers to continue to thrive. It is never too late to start that process, express approval, or suggest how things might be better. So for today, great job NYSCRA, its ED, and all the board! Continue to be a force for every reporter to turn to.

NCRA: Our Money’s On Stenographers

There’s been a huge spike in stenographer association activity across the country. FCRA got part of the Florida legislature to consider a bill to create a court reporter registry, MCRA put out a town hall meeting about digital recording, but thanks to the crippling weather conditions around, that got canceled for now. MCRA also announced the CSR exam — free for members! CalDRA, as described a few posts ago, threw together a war chest and started producing pro steno stickers and flyers. VCRA got in on the war call and also began producing pro steno flyers. Sorry to anyone I missed — write to us all in the comments below — but the bottom line is associations have really put their mouth where our money is and began advocating full blast for stenography.

That brings us to today. We don’t speak for NCRA here on Stenonymous, but we’ll give you the facts and the inferences we draw from them. NCRA just announced unequivocally that whatever funding the corporate sponsorship program brought — it’s not worth the appearance of bias to membership. Your membership and participation is worth more to this board and body than corporate dollars. Your time, your talent, your questions, and your concerns are valid. They ended the corporate partnership program. That’s a big move.

No offense meant to the companies that are all about steno. We know that you are out there and you do a lot for us. We want you to keep plugging away and advocating for steno. We want you at our conventions. But NCRA was having a serious public relations nightmare. Some partners, like Veritext, were pushing so hard on the digital reporting, that it became completely incompatible with NCRA’s core mission of the stenographer.

If you think this is the right path, it’s time to consider renewing membership, writing them, and telling them what would make your experience even better. There are many thousands of us, and as I have shown mathematically in the past, just a fraction of the field in any market could shift the playing field from zero association activity to full-scale lobbying campaign to raise awareness about steno and/or get legislators to enact sensible law regarding the record.

It’s all there in yellow and black. This is your NCRA. What do we do with things we care about? We maintain them. We improve them. And when necessary, we fight for them.

Already there are tons of people interacting with NCRA. Got to see a great article by Rich Germosen that talked all about how he had posted up the men of court reporting, and how others could see that, see that it was a wonderful profession for men and women, and jump into the field. There’s really something special about the staff of NCRA and the JCR, so if you’re outspoken or just need to be heard, make a submission today!

Alternatively, if you’re the quiet type, feel free to write in to Stenonymous. We’re not afraid of a little work, and we’ll compile your suggestions and send it to NCRA ourselves. You’re worth the effort, and your ideas just might confirm what the board’s already thinking and spur real action and progress on top of what we are already seeing.

We’re talking. They’re listening. And they’re more willing than ever to speak for us. So let this be a shout out to everybody who’s on the fence: We need you!

NCRA and NYSCRA: For Stenographers

It is with a great deal of enjoyment that I share what happened this weekend. NCRA sent out an email blast that it was suspending its corporate partner solicitations. Some of its fabulous directors took to Facebook to share the message as well. I think this is great on a lot of levels. They’re paying attention to our preferred social media space. They’re paying attention to the fact that some of our corporate partners are not being very partnery. They’re reaffirming that they are us.

We all together support the stenographic modality of transcription and record making. NCRA sounds serious about a transformation, and we hope it continues on its current course towards educating the public that this a viable and vibrant career choice and that stenographic reporting is among the best speech-to-text “applications” around. Compared to the NVRA, which doesn’t bother to write back when I ask questions, NCRA’s responsiveness and commitment to its members and potential members is refreshing. I hope that responsiveness continues. I hope that any members that have smart suggestions for changes to the corporate partnership program write in to NCRA today. Out of the many thousands of us, I am sure there are smart and acceptable solutions to be had.

Now I’ll turn to NYSCRA, who also put out a statement reaffirming their commitment to stenography. Let’s face the facts: NYSCRA is an association by stenographers for stenographers. Up until recently, only working stenographers could hold office or vote. We recently held a vote to allow retired stenographers and amazing stenographic educators like Karen Santucci to have officer and voting privileges. The results of such vote were not yet announced, but make no mistake that I was right there voting yes with many of you. NYSCRA is not being coy or dishonest about what they’re saying. They do give entities that donate recognition for donating. Years ago I helped sponsor the breakfast in a Long Island meeting, and my name was right alongside the other sponsors as I recall. I had no control over the breakfast, the event, or anything like that. Sponsors do not control NYSCRA.

Consider this a call for all to get more involved. And don’t believe what you hear. You can get involved in event the smallest of ways. Taking the time to write a suggestion is involvement. Taking the time to attend a meeting is involvement. Even taking some time out to discuss an issue with a colleague and work through the pros, cons, and challenges of an idea can be involvement. Some would have you believe that you must be donating, volunteering, hosting, and traveling to be involved. For those that have the time and energy, we are grateful. But the time things really shine is when a member like you takes up one issue, any issue that you truly believe is important to steno, and makes the associations aware that it can be on their radar. It’s when real members like you step up and propose solutions to the problems we face.

Some look at a question and say: If it was important, someone would’ve answered it already. All I have to ask is: What would make your profession better?