I’ve raised questions about the Speech-to-Text Institute’s data and some companies’ blind reliance on that data. Today I’ve got to raise the fact that, if we compare net assets on 2020 tax returns and information found on ProPublica for NCRA, STTI, AAERT, and NVRA, it seems like NCRA is the clear leader at over $6 million, and its nearest “competitor,” AAERT, had about $217k. STTI came in dead last, more than $100,000 in the red. This doesn’t even account for the myriad court reporting associations and nonprofits across the country and the money that goes into them.
It still remains a serious question why the public and court administrators would rely on the word of an organization that doesn’t seem to have the monetary support needed to address the court reporter shortage in California, let alone America. Think about it. If you want to raise a workforce of possibly 20,000 professionals, who do you turn to, the organization with $6 million or the organization that’s in the red and being kept afloat by some undiscovered means?
There also remains a question about the severity of the shortage. As told by the document linked above, it states that over 50% of California courts have reported they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types. California’s shortage was forecasted to be the worst in the country, about 20x worse than many other states. If around 50% of California courts are having trouble, it would follow that somewhere around 2.5% would be the average across the country. Devising relocation incentives could pull more people to California and solve the problem.
This has implications for the big business bosses and the small businesses they bully. They’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to match stenographic initiatives. Eventually shareholders are going to ask why these businesses are swimming against the direction of the market. Why would you spend time and attention trying to cultivate a professional community in digital court reporting when one clearly exists in the stenographic community? Why would you aggravate the talent/labor until it starts discussing things like misclassification, pay, and working conditions?
Everyone has different page rates, but utilizing historic data from 1991 and 1999, we can get a rough idea of what the page rates would be today had they been consistently updated for inflation. It’s my hope that putting this out there often enough helps reporters know their value.
First, let’s look at the freelance rates adjusted for inflation by year. For the freelance rates, I pulled the 1991 rates right out of an old Federation of Shorthand manual.
I took the 2.75 rate from 1991, and I adjusted it for inflation each year using a Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. In 1992, for example, that $2.75 in 1991 dollars was worth $2.82 in 1992 dollars. If a reporter didn’t get a $0.07 raise between 1991 and 1992, that reporter lost buying power, and would have to work about 2% harder to make the same buying power. Doesn’t seem that bad, right? But by 2022, that $2.75 in 1991 dollars is worth $5.74 in 2022 dollars. This means that a reporter that is not making $5.74 in 2022 on a regular has to work harder to have the same buying power as a 1991 reporter. This means a reporter making $4.00 a page has to take 30% more pages than a reporter in 1991 in order to have the same buying power.
As an example of how this plays out for new reporters, when I was a new reporter in 2010 at Jaguar Reporting, I was offered $2.80 a page. Not knowing anything about the field, I took it. Adjusted for inflation, the 2010 rate would have been $4.43 on a regular. This means that to have the same buying power as a 1991 reporter, I would have had to have taken almost 40% more pages than that 1991 reporter. That’s a lot of efficiency to squeeze out of workers, whether you want to consider us common law employees or independent contractors.
Juxtaposing freelance versus official rates can be even more concerning. Officials typically receive their pages on top of a salary. Many are producing fewer pages, but adjusted for inflation, the rates appear to be far higher.
This “squeezing of efficiency” is not sustainable in the long term. The rates must go up in order to obtain and retain talent. For as long as they do not, we are asking reporters to work harder for less buying power.
This is not normal. The average workers’ pay has gone up slightly, adjusted for inflation. Because most court reporters are working for less than they were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation, stenographers’ pay has gone down. Just check out the Statista data on that. After a 2009 to 2015 crash, wages sharply rose on average. And this data doesn’t even take into account “the great resignation” of 2021 and 2022, where employees are leaving jobs for higher pay at rates never seen before!
While I’ll be the first to say that this is a wonderful career and I enjoy it very much, and I’ll even go so far as to concede we don’t have to keep up with inflation perfectly for it to remain a great career, I think this data makes the case for why there is a shortage today. We are simply not competitive in terms of wage growth, and we are asking young people and newbies to work harder for less buying power — again, in some cases, 40% less. This is compared to the average worker between 1991 and 2020, who, by 2020, could work about 15% less and have the same buying power that they did in 1991!
The lack of data in and on our field remains a fundamental problem. Trade associations are entitled to collect and distribute aggregated rate data. If we had good data from 1991 to now on the average page rate, we could simply adjust those years to be in 2022 dollars and show everyone that they’ve gone up or down. Because we do not have the data, we’re stuck with taking a fixed point in history where we knew the rate, adjusting that each year, and then comparing that to what each of us makes personally.
I’ve created another spreadsheet with all of this information. It’s available for everyone, and I encourage people to share it. It not only informs people in the stenographic camp, but also in voice writing and digital court reporting, because ultimately if they are working for less than stenographic court reporters, they are being taken advantage of while being used to push us out of the market.
Hourly Conversion for Digitals: A stenographic to digital comparison is possible by estimating average pages per hour. As a freelancer, I averaged about 40 pages an hour. Current freelancers have told me they can get as much as 60 pages an hour. The court reporter page rate encompasses transcription time and “writing time.” It can be 1 to 2 hours for every hour on the machine, so it’s safe to assume writing time is about a third of the page rate. If we take the $5.74, that 1991 rate adjusted into 2022 dollars, we can calculate that a third of that is $1.89.
Assuming 40 pages an hour, that “writing time” is worth about $75.77 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour, that “writing time” is worth about $113.65 an hour.
This creates a valid argument that a digital charging less than $75.77 an hour is being underpaid. Obviously, I don’t personally believe, based on all I know today, that digital reporting is equivalent to stenography, but there are some outfits and organizations that insist on perpetuating this myth of equivalency. If they are equal, the next question is whether they are being paid equally to their historic “equals.” If the answer is no, the next question is “why?”
Conversions for Transcribers: Again, taking my assumption, based on my own experience, that transcription time is worth at least two thirds of the page rate, we can create page and hourly conversions for transcribers. From that $5.74 rate, we can derive a page rate of $3.82 in transcription time.
Assuming 40 pages an hour, that’s about $152.80 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour, that’s about $229.20 an hour.
Hourly Conversion for Stenographers and Voice Writers: Assuming 40 pages an hour and the $5.74 adjusted rate, the transcription time and writing time together is worth about $229.60 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour and the $5.74 adjusted rate, the transcription time and writing time together is worth about $344.40 an hour.
This might seem like a lot of money. But remember that the $229.60 to $344.40 an hour figures encompass 3 hours’ worth of work. Interestingly enough, this averages out to $76.53 to $114.80 an hour, which is comparable to what captioners charge.
_____________________________________________________ Ultimately, we can play with numbers all day long. If my work falls on blind eyes, then people will continue to get underpaid, grow discontent with the field, and leave. Because this is a very specialized field where we get better with time in, the loss of a practitioner is massive — you cannot just replace someone who’s been at this for a year, or two, or ten, slip someone brand new in, and get the same quality transcript. People will move on regardless of the methodology. I have offered fairly concrete math on the fact that we are underpaying most practitioners during a time of alleged shortage.
My next step, when I have some more time or funding, will be to begin collecting and distributing data myself. But again, I have to stress that this is something that our associations should have been doing for the last 30 years, and instead were trained and training reporters that they could not do, which enabled rate abuse that drove reporters out of the field over the last decade. This is why it is so insulting to me when it is alleged that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved. It does not take a genius to figure out that giving a class of workers the equivalent of $5.74 in 1991 and watching that value erode year after year is going to drive workers away — a fact that has somehow eluded the CEOs and business types of steno-America, and a fact that I hope is understood and embraced by the majority of our field over the next decade.
Lisa Migliore had this to add. While I feel it doesn’t detract from the overall flow of what I’m saying, I do think it is an important point and information that deserves to be included here.
Some time ago I wrote about how a quote was falsely attributed to the National Court Reporters Association, stating there’s a need for 33,000digital court reporters by 2033. That misquote was still up in the first quarter of 2022, and I brought it up in a discussion with President Dibble. Upon checking again today, I found the quote removed. This is a win for the profession. Student consumers across the country looking into court reporting don’t deserve to be misled.
In other news, the Illinois Court Reporter Association published a document on their recent lobbying victory.
This shows the importance of reporters coming together and working for things that collectively benefit us. State and national association membership is one of simplest ways to organize and act. A big thank you to both associations for showing us that.
I have more to write on NCRA, but I need time to collect my thoughts in light of this new information. Enjoy the victory, stenographers!
Quick recap on the issues. Businesses are pushing an automatic speech recognition and digital court reporting solution to the stenographer shortage. All available data says that’s an inadequate solution that will hurt minority speakers. Available data also suggests our shortage has been exaggerated and exacerbated by greedy people. Not one person in the last two months has refuted this in any meaningful way, and I haven’t been shy about letting the world know.
More than that, digital court reporting is likely to be leveraged or at least on borrowed time. Its biggest funders are all private equity owners, and the strategy there is buy, hold, flip. More on private equity next month. For now, know that every court reporter in the country might be more solvent than the big dogs. They’re not interested in holding these companies for 20 or 30 years like some of us and will lose interest as soon as one is a financial loser. If the gamble to exploit digital court reporters fails, our stenography students probably won’t have to deal with this ever again. Digital proponents simply will never again have the funding or support they do today. Digital will only get to fool investors the way they have been fooled once in a lifetime.
The current strategy of digital court reporting proponents is to pretend that I don’t exist. That’s not working very well for them. 1% of this field reads my blog every day and spreads it to the rest.
I have a new strategy. Digital reporters can all come work for me.
The ship’s sinking. Over the next decade this little cottage industry where DR rotates CEOs between digital recording companies and milks court systems and taxpayers on equipment contracts is going to dry up. Some people might even go to jail. Who knows? Who cares? I care about as much as digital proponents cared about me when I was a young court reporter struggling to survive.
In fact, I care as much about digital court reporting’s future as Jane Sackheim of Diamond Reporting in New York cares about court reporters. Here’s a hint, she doesn’t care. On October 24, I urged her to do the right thing. I was met with silence. Though our justice system reveres silence, we all know in our hearts that it is the language of oppression. It is the language of denial and kicking the can down the road.
Now I urge all of you to do the right thing. If you’re on the digital side, come be a guest writer or content creator for me while I build this stenographic media empire. I’ll let you keep 75% of the donations that come in tagged for you. My audience is particularly interested in the seedy side. We want to know the horror stories and the situations you’re thrown into with no training. This audience, my audience, cares about you. As I grow, you grow. Might even pay your way through steno school.
To my allies, I extend the same offer, but your cut can be 99%. I’m growing a movement. Money is a means to an end and not an objective. I’m not kidding. Eat what you kill and benefit from my growing platform.
Easiest way to win is to get the other side not to fight. Offer is open until I beat my holiday blues. Write me at Contact@Stenonymous.com. We’ll get you hooked up as a contributor. You saw my message to Jane. I know that if I fail, many people will be in the terrible place I was in. Consequently, I have decided that I am not failing.
Thank you, donors. To anyone that has not donated:
When people donate to me, they do it with the understanding that I will use the money and power to support the profession in some way. As I grow, so will my support for the small businesses, schools, and the working people of my profession. There’s a ballpark of 30,000 reporters in this field and a median income somewhere above 50,000, a paltry sum of $1.5 billion. If we were to collectively donate about 1% of one year’s income ($500) to a relatively altruistic person, preferably named Christopher Day, that’s $15 million. $15 million placed into an investment, or multiple, with just a 2% return is $300,000 a year. Even if we cut that in half for taxes, that’s enough money to hire a full-time advocate for $100,000 a year and maintain a dedicated advertising/philanthropy budget of $50,000 a year. Even if I fall remarkably short of that goal and all my math is horribly wrong, a million dollars would be enough to advocate full-time for 10 years.
Just for a rough outline of what a full-time stenographic advocate for working people could work on:
-Keeping digital from literally subsuming our industry using their private equity money.
-Ending the shortage. The press alone from an industry making one dude rich so he could go fight for them would attract investors, students, and businesspeople to the field.
-Figure out the insurance problem. Freelancers pay too much for too little.
-Devise group support programs for students and reporters in need. Think about all the students over the years that have had to give up because the financial aid runs dry or all the professionals that have had an equipment failure and needed a loaner. We’re a rich field and can probably solve these things without raking people for hundreds of dollars every year. Let’s start acting like it.
-Devise nonprofit organizations or low-margin for profits to keep the profession’s tech running. Basically divest us from Stenograph. Imagine if a nonprofit could ascertain the bare minimum cost of creating a good stenotype and sell it at cost. We’d solve the captioner shortage real quick and become real champions for accessibility.
-Run for political office. There are laws on the books in many cities, states, and federally meant to deal with many issues in our field and others. The problem we face seems to be that the system is set up to automatically reject singular complaints. There are two ways around that. Either all of you can start writing complaints all the time on every issue, or you can stick a bulldog like me in the fragile political system and see what happens. Writing letters costs an indeterminate amount of time and money. Giving me a platform costs less than $500 but relies on other people to contribute. A government official that works for the people may sound crazy, but I think it would be a big hit. Our shortage would be over pretty quick too thanks to the media attention.
-Devise a system for intaking and tracking issues in the field. Right now we have an issue, like, say the NCRA testing stuff, it bubbles into outrage, and once the outrage is over the issue is quietly dropped and people go back to business as usual. Transparency and solutions will be the name of the game. Outrage will be a tool used as needed.
-Devise a system for tracking and assisting state and national associations/nonprofits in need. State bill or rule change threatening jobs? Here’s your lobbyist fund. Let’s get serious about that. Veritext and US Legal are. Are you? Let’s give our VOLUNTEER association board members a fighting chance.
-Expand stenotype services into other industries and make them available to the general public. There appears to be a human need to be heard and we are very, very good at hearing people. This also might lead to the USA exporting stenotype services and creating theories in other languages.
This is the future I’m fighting for. Less money coming out of your wallet, more money going into it. And make no mistake that I am ready for a fight. When Naegeli threatened to sue, I stood up for reporters and refused to take down evidence of their gouging. When a corporate rep bullied one of us in an email, I put him on blast. I have two limitations, time and money, and my fellow reporters have the power to erase those limitations.
For years you’ve been told why things can’t be done. You’ve been told things can’t change. Give me a shot and I will change things for the better. That’s my promise. I have given you solid math for why I believe this to be possible. For those of you I’ve already won over, please consider sharing this with your colleagues. As has been said by other reporters, the association model of decentralizing everything and relying on volunteers is nice in theory. It’s not working for us today. It is time to try centralizing our power so that the associations that have advocated for us over the last hundred years survive the next ten and that our quality of life is improved.
It came to my attention through an anonymous source that on June 26, 2021, the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association held a webinar titled “Educating the Next Generation of Reporters.” The learning objectives were pretty standard: The importance of staying up to date with technology, how technology is affecting reporting, and recruiting individuals to become students of court reporting. At a glance these are all things related to technology and advocacy, and certainly fall under NCRA’s CEU guidelines. Nothing particularly surprising until we get to a couple of the presenters.
Chrissy Boggs from Secure Transcription Solutions (STS) and Kelly Moranz from Tri-C. Secure Transcription Solutions doesn’t sound like court reporting and Ms. Moranz is on the board of the Speech To Text Institute (STTI). STTI is basically the new mouthpiece of digital reporting and automatic speech recognition. They claim that they want to set quality standards for all methods of record taking, but as we’ll get into, digital reporting, and especially automatic speech recognition, is inherently less efficient and cannot consistently meet the quality of stenographic court reporting or voice writing as of today.
It was noted that Chrissy Boggs has worked with STS since its inception in 2019. “During that time, she has embraced the unique challenges posed by the court reporting industry; namely, the issue of expediently producing qualified reporters using critically needed and thoughtfully designed digital reporting technologies.” At this point, at least some reporters in attendance were confused, and for good reason. There is an audience requirement for CEUs. Courses must be designed to meet the continuing education needs of a specific credential holder segment. Take a look.
During the presentation, automatic speech recognition by Parrot was showcased transcribing My Cousin Vinny. It performed poorly according to at least two sources. It was mentioned that there’s room for every method and they don’t diminish one method over the other. In summary, the presentation was a platform that legitimized digital reporting and automatic speech recognition as court reporting technologies, and if you don’t believe me, you can check out the extensive notes taken by my source.
Being somebody who just resigned from an association board last month, I thought “this must be in violation of their mission statement or bylaws.” I could not have been more wrong. As of today, PCRA’s bylaws do not define court reporters as stenographic court reporters. Their purpose is the general welfare of court reporting.
My investigation didn’t stop there. I took a look at the mission statement, which I could see was revised late last year.
So then I used the Wayback Machine to get a look at what the mission statement had been in August 2020, prior to the revision. It unreservedly and unapologetically was about stenographic court reporting. That was the clear mission of PCRA prior to the November 2020 revision.
This leads, naturally, to some questions. Questions that I asked PCRA right away.
1. Does PCRA see the future generation of reporters as being digital reporters? 2. Why was PCRA’s mission objective changed from focusing on stenographic reporters in November 2020? 3. Doesn’t it seem nonsensical to promote the modalities as equal when stenographic reporting organizations like NCRA are many times bigger than digital reporting nonprofits? 4. Any other comments related to the session or PCRA’s stance as it pertains to stenographic reporting and digital reporting.
I was ready for them to kick my ass (in a good way). Maybe some kind of legal requirement was at play. Maybe I missed something very, very obvious. Maybe a mistake was made. Whatever the case, certainly a board of RPRs was going to set the record straight and make this situation clearer.
If you take the statement at face value, it’s actually not a bad statement. A hundred percent steno sounds good. But my four questions were pretty softball questions. It would’ve been pretty easy for anyone with any conviction or strong feeling to say “The future is steno. No further questions.” They didn’t bother. Regardless of actual intention, this creates justifiable suspicion of a change in direction, a lack of conviction, and/or a desire to hide something. All things we do not need in leadership today. If that sounds harsh, let’s apply the response I got to some other situations together.
For those that can’t watch the video, I sit down with guest star Marina Dubson in a series of three short skits. In the first skit, the question is asked, “Did you cheat on me?” The response, “baby, I’m 100 percent you.” In the second skit, the question is asked, “Why did you eat all the snacks?” The response, “While the number of snacks has recently changed, my objective remains the same.” In the third skit, the question is asked, “Why would you invite Johnny to the party? You know we don’t get along.” The response, crickets. There’s not a single situation I can think of where avoiding questions like that doesn’t raise some suspicion, whether it be suspicion that the answerer is lying or that the answerer simply does not care enough to give a real answer.
Well, I am incredibly naive and gullible. Maybe they just forgot there were specific questions posed.
I cannot overstate how upsetting this is for me personally. I’m no association hater. I’m a member of six different associations this year, though admittedly not PCRA. In my view, PCRA has always been among the best teachers with regard to political writing and advocacy for reporters. They were the victims of a mindless media flop that I have spent years trying to correct. They have maintained great materials on their site with regard to writing to politicians or writing to editors since I was a young reporter. There’s a lot of great stuff about the organization that reporters should support. But this needs an immediate course correction. I’ve gotten better responses in the past from Esquire and Veritext. I hope I am not the only one that finds it a little odd that, when questioned, Veritext, ostensibly among the leaders of the corporations pushing digital reporting, says technology “...will not take the place of the stenographer” and PCRA, when questioned, can’t be bothered to answer directly. It’s about as bizarre as NCRA’s complete silence on the matter despite requests for comment from myself and others.
Just in case somebody thinks this is all bluster and that digital reporting and/or ASR really can be equivalent to stenographic reporting, let me set the record straight. It can take up to eight transcribers to complete a rough draft, something I was completely oblivious to until I consulted Lisa Migliore Black from Migliore & Associates. She had this to say:
“I’ve spoken with Verbit salespeople on a few occasions over the past few years. In the most recent sales pitch regarding the provision of rough draft transcripts, the representative stated that eight transcriptionists would be working behind the scenes to provide a rough draft of the day’s proceeding with a final transcript delivered the next day. Eight. Eight sources of potential breach of confidentiality. Eight transcriptionists to provide the rough draft that a single stenographic reporter could produce within seconds of the conclusion of a legal proceeding. Eight transcriptionists to provide the next day [that] a team of three (stenographic reporter, scopist/editor, and proofreader) could produce within an hour of the ending of the proceedings on the same day with a stenographic reporter in charge. If Verbit’s ASR technology were truly an advancement, shouldn’t it be more efficient and require far less human involvement?”
In brief, there’s no reason to believe the technology is equivalent, and Verbit, a digital reporting proponent, has conceded the lack of equivalence its own infographics, as I reported in the past.
For those that believe pay is commensurate with training or experience, enjoy this video where a Youtuber advertises that transcribers can make 23,000 Indian rupees a month working with Verbit. That’s about $308 a month as of writing. Good luck maintaining uncompromising quality and adhering to AAERT standards when digital proponents can pay people 8,000 miles away 6% or less of what court reporters make today. No matter what Moranz had to say during the presentation, the hard fact is that once you shift the reporter from the front end to the back end, unscrupulous and conniving people are going to be shipping the work off to Manila, Kenya, and India where your laws and best practices are not enforceable. How do we know? They already do it.
It’s just anti-intellectual to continue to pretend that these things are equal. 85 percent of AI business solutions, the umbrella under which ASR lives, are predicted to fail by 2022. There’s very good reason to believe some companies relying on digital solutions are unprofitable. Court systems have acknowledged that the use of such technologies would threaten access to justice. Captioning advocates refer to ASR output as autocraptions. That PCRA is okay with platforming this stuff as stenographic reporter education and then comfortable with giving me one of the most non-responsive responses I’ve ever had the displeasure of reporting should give reporters and the consumers we serve pause.
There’s a real easy way to remedy this situation, and there can be some good to come from it. Bylaws matter. Board members and the organizations they serve are obligated to follow the law and the organization’s bylaws. If you are not a Pennsylvania reporter, the best thing you could do for this industry right now is forward this to a Pennsylvania reporter. If you are a Pennsylvania reporter, then any three members of the board or any five members of the association can propose a bylaws amendment.
You need only slip the word stenographic in front of “court reporting” and “captioning” in Article II and redefine court reporter in Article III to be any person who captures the spoken word by stenotype or stenographic means.
This exercise will serve a few purposes. If everything is cool, then the amendment is going to pass without issue, members can feel confident in their PCRA, and this post can go down as the ramblings of Chris Day, the registered paranoid reporter. It is not lost on me that there are good, professional people on that board right now and that leaders sometimes stay silent for strategic reasons or out of fear. At this point we really need our leaders to fear silence and take strides to safeguard our associations. I am unabashedly a steno ally. If I can’t get satisfactory answers, then any time a writer wants to spin a bullshit anti-steno story, they’re going to tear our leaders apart. Changing the bylaws will allow PCRA to come out strong on this issue and maybe give the organization some practice in responding to media inquiries.
The exercise will also help identify people who might be sitting in positions of power with an intention to spread the consumer nightmare that is digital reporting. If anyone fights the amendment, it’s a great indicator they’re trying to subvert your organization’s original mission and have got to be voted out. Those subversives, by the way, will be the ones saying “we don’t need to amend the bylaws because there’s no problem with the bylaws.” Those subversives will be the ones who want to publish a throwaway statement about this article instead of amending the bylaws.
Subversives are not going to spell out for you that their intentions are not in line with what most of us expect from stenography’s leaders. How do we know? Again, it’s already happened before. Jim Cudahy was the Executive Director of NCRA. He did the association a great service in getting the stenographer shortage forecasted. Nowadays he’s using his “knowledge” and past title to advocate for an integrated market of stenographic and digital reporters and bring some legitimacy to AAERT and STTI.
Professional flip flopper, weaponizing the shortage against us, and completely shameless. It’s very dangerous to engage in pitchfork culture. It’s also very dangerous to continue to trust everybody when there is at least some evidence of a small minority in the field willing to use their credentials and experience to sabotage the rest of us. That’s why I urge Pennsylvania reporters to take control of the situation and get those bylaws amended in 2022.
This exercise will also put the industry on notice that stenographers are not going to sit idle while the dues they pay are used to advocate for their elimination. There is also some hope that every reporter in the country realizes now how important it is for us to take ownership of our associations. If you don’t want your association, STTI and AAERT supporters will be happy to have it, its legitimacy, and its bank account.
You want an easy win for steno? It takes three to five of you to make the difference. In an organization that is 100% steno, it will never get easier.
Addendum: A few hours after this article launched, an e-mail was sent by Lisa Migliore Black to a number of people regarding whether the CEUs should be counted. A response by NCRA President Christine Phipps acknowledged that the course, in the way that it was submitted to NCRA, was appropriate. She pointed out that withdrawing the CEUs would punish certification holders that had already taken the course, and explained that steps had been taken to review the content. It was further mentioned that steps would be taken to deal with similar issues in the future. Not a bad outcome and certainly in line with what I had expected when I initially reached out to NCRA. As of writing, I cannot think of a way to screen CEU courses better without making it a much more burdensome process on nonprofit and commercial educators, so I think these actions are appropriate for addressing junk education.
About a month ago, I stepped away from most volunteer activities in organizations I really love and support. My reasoning at the time was simple. I had to step away for health reasons. Stress is a killer, and to say I was feeling stress in both my personal life and professional life would be an understatement. On a bad day, my commute can be two hours one way. At the point I sent my resignation emails, I was honestly in tears. I saw pretty quickly that I would be ineffective in my positions. I did what I thought was the right thing and stood aside so somebody better could step in. I will probably always keep my memberships going, but my volunteer duties have hit almost a full stop for now.
But there was a much more pressing issue brewing. Juggling the responsibility a board member has to an organization with the self-imposed responsibility of reporting industry news and commentary had become impossible. If anyone threatens to sue me as an individual, I’ll deal with that. But what if someone attempted to drag an organization into a suit because of an article I wrote? What if a leader had to throw me off a committee because of some perceived liability or controversy I was causing? After all, if you ask NCRA, a bylaws amendment I support, which is completely proper under our bylaws, is out of order and illegal. You should vote yes on the amendment proposals this year, by the way. Not doing so makes our association weaker. That said, rather than create those difficult situations, I could step down and continue to be one of many voices out there saying what needs to be said. I didn’t ask permission or advice, I just did it.
But I still need support from you all. The biggest stories arise when people like you send me documents, emails, articles, and research. You don’t ask permission or advice, you just do it in the hopes that a more informed field is a stronger field. For example, I’ve “always” known and written about how copies make the bulk of the money in this business despite how deflated the copy sales are for New York City reporters. But getting a real-life example from a reporter allowed me to tell people they could double their money taking private clients.
With more information it will grow increasingly harder for corporations and unscrupulous people to take advantage of reporters new and old. It will grow increasingly harder for corporations and nonprofits to lie or mislead people. And when people stonewall this blog, they’ll be signaling to thousands of readers that there’s something to hide.
In a conversation with somebody I really love and admire, I was told “you don’t fight guns with bayonets.” That holds true here. We cannot continue to stay silent while corporations treat reporters poorly only to turn around and offer them positions as digital reporters. We cannot continue to stay silent while digital reporters are misled into believing stenography is antiquated or lacks viability as a career. We cannot stay silent while the media mindlessly republishes false or misleading information, or omits important facts regarding our work. My promise is that I will not stay silent. I will do what is necessary to accurately report on the business bonfire of automatic speech recognition. I will keep anonymous sources where appropriate. I will dig for information where I can. I will be honest even when it’s uncomfortable.
Intrinsic to my promise is trusting that reporters will continue to trust me. There are articles on the horizon that will slay sacred cows. From my perspective, this is necessary. Our field suffers greatly from gatekeeping and so much business being conducted solely by word-of-mouth. The simplest example goes back to the beginning of my education and career. In 2008 I was told “court reporting sells itself. It’s the best six-figure salary you haven’t heard of.” By 2011, I had been told there were too many reporters and not enough work. That’s why our rates were low. Attorneys wouldn’t pay extra for medical testimony. That’s what was told to me. “Attorneys see reporters as a dime a dozen.” All that information was wrong. It stands in stark contrast to all that’s said today. “Reporters are the gold standard, there just aren’t enough of them.” At a lawyer conference in New York just a couple of years ago I was told by lawyers “we want court reporters!” “Our firm exclusively uses stenographic court reporters.” The hard truth was reporting was a great skill and in great demand, but people would obfuscate that if it made them a buck. Had there been anyone tracking these claims, anyone would be able to look back and see exactly who did what, when they did it, and how those claims changed over time. And that’s the point of this promise. We collectively take things out of the realm of “I think XYZ happened in 2008” and present names, dates, and evidence that anyone can access.
From time to time I’m hit with a question along the lines of “why bother?” “Why do you care?” As a young reporter, I had to navigate starting life and sorting out who was lying, wrong, or withholding information. All those things I mentioned in the above paragraph happened to a young introvert who just wanted to keep his head down, do his work, and do okay in life. Often when I turned to friends and mentors, I felt more defeated than before I’d asked for help. If I was having trouble finding work, I wasn’t hungry enough. If I was overwhelmed with work, I wasn’t managing my time correctly. I was told by a mentor not to take a civil service test because I did not meet the experience requirement, but I later learned they encouraged someone with less time in the field than I had to take it. I regularly reported my experience in the field back to my school, and my school did not bother to share the information I gave it with students. Once I discovered copies were the bulk of the profit in the field, I shared that with a teacher and mentor. He said “of course. Without copies, these agencies wouldn’t survive.” He’d known all along and never bothered to tell me. These were my allies. They gained nothing from my ignorance. What chance did I ever have negotiating with people that benefitted from my ignorance, from offering me $2.50 a page on 50-h hearings, like Lex Reporting? How could I negotiate with agencies for better copies when market share monsters like Diamond Reporting weren’t paying most of their reporters copies at all and the reporters who were making copies felt pressured to tell no one? The worst of it was being treated like I was crazy. “Nobody pays big on copies. Why would that ever change?” “You have to pay your dues in this field before you can complain.” When did non-reporter owners pay theirs? It wasn’t until Mary Ann Payonk sponsored me going to an Anita Paul workshop, and I got to talk to an Ohio reporter making $2.00 a copy, that I learned just what kind of environment I was in. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that making 12 percent of what other reporters were making in an area with almost 5x the housing cost is well within the territory of “being screwed.” But it does take court reporters having the courage to share that kind of information to stop their fellow reporters from being screwed. But for the bravery of other reporters, I probably would’ve done what many of my contemporaries did and left this wonderful field. Now I have the chance to stop others from doing the same.
Certainly there is some level of personal responsibility, and I bear quite a bit of the blame for the rough times I had. I often was not assertive enough or reluctant to act on the advice of mentors after my initial letdowns. Some of my misfortune in the freelance sector was due to naivety or being a poor communicator. But even so, it didn’t have to be as hard as it was. It was made harder largely by gatekeeping and secrecy. These experiences and revelations culminated in some pretty human feelings, “it shouldn’t be this way.” “Someone should do something.” “No one should ever feel the way I did.”
As I see it, the future of this blog is in providing the news, facts, and accounts that will accelerate reporters’ journey in understanding the field and business. The future of this blog is aimed at making sure we’re not assuring our graduates there’s a future in this field and then letting them drown in the working world like many of us were left to. The future of this blog is in advocating for this field with a ferociousness that will make liars think twice before playing word games. Again, it all relies on submissions and people sharing information. So if you happen to stumble across something newsworthy or informative, please write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. We can stop the next generation of reporters from being railroaded together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our lives are built on perception. The perception that someone must do more, or that someone does too much, or that someone is doing something wrongly or rightly can be very powerful. Perceptions can change outcomes. We see it in social movements. We see it in the Pygmalion effect. Think of the power of your own opinion. If you do not like a store, you do not shop there, and that store effectively loses the money it would have made off of you. Some voice that opinion, some vote silently with their wallet, and others buy away. All of these contribute to the reality of that store’s situation. While you read, continue to keep in mind the power of your opinion.
When I was younger, I viewed associations, unions, and groups of people, collectives, as inherently powerful. In that perception, I also expected them to be wise and knowing. “They should be able to fix this. They should be able to fix that. They should know what to do.” Perhaps others believe as I once did, that the association and members work together to create things. Perhaps some believe the members support a group and therefore the group should be able to do everything by itself. There is probably not a simple graphic to perfectly illustrate how everything works. Again, though, there is one overarching truth, the power of your opinion.
Think of something in your life that you wanted and you now have. Did it magically appear in your lap? It’s likely that there were steps you had to take to get what you wanted. It’s likely that there were “vehicles” you drove to get there. Maybe the “vehicle” to something you bought with money was a good job. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to a good relationship was a dating service, or a night at a bar, or walking down the street in a squid hat. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to being a successful person was forming good habits, strengthening weaknesses, or playing off strengths. In the context of this discussion, associations, unions, and organizations are all vehicles to get where we want to go.
One jab that large organizations and corporations get is their usually slower reaction. This has to do with organizational structure. When a group is formed with one decision maker or very few decision makers, that group can respond to things at the will of that sole decision maker. A great example is this blog. Not a single person needs to be consulted before something is posted. However, in order to ensure that budgets are spent wisely, many organizations are built up from a board structure. The nonprofit “sector” runs heavily off of volunteer boards. A board of directors is typically a group of people that oversee the management of the entity. Think of them as the manager’s boss. In the case of our stenographic associations, these tend to be professionals from our stenographic community. Larger associations can afford to pay a management team under the board’s direction to deal with legal obligations, filings, and member questions. Even in larger organizations, the team may be very large, with an executive director and many people under him or her, or it may be a very small one-warrior management team. Smaller organizations may have a board that has to devote their own time to doing these things and act as both board and management. Ultimately, think of a board of directors as a group of people coming together to vote on the best way to direct an organization and its funding.
How do you fit in? Maybe you’re not a board member. Maybe you have no desire to be a board member. Maybe you’re “just” a member. You don’t control management, so where does a guy like me come off telling you your opinion has power? In the association and union structure of an organization, the members give the board and management power and resources to act. Very often there is a constitution and/or bylaws that dictate how someone can run for a board position, how someone can propose an amendment to the constitution and bylaws, or how someone can participate with management and the board as a volunteer. Any member can contribute a great deal to the organization as a whole. If members dislike the way something is being run in an association structure, they have the power to replace the board by running against them. If members do not feel the mission of an organization is being accurately carried out by management, they have the power to submit changes. Association management generally has a duty to follow the law of their country and the bylaws of an organization. This all amounts to a great deal of power being given to members of large organizations. The importance of the association structure is in its ability to be “owned” by the members. Again, for example, let’s say that you log onto the Stenonymous Facebook group and you want to post an article about birds. Let’s say I say “I would prefer not to have posts like this on my group.” There’s no mechanism for you to take over and make it okay to post about birds. In an association structure, if the members want posts about birds, there’s a mechanism to override management and post about birds.
How can one enhance their pull as a member? In many organizational structures, there are groups of volunteer members dedicated to a task handed down by the board and/or management. These are often called committees and/or subcommittees. Committees do not have a direct vote in what the association does or what the board decides, but they are charged with giving input and/or creating things that can be used by the association for its mission. Committee work also helps teach members to work together constructively in a team so that if they ever do decide to run for board membership, they are used to working cohesively with others that may have very different opinions on the “right thing to do.”
Now we get down to the greatest power members have. We are the boots on the ground. We see what is occurring in our workplaces, out in the streets, and on our social media. I’ve been a proud union member of two different unions in the last 5 years. Occasionally, when I hear or see something strange, I’ll let a union person know, or I’ll ask a union person a question. Why? It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s not about being more friendly with my union leader. It’s not about being a busybody or a know-it-all. It’s not about scoring points at the workplace. It’s about realizing that these management and director teams are human beings. They are not omnipotent giant floating brains. Often, they have not heard about what we are sharing with them, or they have not thought about it in the way we have presented. Imagine you are now John or Jane Doe, CEO of Your Corporation. Your boots on the ground are your employees and your customers. If someone’s lying about your company behind your back, do you expect your boots on the ground to mention it to you? We are a community. Like any community, we each have great power in protecting and growing the community.
Over the last decade, I have seen something startling in the way that we view our leaders, and sometimes how our leaders view us. For a time, I know people in power were dismissive. I have friends and colleagues whose concerns and opinions fell on deaf ears, whether that was management or board members. Those friends and colleagues voted with their wallet and they backed away from the association structure. Those deaf ears are long gone or have gone on to support associations that work against our community’s best interest, and yet still there is a pervasive attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” There is a disowning of the community’s triumphs when they come from people who aren’t in our tribe. There is a strong push towards factionalism. This divides our house. This forces us to spend time and energy fighting each other. With the inherent power of members of a community described, and the reasons for an association structure described, it’s my hope that we’ll spend less time beating up on our allies and their organizational structures. There has been a great push to platformeachother in recent months. This pandemic showed us that unity is achievable. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t get it; if there’s someone that has no clue how powerful they are or why certain things operate the way they do, it’s up to us all to let them know, and in that order. You got this, now go get it.
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.