Pre-Launch: Stenonymous’s Project Phoenix

By my estimates there are 20,000 freelancers and 28,000 court reporters total in this country. We do not receive much formal legal education beyond the terminology we might hear. This has left many of us confused on our legal rights. Even the agencies that hire us, schools that train us, and the members of the bench and bar we work with every day lack basic information about important concepts we are dealing with. This puts court reporters at a serious competitive disadvantage against anyone with the funds to hire a lawyer.

It’s time for change. If you are ready for that change, please take some time to answer this 8-question survey. I encourage you to share it with anyone you feel might answer it honestly. Every single honest answer will pave the way for taking this from concept to execution. This survey allows me to gauge interest and expand the project. I will release more information as soon as it is appropriate and safe to do so.

We must keep recruiting and sharing information. But I would like to remind everyone to take care of yourself this holiday season. If the stenographic newswire or some other issue is causing you to feel down, take care of yourself. Try to reach out to a support system. Humans are communal. You are not bad, wrong, or alone. You are human. You will be okay because all feelings change over time.

A very special thank you to every single one of my readers. Your readership has made this moment possible. Let me just note that Sound Professionals’ Chris Carfagno has let me know about their latest product announcement. I have always heard good things about SP; I have a great impression of Chris and have no problem recommending them. I will state that I do not believe I’ve personally used their products. When I used to use audio, I think I was using a mic sold by Stenograph at the time, which probably explains why I don’t use audio anymore. I have also started transitioning to Eclipse in honor of the Stenograph boycott. It feels great to be learning new skills and technology in my field and I would encourage every single reporter in the industry to give it a try. Eclipse provides robust training resources on top of its Anytime Support. I even had to call them recently (weekday, business hours), and they returned my call in under three minutes. Switching isn’t easy, but Eclipse has done all it can to make my transition pleasant. I have a feeling that once I am done, I will be able to honestly tell readers which software I prefer from a performance standpoint. Stay tuned.

PS. Stenograph reached out to the Texas Court Reporters Association board. My understanding is that there will be a future meeting in 2022 where members will be allowed to ask questions. This is why I called for the boycott. The more pressure we apply, the more urgent it is for them to curry favor with our associations and make us happy. It would make me personally happy if Stenograph acknowledged that digital court reporting will likely hurt minority speakers’ transcript accuracy. I give my word that if Stenograph makes such an acknowledgment, I will call off the boycott. Until then, let’s see how far those revenues can fall for 2022 and 2023 renewals as people continue canceling support. This profession will endure. Stenograph’s endurance relies upon its service to this profession.

Stenograph’s Public Relations Problem

Some will have seen the scathing post I made on Friday about Stenograph’s survey. They wanted to know if court reporters cared about tall or short keys, and I pointed out that such a concern was a waste of time and effort. This is on the heels of news months ago from Stenograph customers that they were unable to log into their software. But the question remains, how do you get me, a stenographer that has exclusively used Stenograph products for 11 years, to write something like this?

Simple. Stenograph has been making moves to cuddle up with digital court reporting and ASR. We know this from who they’re hiring.

We know this from who they’re talking to. Stenograph cuddled up with anti-stenographer writer Victoria Hudgins after the customer base complained about the logo change. How do I know she’s anti-stenographer? I wrote her over a year ago to point out that Stenograph apparently gave Legal Tech a stock photo and that there were several inconsistencies with the companies, news reporting, and technologies at play. Was any of that addressed? No. So Hudgins writes as an “analyst” but does not actually appear to do any analyzing beyond the chosen narrative — very much like STTI. This is in stark contrast to other organizations like NCRA, NVRA, and Global Alliance, all of whom are far more fair and balanced in the way they present ASR and digital reporting than how stenography is treated by Hudgins, Cudahy, STTI, or even the AAERT.

We also know that Anir Dutta, President of Stenograph —

— is on the board of STTI.

[sic]

And we know that STTI is a digital reporting propaganda outfit. So it’s undeniable that Stenograph is diversifying. Under normal circumstances, we could maybe call that smart. But these are not normal circumstances. This is a world where we know ASR and digital reporting will hurt minority speakers. We know digital reporting outfits like VIQ Solutions are not turning a profit. We know that the shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext and US Legal. Stenograph is diversifying under the belief that there will be a drop in supply of stenographers and a rise in demand. The data we have today says the demand may not be rising as quickly as anticipated and the supply is not falling as quickly as anticipated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data may also be wrong. In short, Stenograph is diversifying out of a market where its stenographer customers will likely reign supreme. We also know that they’re in such a rush to diversify that they branded over Phoenix theory with Phoenix ASR. Not too subtle about paving over us there.

I’m not the only one to feel that way. Massachusetts Court Reporters figured that all out too, and released an open letter earlier this week. The letter was reportedly also sent to Anir Dutta via email.

In full disclosure, I did help draft an initial copy of this letter, but what was ultimately released was way better than what I wrote. I also wrote a physical letter to Anir Dutta on November 2, which I will release someday in the future, assuming the company does not change direction. It is my sincere belief and hope that he is not against us. I think that he saw what happened to Kodak and he tried to adopt digital as a way of preventing Stenograph from sharing the same fate. A lot of the stuff we know about digital reporting companies today, we did not know when he started at Stenograph. But even if he has no animosity towards us, it will not stop him from making decisions that negatively impact our field, and so to the degree that Stenograph and Anir Dutta make decisions like that, the ball is in our court to stop them.

Now, stenographers, the important thing you need to keep your eye on is how the company responds to all of this. If the writing was on the wall and stenography was doomed™️, they wouldn’t care what you think. Put it this way: Have you ever asked yourself what a T-Rex would think of you? Probably not, because all the T-Rex’s that might have thought about you are dead. We know the writing is not on the wall and that our thoughts and opinions matter very much. How do we know? Stenograph commented on the situation.

And, of course, realizing that if we actually get Stenograph to change direction, the shortage fraud gets exposed, Jim Cudahy did his best to broadcast the message.

Just to be clear about why I’m not nice to Cudahy, he was the Executive Director of NCRA, urged the organization to commission the Ducker Report and learn about the stenographer shortage, and then used his previous title with NCRA to lend credibility to his false and misleading claims that the shortage is impossible to solve. People familiar with this situation basically point to him as the man that weaponized our shortage against us. The jump from NCRA to STTI was not the result of some profound change in technology, it was opportunism, plain and simple.

What I need court reporters to understand now is simple: You have all of the power in this situation. You tell the company as loudly as possible that you will not buy another product and that you will not recommend the company to a single student from now until the end of time unless they change direction, and they will change direction. If they do not change direction, it is clear just how much we meant to them, and it should make it even easier to walk away. If they change direction, I’ll be the first to say GO STENOGRAPH. Until then? I have to lean boycott. It’s our best play and the most direct way we have of influencing the company. Take all the anger we routinely experience via social media and channel it into something very simple and healthy for us all.

Now, inevitably, some will look at Stenograph’s response and want to side with the company. But here are some things to consider for each bullet.

1. Stenograph states it continues to invest heavily in Luminex II and CaseCATalyst. Maybe so. But let’s not shy away from talking about how quickly the company discontinues support for its products. When I was a young reporter in 2010, I was told by teachers that my first machine should be paper. I failed to follow their advice and I bought a Diamante. Not long after, Stenograph sold its paper business and systematically shut down support for anything “old.” My rebellious decision ended up being a smart one. The company does that so much now that we don’t even discuss it as a field. It’s kind of like the EA Games of Court Reporting.

2. Stenograph states it has doubled the number of engineers working on writing enhancements. This is impressive if the engineering team is fairly large, but for all we know they had one person working on it and doubled it to two.

3. Stenograph is releasing a new CaseCAT version in the future and is committed to continuous releases on an ongoing basis. There is no actual commitment here. If they change their mind, they can just say they were committed at the time.

4. Proof It, which is supposed to be ASR for stenographers, will allegedly improve efficiency 40%. There’s no actual reason to believe this claim since ASR from the largest ASR providers in the world is 25 to 80% accurate. 40% is pretty close to 50%. A real 50% efficiency gain would mean transcribing jobs in half the time. If Stenograph created something that could cut transcription time BASICALLY in half, they would be letting you know about that every second of every day until you bought in. Instead it is tucked away in this response.

5. Stenograph claims it continues to have dedicated stenographic teams, but again, this is actually not a commitment. A dedicated team can be dedicated to any number of things. They can be dedicated to digital reporting and stenographic reporting. In a field where two of the largest companies inflate numbers by a factor of six to fool stenographers, it’s not incredibly surprising Stenograph would play with some words in a perfectly legal puffery-like way. It would also be pretty dumb to maintain separate dedicated teams, since you’d be paying effectively double to staff the company.

6. Stenograph announced a partnership of Caseview Net with vTestify. It’s possible this supports my belief that Stenograph is not actively against us but rather being misled. vTestify was that silly company that I blasted for saying it could save attorneys $3,000 on a deposition. After that, they started working more on being a platform and less on being a service. So this, to me, says that Stenograph’s leadership just doesn’t know some things about our field. They wouldn’t tout a relationship with vTestify if they did.

7. Stenograph is committed to growing the profession. And they support this with their Project Steno donations. I hate to punch down on an effort that I commend, because I do commend Stenograph and every company that donates to pro steno initiatives. I actually wrote about Stenograph’s donation in a positive way when it happened. I like Project Steno and I often mention it right alongside A to Z and Open Steno. But at the end of the day we have to realize that Project Steno is a write off and there is a benefit to companies PR-wise and monetarily to donate to it. At this point, it comes off as a publicity stunt to get us quietly accepting the company’s lean away from us. Let’s face facts, NCRA dumped its corporate sponsorship program, US Legal and their pals realized they couldn’t get the NCRA to push the digital product for them, and ever since then there’s been this bizarre “separate but equal” stance where companies just happen to support Project Steno over NCRA or NCRF. Considering that NCRA is basically THE trade association for stenographers, it’s easy to see that the goal is to undermine the stranglehold stenographers have on the market. That’s basically how I regard Project Steno at this point. A convenient place for all the entities not supporting NCRA to point and say “we care about steno too!” It’s called hedging.

8. Stenograph donates hours of training. Most vendors donate when asked. It’s kind of a chicken and egg, cost of doing business thing. You have a society of people, court reporters and stenographers. You have organizations that try to bring these people together, like NCRA. Playing ball with the organization that gives you access to your customers is called par for the course.

9. Stenograph uses a dedicated technical support team. Again, the word dedicated doesn’t even mean anything to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if the “dedicated” tech support is outsourced in whole or in part, just like their stock photo office picture.

I asked some of my audience to give me their comments on Stenograph’s bullets. This is some of what your fellow reporters say:

Respondent A: “My thoughts on it – One of the best things my dad ever told me was “You should always listen to what people have to say, but it’s more important to watch what they do.”

This is a typical PR response, and it sounds nice. But what I see Stenograph doing is channeling their resources to directly compete with their primary customers. What I see is Stenograph entering into increased alliances with STTI (a digital front, despite what they say), and AAERT. What I saw from Stenograph at the NCRA convention was a booth and their separate training offering (I think people had to pay for that in addition to the convention, but I’m unsure on that. If so, then they didn’t “donate” the training.) I saw a decreased level of event sponsorship. When I open the JCR, I no longer see any ads from Stenograph. These actions certainly indicate to me that while of course they would like to keep their steno customers, their focus is now on their digital product.

And I’d like to know if by integrating their realtime platform (CaseView) with VTestify, they plan to mine those transcripts to improve the AI for their digital program.”

Respondent B: “Thanks for sharing. The language in that post and PDF is basic and appears to have been written by a sales executive. Not a whole lot of depth there.

Two things:

Are they going to begin manufacturing and/or selling digital recording equipment?

Their last bullet point appears to be more about shortening their customer service employees’ time on service calls. The language is unclear about their policy or commitment to meeting their stenographic customers’ needs.”

Again, one thing is for sure. If the writing was on the wall, Stenograph wouldn’t care what you have to say. It has tipped its hand and admitted it cares very much. Use your collective power as consumers and walk away until the company is behaving in a manner that is actually accountable to you and not lip service. Let them know that’s what’s happening. Let them know it’s because of me if you want to. They’re using their position as a tech company to make you feel unqualified to judge their product. Meanwhile, when you ask someone like Stanley Sakai, someone that knows computer programming and steno, he can tell you why we use stenotypes. I can too. Why can’t Stenograph? The company has a monetary incentive not to. Take that away and you have a company with no choice but to support us or fold. If the company was on solid ground, we wouldn’t be able to cut through its arguments like Darth Vader cutting through rebel troops at the end of Rogue One. The company’s condition today is not our fault and we shouldn’t feel guilty about using it to our advantage. Certainly no one in this industry has felt guilty about using us.