In a press release yesterday, the National Court Reporters Association acknowledged that different markets are having different experiences when it comes to court reporter or stenographer shortage. NCRA President Jason Meadors is quoted as saying “Claims of a court reporter shortage are all too often a matter of geography and market. When courthouses pay and offer benefits competitively, they become fully staffed, and litigants are not faced with the choice of paying market rates to have the best system available or rely upon what the courthouse is willing to provide for keeping the record.”
The press release is concise and worth a read. It gets across some important ideas, such as stenography being modern, the gold standard, and acknowledges in its own way that economics plays a role in where court reporters are available. Very similar to the realizations I had when I saw that many reporters in New York City were working 30 years behind inflation while agencies were crying shortage.
This could not come at a better time. The courts in California just more or less declared that funding was not the issue, with some screenshots below. With our profession setting the stage to dispel the misinformation spread by the Speech-to-Text Institute, there’s a real chance at educating court administrators as to the controversy and issue (ultimately, if they want there to be court reporters, they have to stand behind us and help keep the demand steady. If they continue piecemeal replacement of us across the country, there will be fewer of us to hire. It’s an unfortunate elephant-in-the-room scenario. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.)
We’ve also passed a milestone here on Stenonymous. Many of the claims I’ve made and articles I’ve published are over a year old or rapidly approaching such, and the statute of limitations on defamation in my state is a year. The best defense of the corporate juggernauts against my claims of fraud was to ignore me. At the very least, I hope some of the things I did help many of you connect, educate, and advocate without fear. It really does appear to me that the corporate powers that be are milking the shortage for the purpose of selling digital reporting and the equipment associated. That’s not the easiest problem to deal with, but we are a strong profession, and we’re on the road to dealing with it.
I cannot claim to always agree with NCRA, but it remains a pillar of our profession and today I am very proud to be a member. Thank you to our president, Jason Meadors, for speaking up and speaking out.
Students that take and complete the NCRA A to Z program will now be provided two years of Eclipse student software and support.
Honestly, this is a colossal step in the right direction. I feel we suffer from a lack of teamwork on the steno side of the steno v digital debate. That collaboration is incredibly important. As shown by NCRA and Advantage here, it opens up new opportunities.
Advantage and other steno software and hardware vendors may find themselves in a great position to ride the circumstances set in motion by myself and the Open Steno community. Open Steno has introduced stenography to well over a thousand people and continues to raise a community of people that want to learn steno, including transcribers. Meanwhile I have set the stage and made the case that stenographer pay is too low in some markets. It follows that transcriber pay is too low in some markets and will have transcribers looking for a way to increase their efficiency. Who better to help than stenography software and hardware vendors? All during a time when workers across the country are realizing their value and asking for it. Conditions are ripe for the strengthening and reimagining of our timeless profession. It’s exciting to witness and be a part of, and today I can honestly say I’m proud to be an NCRA member and Advantage customer.
MAXScribe and the Digital Court Reporting Academy were both brought to my attention. Before I launch into my usual full defense of stenography, I’ll put it out there that I think I understand Stenograph from a business perspective. My assumption is that they see the retirement cliff combined with big money’s interest in expanding digital, and they are doing what they see as the most profitable move, diversifying into a product line that they expect will be growing (digital) rather than shrinking (ostensibly stenography). From a purely business mindset, I think all of us get it. But I’ve been down on Stenograph these last few months and remain so.
My criticism comes from a place of circumstance. We let Stenograph into our schools and gave them access to our students. We encouraged each other to get and keep support contracts over the years, though admittedly I was never in with that crowd. The bottom line is that we built Stenograph with our wallets and brand dedication. We need to grapple with the obvious truth, Stenograph does not have the same dedication to its customers, the stenographic trainers, or anyone else. It’s going to sell to whoever will buy.
By itself, that might be annoying, but there is another reason I find fault with what they’re doing. We have some data that suggests stenography is better for equality. If we look back at the Testifying While Black study, stenographers scored something like 80% on African American Vernacular English — a shock at the time it happened. The pilot studies of that study tested laypeople and lawyers, and those people scored around 40% and 60%. The hard truth is that stenographers may, on average, be understanding more of what’s said by speakers of that dialect in the courtroom or deposition than anybody else. Couple that with the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, where automatic speech recognition by major companies scored as low as 25% on the same dialect. Simply put, stenographers are better for accuracy on the dialect studied. I’d bet results would be similar for a number of dialects and accents, though funding for further studies seems elusive. By taking this hard push towards digital, companies, including Stenograph, are basically saying “we do not care about people.” Anir Dutta and others have used the words “democratization of technology.” Perhaps this really is the democratization of technology and we have simply “voted” that AAVE speakers and anyone else that would be better served by stenography or voice writing does not deserve that service. Good thing nobody’s told the press. Seems like the kind of thing the public might object to. “Court case? Congratulations, if you don’t speak in the way the powers that be deem appropriate, your transcript’s accuracy may be lower.”
Even putting aside all that science stuff, Stenograph’s claims are questionable. Take a look.
It states the number of pages produced per hour can be boosted up to 50%. If there was such a product, wouldn’t it have been marketable to stenographers? If it’s not marketable to stenographers, then that likely means stenographers already produce pages faster. If stenographers already produce pages faster, why is Stenograph not trying to improve our methods and processes? It doesn’t make much sense unless one locks oneself into the bubble of “big money wants digital, and we want big money.”
Maybe it’s time for us to get into the business of helping out digital court reporters. Dear DCRs, anyone that says they can double your earnings without giving you a real good idea of how that happens is lying to you. Ask questions.
Then there’s the Digital Court Reporting Academy.
The effort put into enticing digital court reporters is obvious. But I suspect that Stenograph has missed the mark here. Digital court reporters are likely to face the same income disparities stenographers are currently facing, and they’ll make cuts largely the same way stenographers have because they’re people too. The problem remains this wage or income issue. Cash-strapped “contractors” cut corners and court reporting and transcription companies are forcing as many expenses onto the contractor as possible. That means Stenograph is trying to run from a world where stenographers are avoiding purchases because the money isn’t there to a world where digitals will avoid purchases because the money isn’t there.
Though perhaps I have a naive view of the world. I have assumed that the working reporter is the customer. But perhaps they are all really after the “potential working reporters” or students. If you sell 80 student stenotypes for $1,500, it’s a lot more money than selling 5 professional stenotypes to graduates at $5,000. That same logic likely carries to digital. I expect there will be incredibly high turnover based on communications I’ve gotten from past and present digital reporters about their treatment. Stenograph may be financially incentivized to support that turnover because every person that tries digital and doesn’t like it would be a potential customer.
Big money wants digital. It wants digital so bad that lies about the NCRA were plastered to the internet before NCRA apparently got them taken down, students were being misled into digital, questionable claims have been made to get attorneys onto digital reporting, and a piece to discredit me was apparently commissioned and poorly executed. These are just some of the things we look at in horror and wonder how we could find ourselves in such a lopsided competition where actors on the digital side of the equation get to lie and obfuscate while we get cudgeled by our licensing authorities and consumers are left to fend for themselves. Stenograph’s not responsible for any of that, but by continuingto alienate existing customers and continuing to chase big money over morals, Stenograph has set itself up to hemorrhage stenographic customers, and if growth of digital is stunted by stenographers spreading the word that there’s a better career in stenography, the company may well end up the sten-tech industry’s biggest loser.
I have been in touch with a source that claims to have contacts in government, and based on information available to me, I believe it. There are three issues that myself or my source may have the opportunity to shed some light on and explain to people in positions of power. First, the abysmal state of the New York market’s pay for many deposition stenographers. Second, the fraud concerns, where stenographer shortage is being used as an excuse to sell digital court reporting. Third, the potential for copy protection. There are no guarantees on the table, but I’ve put down a lot of time and money on solving these issues, and my audience has too, so I’ve got to share with the wider Stenonymous audience.
What we have been asked for in order to facilitate a meeting is data, and what we intend to do is show that reporters from other places are pulling in much larger amounts. To this end, a couple of the big box rate sheets to reporters have been acquired, and they show rates that are laughably low when viewed in the light of available historical information. Check them out below.
I already have some data in this regard and intend to share it publicly as soon as possible, but for those of you that would like to assist, please consider sending your rate sheet & info to email@example.com and name your state. I anticipate that this round of data collection will not be ending up on Stenonymous.com, so if you help out by sending a rate sheet, rest assured it’s not being shared with the world, but it will be used in averages and advocating for reporters over here.
As for things I’ll share with the world, reporters should keep in mind that both of these companies deviate upward from these rates when they want to. Don’t be discouraged from trying to get more if you take work from either company. It’s about negotiation, and if one can negotiate higher than what one sees here, that’s what one gets. This is how the game is played. This is in stark contrast to how reporting students were told the game was played around 2008. We were told court reporting sells itself, six-figure salary without a BA. This wasn’t a complete lie. I’ll be the first to concede there are a lot of court reporters making a lot of money out there. I’m fighting for the ones that are considering picking up a different field because they don’t make enough. If they leave, our shortage gets worse, digital expansion accelerates, and then digitals will be used as an excuse to keep stenographer rates down, similar to how stenographers were told “if you don’t take it for less, someone else will” all through my early career.
We need to wrap our heads around the fact that corporations and the people representing those corporations will say just about anything to benefit the corporation. An example? When I was a young reporter, I was told by Jaguar Reporting that attorneys see us as a dime a dozen. But when representing at a legal conference with Patricia Bidon and others, attorneys were all about stenographers over alternatives. Perhaps opening up about some of what I’ve seen will expose why I am so passionate. Think of your mentor or mentee. Do you want them to be told they are a dime a dozen? Do you want them to be told they’re less valuable than they are? Do you want to perpetuate that kind of conduct in our field?
A lot of us come from a place of integrity and honesty. A lot of us don’t like to speak out unless we’re “absolutely certain.” But this isn’t how anything happens in reality. As a society we convict people based on what 6 to 12 people believe they heard about an incident. We accept or reject laws based upon the say-so of activists and lobbyists. History goes to who wins and not who is right.
So all I’m saying is we might as well win, and if you send me a rate sheet today, you’ll be helping me do that.
This is very similar to the California list put on sale last week. This is put out for any group of entrepreneurs, court reporting businesses, or others that might need a list of lawyers for cold calling operations in Texas. The development of sales & marketing strategies in our field is essential. Having information like this in one simple spot can be a game changer. There are over 1,600 entries on this list, so it’s priced at about $0.08 per entry. The format is xlsx, which can be opened via Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, and if I’m not mistaken, Apache Open Office.
So, if you are in need of a cold calling spreadsheet for Texas, look no further.
I plan to release one or two more lists like this and then move into more educational materials that help make use of information like this, so if you’re generally interested and don’t have a use for this yet, sit tight, there is more to come. If you have an interest in a specific state, feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll see what I can do.
A reader asked whether this list shows the city and e-mail address. This list has an address listed for most firms, with many located in Irving, Austin, Houston, and Dallas, but it does not have a great e-mail listings. There are services that provide more comprehensive lists, but they also tend to have a higher price point.
For court reporting companies and entrepreneurs seeking a listing of lawyers for cold calling operations in California, this spreadsheet provides over 1,200 law firms and their phone numbers in simple xlsx format. You can use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to open it. The current price is $120, about $0.10 per listing.
Traditionally, big box companies have been better at marketing and sales. It is my hope that making this list available to our field of entrepreneurs at a reasonable price helps drive new court reporting ventures and encourages court reporting firms to seek out their own cold calling, sales, and marketing professionals. The volume of California court reporting work makes it an attractive market for digital court reporting infiltration, so getting on top of the sales & marketing game there is paramount if we want a healthy field. First step? Building a list of potential leads. Next step? Development of a cold calling pitch or plan. Then it’s just a matter of making the calls or hiring talent to make the calls. Now the first step is all yours for $120.
Over the coming months, I’ll be making efforts to produce more tools to give stenographers an edge in the business world. Sales will ultimately help drive that activity, so I am very grateful for all purchases.
One factor I’ve identified as a reason for stenographer shortage is terrible compensation. While it may be difficult for some court reporters to learn, there are people in this field working decades behind inflation. There are reporters that haven’t had a raise for the better part of a decade or more. When it comes to reporter treatment, there’s a spectrum of treatment as wide as the reporter spectrum of skill, and the two don’t necessarily correlate.
The question of whether someone is an employee or independent contractor is something of interest to many government agencies and courts, and something that is not always clear in the court reporting and captioning industry. What two parties call a relationship is mostly irrelevant for determining what that relationship is under the law. As an example of the kind of things that courts consider, let’s check out the Ninth Circuit:
Using a test like this, one starts to see the different interpretations possible. Recent rule changes focus even more so on the right to control work of the “employer” and the profit or loss or the employee. Some may be incredulous, “we control our hours! We’re independent contractors!” But such a blanket answer does not and never will address the truth, that many agencies demand a specific layout, specific page rates, or bar reporters from sending others on jobs accepted by the reporter. There’s a lot of control that reporters give up for the “right to work,” and in some cases it arguably would make us employees if and when it were challenged in court. Companies have settled such claims in the past, probably to prevent precedent from taking hold and court reporters realizing that the “freedom” of “independent contracting” effectively silences discussions on worker pay and working conditions, conveniently placing the blame on the “entrepreneur,” who could be a 20 year old, newly graduated, with no comprehension of the business. How well can we expect them to do when instructors tell them how high the demand is for their skills and companies beat them down and deny that value in the name of the almighty dollar?
Captioners aren’t released from this discussion either. Some captioners work as employees, some work as independent contractors, and the distinctions aren’t always clear or consistent in the same company, let alone across multiple companies.
There’s no doubt in my mind that unionization can help more of us. I am a member of ASSCR, and prior to that I was a member of Local 1070. Prior to that, I was New York freelance. Nothing is ever perfect, but my job security and compensation rose tremendously when I gave up freelancing for officialship. If the two had been remotely close, I’d still be a deposition reporter. I loved it. Love doesn’t pay the bills.
The main jab that people give when discussing unionization is the right to refuse work. Reporters don’t want to give that up. But an employment contract drafted by a smart union for per diem or commission-based employees, which is essentially what many of us are, could simply include the right to refuse work. People could still be paid by page. There is not a single “right” granted by being independent contractors that could not be covered in an employment contract. A lot of the smaller gripes around unionization seem to be from thinking too deeply inside the box and assuming we’d have to conform to low hourly wages, which is simply a lie perpetuated by people afraid of the word “union.”
The main hurdle with regard to unionization, and what makes it unlikely in my view, is reporter organization and willpower. At least 30% of the reporters at a given company or location would have to come together, make the case that they were common law employees, and request a vote to join a union. Then they’d have to actually win the vote! A lot of people in the private sector don’t know who works for who. We don’t even have great data on the total number of court reporters that exist. How can we expect someone to unionize a location they never go to or confer with colleagues they never see? Even more confusing, some court reporters will easily meet the definition of independent contractor while others could be defined as employees. Some court reporters are simply afraid to discuss unionization because of potential retaliation.
Our realtimers might scoff at such a discussion, but if we think of court reporting as a pyramid where the realtimers sit on top, and we think of the exploited common law employee class of reporter as the bottom, it’s easy to see why realtimers need that bottom to be strong. How long will realtime rates remain high if the floor drops out from under you? The only “good” answer I’ve seen to this question is “well, I should be able to make it to retirement, so I don’t care.” My answer to that is “a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” But even if a reader is a self-centered prick that doesn’t care about that, how much more money do you think realtimers will be able to ask for once the base pay is back where it should be? It’s in the self-centered prick’s interest to add fuel to this fire too.
I also believe our associations, the primary drivers for our defense currently, would never assist or support such endeavors. Unions are likely seen as a threat. Once a union exists, is an association necessary? But the very thing driving association membership into the ground is the inability of associations to directly influence rate discussions and their unwillingness to collect and distribute rate data. There’s even some chance association membership would rise, since people would likely have more to spend. If associations want to remain relevant, it may make sense to start looking out for reporters, and particularly the ones that are struggling, instead of milking the certification cow until it’s dead.
On the digital front, unionization could lead to negotiations where stenographers are given work preference by contract instead of the situation we have now, where the companies “promise” we’re number one and quietly do everything they can to push us out of the market.
I think the threat needs to be on the table for the larger companies. They will have no choice but to raise rates as unionization discussions spread. It’s working in other industries and will work in ours. In the short term, we could expect dirty tricks. In the long term, we could expect higher wages for all reporters, union and non-union. Feel free to like, comment, or share if that’s a future you want!
Shortly after the launch of this post, a reader sent me this TikTok. In brief, adjusting prices upward can attract a different quality of customer. So those that fearmonger pricing ourselves out of the market might be interested in viewing that.
About ten days ago I launched an ad campaign to survey the public about court reporting. Question number one, had they heard about us?
When asked what terms were associated with court reporting, respondents overwhelmingly selected terms like “fast,” “technological,” and “adaptive,” over words like “old.”
Then I asked respondents if they could tell a court reporter anything, what would it be? The majority of responses were positive, with comments like “great job” or “bless you for listening to all the nonsense.” There were about six negative comments, with things like “your days are numbered.” There were a series of questions, like, “how do you like your job?” Finally, there were comments that didn’t fit into a simple “positive,” “negative,” or “question” category. These were comments like “smoke weed” or “I wish I had stayed in my stenography class.” The responses are in Google Sheets (Excel) format here. If you would like a simple PDF where the responses have already been categorized, download below.
Finally, I asked respondents for their e-mail if they wanted more information about stenography. Nearly 40 people provided their e-mail, and tomorrow morning, will receive the following message:
For this advertisement, 20,707 people were reached with 1,668 engagements and 614 link clicks.
What can we learn from this? Well, for starters, the majority of people have heard of what we do. The majority of people do not associate the term “old” with stenography. This is an eye opener, because prior to this survey, I believed our biggest issue was overcoming the view that we are obsolete. The survey results seem to point more toward a public that largely understands this skill is not outdated. This may change how we talk about steno, no longer coming from a place of defense, but pride, and helping others understand why it is a good career.
This may also redefine the way we discuss shortage. If the perception of being “old” is not what is stopping people from getting into this field, what is it? I would submit that the problem, at least partially, goes back to pay. In these times of allegedly insurmountable shortage, I’ve learned that some companies in my hometown of New York City are paying lower than $3.50 per page. That’s simply too low to attract and retain talent, and far below the $5.74 it would be today had the rate kept up with inflation. It’s easy to say, “skill up.” But if we “skill up” a field of people that struggle with knowing their value, all we’re really doing is setting ourselves up to have the realtime rates drop through the floor. Seems to me that marketing and sales training would provide better outcomes than realtime at this point.
Please feel free to spread the results of this survey. Information leads to new ideas, and there are over 27,000 court reporter minds out there that might come up with bigger and better solutions.
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.
Speech-to-Text Institute is an association that claims it wants to define, modernize, and lead the court reporting industry. About three years ago, in the Impossible Institute post, I wrote about how it appeared that the STTI had already concluded our shortage was impossible to solve. My position was simple: “There have been no updates since Ducker. How can anyone make that claim?
Several readers sent me the STTI’s newest production, a series of slides that make more claims about our industry and profession.
This is one of those times that it’s difficult to choose how to respond. Spreading their materials gives them free publicity. Being silent gives them free rein over the discussion. I think it makes the most sense to analyze the materials publicly and see what discussion springs from that.
STTI submits there is a steady and irreversible decline of stenographers. My feelings here are similar to the “impossible” argument. It’s a future prediction that’s not predicated on anything other than a forecast that’s been around the better part of a decade and a survey that could not possibly capture all the factors at play in our industry.
STTI submits digital reporting technology is “more than capable…” Arguendo, let’s say that digital IS more than capable. This is an imperfect world. Transcripts are going to be imperfect. And we’ve seen this when it’s studied. Stenographers were only about 80% accurate in the Testifying While Black (2019) study. But a pilot study from TWB revealed laypeople transcribed statements with about 40% accuracy. Half the accuracy! Not utilizing stenographers likely has a significant cost to accuracy.
STTI mentions the current or future capabilities of automatic speech recognition (ASR). There is a patent from around 2000 that shows 90% accuracy was thought to be possible. More recently, in the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) study, ASR from major players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and IBM were tested. Their tech was about 80% accurate for white speakers, 65% accurate for black speakers, and as low as 25% accurate for African American Vernacular English speakers. Succinctly, the current capabilities of ASR are not very good when studied objectively. Future capabilities are another unknown, and a case of wishful thinking. Dragon remains the best ASR, and that’s the domain of another established method, voice writing.
STTI then mentions that this is an era of alternative facts in order to disparage dissenting views. But this is a clever deflection, as STTI itself is guilty of pushing alternative facts. Just look at this old STTI graphic.
If we assume these numbers are correct and that there were 27,700 stenographers in 2018 and a supply gap of 5,500, that means that as of 2018, nearly 1/5 of every single job would be going uncovered, and it would get worse every year. It’s 2022. Agency owners may be having some trouble finding coverage, but not one has expressed that 20% of their work is going uncovered.
STTI points to how difficult it would be to recruit a large number of stenography students to make up for the historically lower graduation numbers. But a little comparative analysis is in order. Stenography has 26 NCRA-approved schools, tons of schools that are not yet approved (>100), and three separate nationwide initiatives to introduce people to stenography (A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno). Digital has BlueLedge and the few schools that can be convinced to teach stenography and digital side by side. Digital is less efficient than stenography and it’s likely that multiple transcribers will be needed in addition to each digital reporter in order to make up for the efficiency loss. When turnover of audio monitors and transcribers is factored in, we are likely talking about recruiting similar numbers of people. The difference is that stenography has more infrastructure to introduce people to it. So companies turning to digital doesn’t appear to be a legitimate shortage concern, it appears to be about making money on the “labor churn.”
STTI’s next slide continues to paint a stark picture of the situation.
The slide is misleading in that it makes tactical use of the word “some.” A large percentage of firms having “some” level of struggle isn’t surprising. Firms were having “some” level of struggle to cover things before the shortage too.
STTI claims the majority of court reporting firms use digital. But STTI only surveyed 156 firm owners. According to the Kentley Insights Court Reporting & Stenotype Services 2019 market research report, there were over 3,000 firms in the industry. A population of 3,000 would need a sample size of 341, assuming a confidence interval of 5, according to this sample size calculator. If we wanted to be more certain, with a confidence interval of 2, the sample size jumps to 1,334. And again, there is tactical use of the word “some.” “Some” digital use could be one digital reporter sent out on one job. I can’t blame STTI for trying to collect data, but the data is not reliable for making definitive, sweeping, or predictive statements.
STTI mentions the widespread use of remote reporting, but fails to mention that this has increased stenographers’ coverage abilities. Many of us are no longer sitting in traffic and are able to jump job, to job, to job.
The technology slide points to how technology suppliers want us to embrace what they’re selling. It’s self-serving. “Trying to change stuff is futile, now buy my new software.” It is laughable to me that they think ASR is a future supplement for this field when they have not even worked out good and consistent cross-compatibility among softwares. Who would believe that these companies are going to succeed where the tech giants have failed?
We actually see this play out in a later slide where the technology suppliers outright admit they’re aiming for the business of digital court reporters, court reporting firms, and courts. It’s not about selling what’s efficient or best for your business, it’s about selling.
This is about making business owners afraid that if they do not jump on the digital/tech train, they will be left behind. We can all appreciate the importance of technology. But there is, to some extent, a practice among tech suppliers to make consumers afraid so that consumers open their wallets. Nobody wants to be Kodak, so everybody piles blindly into what they are told is the future.
I operate under the belief that most people seek truth. By summing up how and why these claims are questionable, I hopefully enable others to educate. If you feel there is some merit to these arguments, feel free to share, and enable more reporters and business owners to understand what’s out there, what’s being said, and why it may not be accurate.