Facebook Boosting 101

If you’re looking to promote your steno nonprofit or your primary steno business, the numbers don’t lie, marketing is going to bring more eyes to what you’re selling. That’s a common-sense statement, but let’s drive it home. This blog, on average, will get about 500 to 1000 unique visitors a month and about double the views or clicks. That’s just me writing what I write and sharing it on Facebook. In honor of CRCW 2021, I ended up posting a lot this month. I published over a dozen articles, and the “average” did not change much. Now we’ll compare that to December 2020, where I wrote three posts and advertised two on Facebook.

I wrote my heart out and it’s not even close.

About 700 visitors, 14 posts, that’s about 50 visitors a post. That’s compared to nearly 3,000 visitors, three posts, a thousand visitors a post. About $200 gave me 20x the reach.

Yay for me. Why am I writing this? To help you. On Facebook today there are groups and pages. Groups serve, more or less, as discussion boards. Pages are more like ad space. They’re promotional and you generally control the content on there. You can have a page and a group, and you can have a page act as an admin to a group. There’s one major difference between the two. As best I can tell, groups cannot advertise. Pages, on the other hand, have the power to boost posts. So if you’re looking to market, get yourself a page.

What kind of monster doesn’t even like his own page?

When you create a post on your page, you have the option to boost a post. Check the boost post option before you make your post to get to the “boost” controls.

Nobody liked that.

After you click post, you’ll get transported to the magic world of the boost page. That’s going to look like the image below, hopefully, and it’s going to give you options to put in your budget, and more importantly, edit your audience. Generally if you put in more money, they’ll estimate more views per day. If you put in more days, you’ll get fewer views per day, but the ad will run longer. There are some minimums, but you can go as low or as high as you want. Again, in December, I felt comfortable spending in the ballpark of $200 for week-long campaigns. What will you see in the edit audience tab?

You get to target, gender, age, location, and then add specific demographics.

The only thing you should know is your audience has to be broad enough to run the ad. If you’re way too specific, it blocks you. For example, I started clicking demographics for all these things and the potential reach was only about 5,000. I clicked “lawyer” and the potential reach jumped up by millions.

That’s all there is to it! There are a few other options, like whether you want your ad to run in Facebook, Messenger, or both, and whether you want to use Facebook Pixel. My personal preference? I run the ad only Facebook and do nothing with Facebook Pixel. I know a lot of us trust and believe in face-to-face conversations. We want to grow deep connections and be one with our audience. But again, we’re looking at 20x the reach with a small budget.

With that in mind, I’ll be launching and advertising a post on March 1 directed at digital reporters and transcribers. Here’s my thinking: We have this whole group of people who probably like sitting in court proceedings, the companies they work for are not telling them about steno, or maybe even lying to them about steno. It’s time to break that in half and get the good ones over to us. If you support that, or even if you’re just grateful for the information in this post, feel free to donate here. I’m very grateful to people that have donated in the past. Every dollar helps keep this place ad-free. We don’t want to go back to that time.

Alternatively, if you’re tired of my blog, check out Glen Warner’s or Matt Moss’s. There are so many out there, including businesses like Migliore & Associates or MGR. It can be really heartening to see the incredible amount of information and opinions we have out there. Highly suggest checking out any of them.

Collective Power of Stenographers

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

With this thing on, I became unstoppable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by ProPublica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a potted plant do this?

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

Beware Commercial Leasing Agreements for Equipment

Commercial leasing, by itself, is not a scam. The idea behind commercial equipment leasing is that you are leasing or renting computer or electronic equipment from a company for a specified time. Some agreements then contain provisions for you to buy the equipment or return it to the company you are leasing from. That said, contract law is pretty serious in the United States and you will generally be expected to abide by the terms of the contract that you sign with a provider or seller if a matter goes to court. This means you have to be absolutely sure you want to be a part of the agreement you’re signing.

Why beware? A few simple reasons:

  1. Complexity. The likelihood that you need a company to help you pick out equipment is low, and the cost of computer equipment for court reporting is low enough that you can probably figure out a way to buy the equipment outright or cheaper using revolving or personal credit. It does not make sense to have a complex contractual agreement for equipment unless there is something generous you are getting from the contract such as generous tech support provisions, replacement parts, or free repairs/replacements. If you can walk into a store and get it, caveat emptor. If you are entering an agreement for someone else to get it for you, be just as careful.
  2. Third-party bait and switch. Some sellers will say they are helping you pick out the right equipment for you. This can be very tempting because not everyone in our field is comfortable buying computers without advice. So you could be talking to your software manufacturer, who refers you to their “computer specialists,” who are actually a third-party commercial leasing company. So one minute you’re talking about buying a computer, the next minute you’re signing a commercial leasing agreement, and if you’re not careful, your signature could end up on an agreement that you don’t fully understand. This is totally legitimate, legal business, but it could cost a reporter a lot of money unnecessarily.
  3. Predatory practices. Beyond the third-party bait and switch, there are general equipment leasing “tricks” that can end up costing consumers. Evergreen clauses are one example of this, where the buyer has the option to buy the equipment, but the seller is allowed to extend the agreement if the buyer does not notify them of their intent to buy the equipment. There are also instances where sellers attempt to alter the text of the contract just before it is signed. If you see a company employing predatory practices or attempting to confuse you, it may be a good idea to avoid doing business with them altogether.

Protect yourself and your wallet. Always make sure you read, understand, and retain a copy of what you sign or agree to. If you are having trouble understanding the terms of a contract, it may pay to have a lawyer review the contract with you, because monthly payments, fees, or penalties in an agreement can quickly snowball to be several times the cost of the computer equipment you’re leasing — and it’s mostly legal.

Trust Issues, Brought To You By Veritext

There was a pretty serious open letter posted by Veritext this month. It basically goes into their stance on digital reporting. I try to be fair in all things, but looking at Veritext’s history, and the general direction of the field, I don’t really find the letter reliable. I’ve reported on the good that Veritext has done with offering scholarships, and I hope that continues. I hope it doesn’t turn out like US Legal and Stenotrain, where it was apparently bought, paraded around for a bit, and mothballed.

Given all I know, I can only assume that there are people at the company with different directions or management styles. Beginning of last year, Veritext stood proud for steno and wouldn’t cross the picket lines in California. That was followed by the revelation that they were coaching clients to amend their deposition notices to allow for digital reporters. Almost immediately after that, their then VP of Sales wrote a very pro digital article that got shared wildly on social media before its deletion, and Veritext response was, more or less, that it was done by a “former employee.” I think it’s infinitely more likely that the culture at Veritext at the time was looking at digital. Realizing that they can’t compete with tens of thousands of stenographers, they backed down.

I view Veritext through a lens of cynicism for all the above reasons. For a long time in this field it was rumored that digitals were being sent instead of reporters by various companies, and that was often denied. Then we started to have hard evidence of it, and the message pivoted to the shortage and how companies can do nothing about it, they just have to use digital. When grassroots groups of stenographers can start putting together things I could only dream of, and they can do that ostensibly faster than the million-dollar companies, there’s a willpower problem, not a resources problem.

Let’s push into the specifics of the Veritext letter for why it screams BS to me. When someone wants something from you, they play good cop, bad cop. The good cop starts out in the Veritext letter by saying how committed to court reporters they are and going on about how they provide more work to stenographers than blah, blah, blah. It’s very disarming language. The letter then pivots to the bad cop. Remember, stenographers, we have a shortage problem in the thousands! Disarmed, you, the reader, is then hit over the head with some purported factoids to fill you with a sense of hopelessness.

As best I can tell, most of what they state is extrapolated from the Ducker Report from 2013 or 2014 data. They don’t cite any sources at all, so the accuracy of the bad cop statements is tough to gauge. Yes, stenographers are looking at a bit of a battle. Over the next 13 years, a large percentage of this field will retire. Yes, there was a forecasted supply problem for court reporting. But let’s set the record straight. By far, the largest supply gap was California, which is also a state where the stenographers are best positioned to deal with the heavy burden of recruiting new talent. There are several reporting associations and independents who are going to fight the good fight to close the gap. Additionally, Ducker came before we had Project Steno, Open Steno was far smaller, NCRA’s A to Z didn’t exist yet, Katiana Walton’s Steno Key wasn’t being tried yet. Ducker was a good warning bell, and we listened.

This idea that our schools closing is a problem is laughable. I think it opens up the possibility for entrepreneurs to jump in and start schools or present new ideas. I also think it’s really shortsighted and maybe willfully ignorant to talk about steno schools without again mentioning that AAERT only has 4 or 5 approved schools. Said another way, if we want to only look at approved schools, we have six times the chance at filling the reporter shortage. Any gamblers in the audience? If your payout was roughly the same, would you bet on something that has a 1 out of 7 chance of winning or a 6 out of 7 chance of winning? Bet sten, people. Stenographers, be encouraged to recruit people and tell them about our work, that is how this field will survive and thrive. What we do today will change the outcome 13 years from today. Our action or inaction writes this story.

I have no idea if Veritext reads my work, but if I could give them one piece of advice it would be to stop waffling around this issue, look at the numbers as they are and not as they want them to be, and see that as long as stenographers don’t completely drop the ball our prevalence and resurgence is borderline inexorable. Take advantage of that. If you’re seen to be a company that is actually on our side and not just hedging, you’ve got thousands who probably wouldn’t mind taking their work through you. If you keep down this road of dishonesty and lack of commitment, you’ve got tens of thousands of heavy hitter competitors. Stop trying to convince us with “there’s nothing we can do” while throwing resources into building digital reporting. Nobody’s fooled. Even your most loyal stenographer resources don’t buy that there’s nothing you can do. The famous cliche is the people you step on going up the ladder are the same faces you see when you take a fall. Anything less than commitment to the stenographic court reporting community is going to lead to a fall, we won’t catch you, and it’ll cost the shareholders big time.

Addendum:

This site and its public face as of March 2020 are a good indicator of why stenographers have a hard time trusting. We can get all the open letters in the world about loving stenography, but in the end we really need companies to put down those resources they’re throwing out the window for digital into our field.

The Savior Chimera

Some will have seen the recent article in Legal Tech News where Max Curry, NCRA’s president, told the press straight up that electronic recording by itself is too risky compared to steno in taking the spoken word. Reading the article got me pretty concerned. I felt, as a member, that NCRA’s views weren’t represented well. I didn’t know if that was because of a lack of articulation or because the cards were stacked against Max. I didn’t know if the full breadth of what he was explaining was captured accurately. The words printed just don’t come off as pro-steno as his September 2019 Virtual Town Hall. So I did what anybody familiar with the issues at hand would do, and I wrote the author something super polite. I didn’t get a response, and something tells me I’m not getting a response. Something tells me the cards were stacked against our NCRA when that interview was taken. Hopefully, time proves me wrong, or journalists do a little more digging into this important issue. Just in case they don’t, here we go.

I’ve already gone on at length why I think stenography is the only solution to the court reporter shortage. Let me double down on this because I have the benefit of being self-published. Stenography’s the only solution. There are more stenographic schools than transcriber schools. We are two to four times more efficient than the record-and-transcribe method. AI is going to burn through investors’ money like the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). When you get down to it, you are dealing with two very different organizations. I have been through several years of tax returns of both NCRA and AAERT. You know what jumps out at me? In NCRA’s weakest year that I reviewed, 2016, AAERT made about 13% of NCRA’s revenue. Let me say that another way. We stenographers fund an organization easily ten times more than the recording-is-the-future crowd funds “the future.” Even with a membership that is about one third the cost, it appears from my review of these returns that AAERT cannot attract even a third of our membership. Be proud that your money is going to funding conventions, a professional journal, and a dedicated staff who are all about what we do and a thousand percent in support of all grassroots stenography efforts.

There’s got to be alarm bells going off in people’s minds. In one corner, we have stenography, NCRA, an education culture of over 10,000 members, with strong support for anyone that wants to promote the profession or recruit. In the other corner, we have a Best Practices Guide that maybe a couple thousand people have read and maybe four schools.  If you’re someone who doesn’t know jack about court reporting in America, and you read this, which would you entrust the future to? Which corner would you be in if your goal was to solve the court reporter shortage of America? Stanley Sakai said it way better than I did, but there’s a reason that so many courts, attorneys, and classrooms pick steno over digital recording every day. There’s a reason that the “court reporting” companies didn’t just swap over to the technology that has been available since 1995. There’s a reason AAERT is not our shortage savior today.

Does all this mean we cannot do better? Does this mean shut up and have no opinion about this organization? Does this mean never dissent? No. The Journal of Court Reporting says in its mission statement that they are seeking out diverse views. Max Curry said himself in the town hall that if you are a member who has ideas, he wants you to bring forward those proposals. This is the time for people to step up and make submissions. This is a time of activism, research, and effort in the field. It’s time for people to submit all of the hard work they are doing and share it with your fellow colleagues so that they are inspired to go out and build on that work. I have one caution. Don’t get suckered into being divided and conquered. That’s frankly the only way for us to lose, and our dear friends in the recording businesses of “the future” are counting on it.

In several places on this site, I made a joke. I called us the Unremarkable But Reliable Stenographic Legion. Joke’s on me, because in the last three years you have all proven me very wrong. Whether you’re Open Steno, Protect Your Record, helping our heroes in their time of need, a superhero at the ACRA conference, or someone I haven’t even gotten to discuss on this blog yet, you are remarkable. We are out there every day proving that the human element means something. There is no existential crisis. It’s settled that we are the best method to capturing the spoken word. We need only continue doing what we do every day, promoting ourselves, promoting each other, improving, and providing excellent service.

Addendum. Special thanks to a reader who corrected my usage of “went” to “gone.”

Copyright and Stenography

I created a masterpiece about a week ago. On the left, a very horrifying creature that took about three minutes to create and was instantly copyrighted upon creation. If you took my creation and slapped it on a mug and started selling it, I could probably successfully sue you. On the right, a file snapshot of years worth of transcript work, which could be freely copied by anyone any time, at least ostensibly, as any court that decides this issue seems to decide that transcripts are not expressive work protected under copyright. Sam Glover also wrote about this years ago, but seems to have purged it from his blog. Some courts, like the one in Urban Pacific Equities et al v The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (59 Cal. App. 4th 688, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 635), have taken the step of ruling that the transcript does not have to be turned over under a business record subpoena because it is a product of business and not a business record, but this does not necessarily prevent it from being copied if counsel obtains it another way.

Here in New York, we do have guaranteed payment of an original via our General Business Law 399-cc (Transcripts and stenographic services). In that way, I feel the state and legislature has already partially acknowledged the hard work that we do. But it’s no secret that court reporter businesses, for whatever reason, have chosen to make originals cheap, and make their businesses more or less dependent on these copy sales. It’s often reported in social media circles that attorneys at a deposition will openly and in front of the stenographic reporter offer to copy and give the transcript to counsel that would otherwise have to order the transcript from the reporter. Why not? As best anyone can tell, it’s legal! There’s also a darker side to this. If you do not have a clear agreement with your agency stating otherwise, they can probably also legally copy your work and not tell you about it. Again, why not? It’s legal!

The question arises, what do we do about this? Many ideas have been floated over the years. Some say we should change our model to reflect the lost copy sales and consider charging in a different way, like hourly, per diem, or a higher original. Personally, I believe it would not be unfair to create a body of law protecting stenographers’ rights to their work. Transcribers would probably be equally in favor, and it would certainly slow the rate of copying if it were explicitly not legal.

Many ideas have been floated in this regard, including putting it under theft of services. I don’t think anyone supports throwing attorneys in jail over this. That’s unreasonable to me. But I do think it’s fair to create a civil penalty for the copying of transcribed work. Virtually everything else is protected via patents, copyright, or intellectual property laws, and it seems weirdly unfair to have a class of people whose work is wholly unprotected.

I would propose language to the effect of “No person or business entity shall copy, reproduce, publish, or dispose of to another a copy of the transcript of any matter transcribed or stenographically reported. A person or business entity that violates this must pay a copy sale to the stenographer or transcriber that created the original transcript. Such copy sale price shall not exceed the mean average of the stenographer or transcriber’s copy sales for the twelve months preceding the copying, reproduction, publishing, or disposal.”

Now, if we were to propose such law, there’s a strong possibility we would have to make some concessions. Let’s be fair, many of these matters are matters of public domain and importance. I would propose a few important carve outs, such as, “nothing in this law shall be construed to abridge the right of any person to critique, cite, discuss, parody, or utilize a transcript’s content in any expressive matter.” This punches a bit of a hole in the law, but look at fair use in copyright law, and you’ll get what I’m trying to do. Also, “nothing in this law shall prohibit any person from preparing or having prepared by another their own transcript of the same proceeding or matter.”

There are some bigger issues we’d have to deal with. Would this law exclusively cover private transcribers / stenographers and not public employees? That’s a fantastic question. As a stenographer, I’m sure everyone knows where I stand, but as someone who reads a good amount of law, I understand that government work simply works out that way sometimes. I think if we’re serious about a New York City, New York State, or even someday federal law on this, it’s entirely doable. I think the important thing is prohibiting copying while allowing “fair use” type cases that don’t prohibit freedom of speech and expression. Notably, we could always go the way of this proposed Florida rule, which states plainly, “subdivision (g) requires a party to obtain a copy of the deposition from the court reporter unless the court orders otherwise…”

As always, discuss away or email me! It’s always fascinating to see what others have researched. Hopefully, if ever it becomes a serious discussion by our lawmakers, they’ll also get a chance to consult with authorities in our field like NYSCRA, NCRA, or even ASSCR.

Shortage Solutions 12: Stenography

If you haven’t had the time to use my site’s search box for all the shortage solutions available, I recommend giving it a try. Over the last year we’ve covered some phenomenal ideas. Many stenographers across social media have internalized these ideas, talked about them, made them better than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Well, this one’s for all the non-stenographers and a look into why our shortage mathematically requires us and not other methods of capturing the spoken word. May it help some of you educate non-reporters and maybe even reporting companies on who we are, what we really do, and why we are irreplaceable. Really quickly, machine shorthand reporting gets a bad RAP because it’s “old.” The stenotype style we use today originally was invented in 1906 by Ward Stone Ireland. With over a century of usage, it’s easy for other methods to say that the technology is outdated and point to something like digital recording, originally invented in 1970 by James Russell, as a newer, “better” technology.

Objectively, when you look at both methods, they have seen vast improvements. Back in “the day,” stenographers had to painstakingly transcribe paper tape notes or even dictate their notes back to a typist using Dictaphone-type technology, who would transcribe for them while they continued to take other proceedings stenographically. Modern stenography uses advanced word processing techniques to take the input from a stenographic writer and output text. The more skillful someone is at operating a stenography machine or stenotype, the cleaner the output text is. Some reporters, reaching a 99.9% untranslate or accuracy level, can practically hit print at the end of a job and have a ready transcript.

Even those of us without such a level of skill are more efficient than the record and transcribe methodology. The average person types about 50 words per minute (WPM). The average transcriber reaches about 80 WPM. The average stenographer? 225 WPM. So while it may seem paradoxical that this century-old technology is the fastest and most efficient method available to the consumer today, it’s true.

So when we talk about shortage, numbers, and the “impossible” gap stenographers must fill to meet rising demand and replace retiring reporters, let’s talk some real numbers. There are somewhere between 11,000 and 30,000 working reporters in this country depending on whose numbers you want to use. Let’s say a healthy 15,000. If we’re inputting words 2 to 4 times faster, on average, you need 2 to 4 people to replace every stenographer. If you need another person to operate the recording equipment, that means 5 people per stenographer today. It gets tougher. Hard-working transcribers have reported it takes up to six hours for them to transcribe a one-hour depo. I’m a pretty average stenographer. I know from timing my own work that a one-hour depo is about 40 pages, and I can transcribe 40 pages in 1 to 2 hours. On a great day where my input is good, I could even do it in 30 to 45 minutes dependent on page density and subject matter. But let’s stick to average, one hour transcription for one hour of testimony for one stenographer. Now compare that to the record and transcribe method, up to six hours for one hour of testimony. That could be six to seven people to do the work of one stenographer, or it could take six to seven times as long.

What do all these numbers mean? It means whoever’s numbers you want to use, if you want to say the gap is 10,000 people by 2030, or 1,000 people, or 5 people, it means you’re talking about filling a stenographic reporter gap. Companies who are pushing digital as a solution are saying there’s no way to get stenographers, but somehow they can find, organize, train, and utilize teams 4 to 6 times larger than their current stenographic reporting assets. We complain about the lack of stenography schools. How many digital reporting or transcribing schools exist? How long have those existed? AAERT lists four. NCRA lists almost four steno schools in New York alone. Tell us again how that is the future? Seems to me that if you’re scared about filling a gap of 1,000, a gap of 4,000 is pretty terrifying. If we’re talking replacement of 15,000 stenographers, we’re looking at 50,000 people plus the gap. Even with the abominable success rates of the past, pre A to Z, pre NCRA 2.0, 10 to 20 percent, it follows that if you’re introducing tens of thousands of hardworking people to the field of reporting, and you introduce them to stenography, you can overcome any shortage you would otherwise have. Smart transcribers and digital reporters have a head start on this. They’ve switched to steno because it’s better for them, their wallet, and the consumer.

Let’s just touch on AI as it relates to taking down the spoken word. Computer programming is not magic. Despite the claims of some that technology is advancing every day, an objective look at technology shows it hasn’t advanced much at all. How much better has your bank’s voice recognition gotten in the last ten years? It was hit or miss then, and it’s hit or miss now. Look at it in big picture terms instead of the daily claims of “tech news” sources. Improvements have been made, to be sure. Open source programming projects allow virtually anyone with a little time and technical knowhow to integrate voice recognition into their product or website. Promises of a $25 billion market draw new investors every day.

But the fact remains that a lot of the buzz surrounding automatic speech recognition is just that, buzz, smoke, promises of a better tomorrow that no one can guarantee. It’s a new spin on old news. To understand this, it is important to understand what computers really are. Computers are math-solving machines. Anything you can break down into numbers can be represented by a classical computer. Video games? Math. Word processing? Math. Internet search? Math. We are spoiled. We live in a world where you click buttons and have windows. Far gone are the days when programmers had to use punch cards to operate computers. But consider that everything your computer is doing is broken down into two signals, 1 and 0, on and off. How smart do you think someone has to be to figure out an equation to account for every accent, English dialect, or circumstance? Try differentiating four different speakers using math! I’ve said it before. There’s a very real possibility that it can be solved and that perfect voice recognition can be programmed. Could be tomorrow. Could be 100 years away. Might not even happen. We don’t know. But any claim that AI is the future must be met with serious and sustained skepticism, as AI-related companies can burn through half a billion dollars in a year and still have no major profitable product. There’s a reason the public trusts stenographers and not Siri, and that’s why smart investors stick with stenographer platforms.

Companies and organizations should really re-examine their own views on this. Stenography needs all hands on deck, and they’ll have a much easier time building on our education culture and matured technology than trying to switch over the industry to something untried, untested, and less consumer friendly than the personal and proper touch of a qualified stenographic reporter. The years of training and experience we have collectively, as well as the infrastructure of our large associations and institutions, are second to none. Ultimately, it will be up to the buyers in our market to examine that and decide: Do they want to ride the wave, improve the field as it stands today? Do they want to pay the great cost of reinventing the wheel in the hopes that things will someday be better? I suspect the smartest leaders have already crunched some of these numbers and weighed these factors. They know there’s a very real truth that replacing stenography is unlikely to work. It certainly doesn’t make sense mathematically, and that is why they hedge their investments and keep all avenues open.

Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to companies on the fence. Do not go the way of US Legal, who apparently acquired Stenotrain just to scrub its Internet presence a couple of years later. These numbers are real. The challenges faced in finding coverage are real. These challenges are far from insurmountable. But it will be about four times harder to use non-stenographic transcribers than it would be to address the stenographer shortage. Follow the recent example of companies like Lexitas. Reach out to stenographers and ask them about schools that need your support to keep supplying you with quality reporters. Your investors will thank you. Your customers will have the best service for the lowest cost. You will not be subject to the inconsistency of professional flip-floppers. Your business won’t be broken by people who have no plan for when a transcript is needed for appellate review. Your companies will thrive. You will have a better outcome than you would losing money and clients up against a superior modality like stenography. Shortage solutions? Without a doubt, the resourceful entrepreneur picks steno.

Shortage Solutions 11: Logistics

One of the highlights of the January 2020 PYRP popup in Brooklyn was talking about the local shortage. One solution mentioned on the freelance side was how stenographers and stenographic reporters can advocate for attorneys to set depositions at different times. It was explained that it can be very difficult to accommodate every deposition at 10 a.m., and how a small change in attorneys’ ordering habits might make it simpler to cover work.

This is a small thing to talk about, but would be no small feat to accomplish. It would be a serious cooperative effort for the buyers and sellers of stenographic services to come together and do something to alleviate the coverage issues faced by all companies.

This also brings to light a truism we don’t talk about often. The winners of this market will be the logisticians. Companies and entrepreneurs that master matching reporters with work are necessary. If a reporter can only work in the afternoons, or close to home, or has some other need, an agency that can satisfy those needs is going to get coverage over an agency that just doesn’t care. This is a time for companies that truly support the stenographic reporter to really shine.

Reporters nationwide are advocating for stenography. I see no reason why scheduling habits can’t be a small part of our efforts at consumer education. If it’s the difference between covered and uncovered work, it’s worth mentioning, and it’s worth getting a stenographer into every proceeding possible. There is a digital reporting proponent named Steven Townsend. He has described an idea he calls the long tail, stating that digital recording can cover matters where transcript demand is not high. So when we talk about matters of coverage and jobs that are “not good enough” for a stenographer, remember that long tail. Remember that’s a core strategy of the companies gunning to replace you. Take enough of the “easy” work, become what lawyers regard as “the reporter” and then muscle in on the so-called valuable work under the idea that stenographers are obsolete. They even tell digital reporters we’re obsolete so that they don’t realize we’re a growing and vibrant career choice. There has already been talk in Veritext-owned companies in New York about digital reporters taking over EUOs, which are insurance jobs that many reporters are hesitant to take or refuse to take. Don’t let that happen. Those jobs fuel new stenographers and stenographers with a lower skill ceiling.

Nobody becomes a USPS or UPS-type master of logistics overnight. There is a lot that goes into getting a stenographer on every job. So let’s make it a part of the discussion and grow it together. Existing companies can adapt these ideas, or stenographers can form new companies that do it better. Either way, stenography and the consumer win.

A Night In Brooklyn, PYRP 78

This past weekend 78 pop-up events across the country launched for stenographers, almost all of which were at the same time on January 18, 2020. For Sabbath observers and those who couldn’t make the January 18 pop up, Devora Hackner organized and hosted one on the night of January 19 in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic night and a good indicator of what just a little solidarity can achieve. Protect Your Record Project, started in California by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, has swelled to a national movement where stenographers are saying loud and clear to the consumer that we are the fastest and most efficient method of capturing the spoken word.

The Brooklyn event was a real showing of stenographic society in NY. Every attendee’s presence was important and brought something special to the table. Nancy Silberger, immediate past president of NYSCRA and host of New York’s Saturday PYRP event was there. Howie Gresh and Reid Goldsmith, both longtime working reporters and educators were there. Ellen Sandles, a reporter who has done extensive research into the Federation of Shorthand Reporters was present. Representatives and owners of Little, Lex, and Diamond were also present. NYSCRA’s President, Joshua Edwards, also made an appearance some time after the event’s start. There were over thirty decades of collective reporting experience in the room and nearly two dozen attendees.

Everyone came together to talk about how to advocate for stenography. Ms. Silberger mentioned her ability to host some meetings. Ms. Sandles talked about having potential press contacts. Jane Sackheim of Diamond mentioned that space could be offered by Diamond to teach A to Z courses, something NCRA and Project Steno advocates should definitely ask about. Mr. Gresh reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s involvement in offering free test prep classes. Rivka Teich, a masterful reporter working at the Eastern District Brooklyn Courthouse talked about doing a career night and introducing more people to what we do and different jobs in the field. Mr. Edwards reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s mentoring program and urged people to sign up as mentors or to be mentored. He also brought up that attendees were still being accepted for the NYSCRA Court Reporting & Captioning Week Real-Time events.

Many, many ideas were covered. From high school outreach and following NYS legislation to PYRP’s available resources and files, all the way to potential legislative ideas, like copy protection for reporters’ work. The importance of starting discussions on stenography was noted. We talked about the potential of changing covers, parentheticals, and cert pages to say stenographer instead of court reporter. The importance of communicating with the videographer and injecting oneself into the record when necessary to make a better record was talked about.

There is one theme recurrent in all of this. The power of the individual is undeniable. That’s everyone who was present. That’s you. Reporters are getting together and great things are happening. Maybe there’s a skill you have, or some kind of connection you’ve made that can help educate a consumer or empower another reporter. You don’t have to wait for a giant winged creature to invite you, you just have to be brave enough to jump on the wagon.

Why & When Leaders Stay Silent

There’s a 1998 Merlin movie where Merlin (Sam Neill) is created by the Fairy Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) to bring the people back to the old ways of magic and religion. Merlin ends up turning against her because she’s ruthless. She goes on to make his life hell, getting him arrested, “permanently” scarring his lover, and sabotaging his plans to put a good king on the throne. This ends in a coalition of “good guys” storming Mab’s castle and Merlin and Mab clashing in a magic duel. Realizing that magic is her strength, Merlin turns his back on Mab and walks away, convincing the crowd to do the same. Forgotten by all, Mab and her magic fade away, she’s defeated.

Consider this my way of convincing the crowd to look away. Recently a letter was released by AAERT regarding the documents released by NCRA Strong. On the one hand, they accused NCRA of distributing misinformation. On the other hand, they invited NCRA to collaborate and help lead the market. My life experience tells me any time someone is playing good cop, bad cop, they want something out of you. Putting aside the fact that it’s hilarious to accuse anyone of distributing misinformation when you list yourself as a government organization on your Facebook page, let’s dive into what they want from NCRA and its members.

They want attention. Surprised? When you do the math, you see that NCRA is a far larger organization with far more reach than AAERT. Just look at social media presence alone. NCRA’s Facebook page has 11,000 likes, and NCRA has archers. AAERT has about 700 as of writing, no archers. The AAERT group has maybe 600 members. The NCRA group, just one of them out of several, has over 3,000. Maybe stenographers just like Facebook. But I’m betting the hard reality is that they’re trying to get NCRA members to react, force NCRA itself to react, and in doing so, give themselves credibility and a larger platform.

This is where all of you come in. Organizationally, we are stronger. I just showed you that. Even we as individuals have more reach and a wider platform. Look at Protect Your Record Project, which started as a California-based discussion; it was a video by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, and has evolved into a nationwide movement of over 2,000. This weekend, hundreds of stenographers are coming together in pop-up meetings in almost every state. Look at Encouraging Court Reporting Students and Breck Record, 10,000 members regularly helping each other. Even brand new endeavors, like Tricia Bidon’s Encouraging Steno Students group, have almost 500 members.

“But Chris, even if we have the numbers, XYZ Corporation has way more money than we do!” There are, at a bare minimum, 10,000 of us, but 20 or 30 in some estimates. If each person donates one hour of their time, guesstimating that hour to be worth a paltry $15, that’s 416 days or $150,000 an hour. Remember when I reported that Trint raised $168 million? They could afford to hire us for 160 workdays on that money. That’s it. There’s no equal to our numbers and our opponents know it. That’s why they’re trying desperately to convince us that we are alone and there’s nothing we can do.

We’re in this together. We have nothing to prove to any of our detractors. We have no reason to engage them on their terms. There’s a human desire to be fair, intelligent, and debate honestly. I empathize with anyone feeling the urge to “win.” I myself have time and time again let myself be baited into meaningless debates that take my attention off more valuable projects. Ultimately, the goal for them is to throw us off our game and get us responding to them. As many of you know, the way to win is to use our national presence. Get out there and educate the attorneys we work with every day. Educate people who don’t know that this is a viable, vibrant career. Educate your fellow reporter who maybe hasn’t heard that they can make a difference. You’ve got the story. You’ve got the numbers. Move forward confidently. Be the Merlin of your own personal story and know when to leave your opponent in the dust.