Shortage Solutions 13: Unionization

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.

Unionization is an interesting topic because many of us consider ourselves independent contractors. There are lots of resources out there for understanding employee misclassification and common law employees versus independent contractors. The IRS even lists public stenographers under independent contractors because we’ve become so ubiquitously associated with independent contracting. Generally, independent contractors cannot form a union, and recent federal rule changes have made that clear. In New York, we had the Federation of Shorthand for deposition reporters, but it no longer exists.

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:

Real v Driscoll Strawberry Assocs., Inc., 603 F.2d 748, 754, 9th Circuit, 1979. Independent Contractor Test

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!

Addendum:

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.

I Asked the Public About Stenography. Here’s What Happened.

About ten days ago I launched an ad campaign to survey the public about court reporting. Question number one, had they heard about us?

Stenonymous Public Perceptions May-June 2022 Survey Question 1

When asked what terms were associated with court reporting, respondents overwhelmingly selected terms like “fast,” “technological,” and “adaptive,” over words like “old.”

Forms response chart. Question title: 2. Please select all terms you associate with court reporting / stenotype stenography. Number of responses: 152 responses.

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:

Message sent to Stenonymous survey takers.

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.

New York’s Short(age) Squeeze

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.

Federation of Shorthand page rates 1989-1991

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.

This chart shows the starting rates for 1991 data adjusted for inflation each year.

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 chart shows the starting rates in 1999 adjusted for inflation each year.

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!

Statistic: Median inflation adjusted hourly earnings of wage and salary workers in the United States from 1979 to 2020 (in constant 2020 U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

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.

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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.

Addendum:

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.

The Irreversible Institute

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?

The Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously claims the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve.

Several readers sent me the STTI’s newest production, a series of slides that make more claims about our industry and profession.

The Speech-to-Text Institute states there is a steady and irreversible decline in the number of stenographic court reporters even though there is no good, current data on which that claim can be made.

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.

Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously pushes a narrative of an irresolvable stenographer shortage so that business owners and practitioners come to its conclusion, that digital reporting expansion is necessary.

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.”

BlueLedge charging over $1,500 to forget to tell students there’s a better career path with more options in steno.

STTI’s next slide continues to paint a stark picture of the situation.

Misleading claims by Speech-to-Text Institute lead readers to believe that digital court reporting is the future of the industry.
  • 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.

Speech-to-Text Institute survey finds massive shift in audience products are aimed at.

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.

Satire: Have you heard of the court reporter shortage? You have to use digital court reporters now! Many agencies report some digital reporter use!

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.

Steno: It’s Like Believing Your Husband When He Says “She Meant Nothing to Me.”

In our field, we face two concurrent issues: Communicating to each other that many court reporting companies are not being honest with us about their intentions for the industry and communicating to consumers that their choice as consumers is under attack. I recently came across the following post by Jeanese Johnson. Jeanese’s post is probably the most on-the-nose portrayal of the situation for communicating it to each other that I’ve seen, and I am very grateful to her for allowing me to host it here on Stenonymous.

By Jeanese Johnson:

When a digital-supporting company tells you that they only use the digiz for shit jobs you don’t want and you believe it, that’s akin to your husband saying… “Yeah, she didn’t mean anything to me.”

When a digital-employing company tells you they “sparingly” use digitals ONLY when you’re not available, ask them – “Why do you call them ‘reporters,’ though?”

If you “really” wanted us to be on the higher echelon, wouldn’t you call us “Certified/Licensed Court Reporters” and them… Well… something else?

Why aren’t there two tiers of pricing? Does the one tier — our tier — “Cure” the “shortage”? (I call BULLSHIT!)

Ask them, “Why do you charge the same as a real court reporter?”

Ask them, “Don’t you think that’s confusing the marketplace?”

Ask them, “Did you really want to send a first-year reporter to a multi realtime patent case?” (We don’t believe you) Because first-year reporters need the smaller jobs. And not all reporters only want all-day. Not all reporters are realtime. And the smartest reporter I ever met stood next to me in court and said, “Yeah, at this stage, I like short… all day long…” and I was too new and too stupid to know what she was talking about. And I still admire her to this moment.

Tell them that what they think is a “shit” job is one that many “real” court reporters prefer; i.e., short, light, fast, easy – over so we can pick up our kids. And tell them that we don’t buy their “new explanation” for why they’re raking in the money on cheap digital – I mean — excuse me/pardon me — “curing the shortage” by piling on millions and buying up companies — I mean — “Looking out for ‘precious’ us” – who “don’t want to take the shit jobs.” 🙄

Ask them if they network the job to an agency that does have reporters available.

I just attended a meeting where Esquire has purchased TSG Reporting.

Esquire came out and said they were going to address “the elephant in the room” (Hmmm… I remember saying these exact words, and I promptly got kicked out of the Veritext court group — by “accident” 😉 ) Can’t believe after all we know those reporters are still helping them. So sad. They must have stock in Veritext.

Anyway, I found the Esquire group to be just as I expected.

I found them somewhat phoney; i.e., “We LOVE court reporters! You’re our first priority! We’re nothing without you!”

If you’re not the type to believe “She didn’t mean anything to me…” then ask them to prove it. Ask them to see the invoices where a recorder person (because, remember, if you agree to work for them, you’ve already said they should not call them court reporters – because that’s insulting to everyone and confusing to the marketplace) took one of those dreadful, awful public meetings (the “new” reason for the using digitals – it’s not because we have remote now and better coverage – it’s NOT that they get to keep copy orders and all the profits like it was a real reporter) and show how much the client paid – then… that’s when you see why they use them. 💡 And that’s when you’ll see that it really did mean something. 💔

There was nothing in the meeting redeeming. There was nothing in the meeting inspiring – even though the presenters seemed to think so. Esquire — through all of its Gallo iterations — came to the meeting knowing how we see them – and that’s why it was yucky – and nothing was done to address… the “yucky in the room.”

Esquire was asked if they have CSRs transcribe the fake proceedings. And they answered yes. They seemed proud of that – where we’re likely disgusted.

Esquire admitted “vaguely” that they “only use digital in five states…” It was peppered down.

We should ask them: “Which five states?”

My direct question along with who was going to be their RIC in July and do they use digital in California — was not answered.

So looks like TSG will be removed from the job boards if we do not have this answer.

I understand the “get out” move – plenty have done it. And all have a right to do so. No problems there. Congratulations to Rixon – would have been nice if he was on the call – but I suppose he’s already in the Bahamas! Salut! 💃

In parting: They said their attys know and agree to using a DIGITAL REPORTER – they seemed also proud of this — there were all smiles on the face of the Esquire personnel – kind of creepy smiles, though – Why would you be proud of substituting your “precious” <— and they used that word —> court reporters for fake court reporters? And why are you okay with the marketplace being okay with this?

Because of the legacy that Veritext taught you. That’s the answer. They’re teaching all of these companies how to do it – and Esquire one-upped them by at least explaining to their clients that they’re recording. And Esquire claimed to have top-of-the-line technology and all the best stuff – they were also quite proud – while reporters sat and listened and asked the most degrading questions like we were still in the year 2000 — “When we get assigned, how…” “Will our rates be…”

So powerless they were.

So you’ll say, “But, Jeanese, you don’t want to take the shit public meeting either. We read your post about the first agency you worked with used to send you to the downtown L.A. Metro meetings and it was God-awful.”

You’re right. Absolutely. I have no fight there.

But I wasn’t recording anything. I was writing my ass off. And the agency I worked for didn’t charge rates for “just recording it” while using a licensed reporter – and keep the difference in profits.

Esquire said they don’t use people off the street. Hmmm, maybe they heard our complaint about CraigsList. They said their people have degrees and are AAERT certified.

And this tells me they’ve also been listening to our complaints about: Well, we have a license, so… why? What makes this okay?

But they haven’t told us that they denounce this — they just keep saying… “She didn’t mean anything to me.”

That doesn’t sit well with me. I’d still want to know how much a “degreed individual” is paid. Don’t just shake your head and agree to everything they say.

Their faces showed — it’s all bullshit.

If CR is the best – show me by only using CRs –

Or open another company and call them “We’re too lazy – so we just record it!” Company – and charge accordingly.

Then at least I could respect it. And the clients would know the difference. And we’d all have a job.

I saw a couple of reporters on the meeting nodding their head when Esquire was explaining their position…

This scares me.

Do we REALLY believe that a company that has people with degrees and higher education and employs salespeople and et cetera, et cetera, can’t think of a solution other than “recording it”?

That’s the best they got?

LOL.

They can think of marketing tools. And they can bring tumblers and calendars – but they can’t fight for reciprocation? They can’t schedule around like interpreters do? Like doctors do? Like any valued — pardon me, excuse me — “TRULY” valued human would to your company? Really? We’re “highly valued…” but there’s just this little “work around…” “No, but really, You’re valued.” And… and… it doesn’t really mean anything…

Images for search engines:

Digital court reporting deception commentary by Jeanese Johnson
Digital court reporting deception commentary by Jeanese Johnson
Digital court reporting deception commentary by Jeanese Johnson
Digital court reporting deception commentary by Jeanese Johnson
Digital court reporting deception commentary by Jeanese Johnson

Why Stenographic Court Reporting Is Superior to Digital

There are two prevailing schools of thought when it comes to the gold standard of machine shorthand stenography in United States legal proceedings. There are those that truly believe in the standard. There are those that give it lip service, only ever talking about stenography when pressed or pressured. Of course, there’s a third school of thought in the people that can’t or won’t spend much time thinking about why we still use our chorded stenotype keyboard design over a century after its development. For the third schoolers, we use QWERTY layouts despite that design being over a hundred years old too. It’s easy to imagine why: 1. There’s a market for it. 2. No technology has come along that is more intuitive and better.

I recently had an experience where I had to pick something off of an audio recording painstakingly in transcription mode. It gave me a lot of insight into where stenography’s superiority comes from. It’s in the room control. Some people are always going to be able to speak faster than we can “write” or type. You throw a stenographer into a situation where they have no room control and the participants are speaking above the stenographer’s skill level, and what do you get? You basically get digital court reporting / recording. The stenographic notes are a useless game of fill in the blank.

For the last twelve years that I’ve been in the industry, companies have been pushing reporters to interrupt less. I get it. Just like anybody else, lawyers don’t like to be interrupted. The loudest complaints were probably from the ones that are most self-important. The companies likely sought to end complaints by telling stenographers to let the audio catch it. But every time we do that, we risk record degradation “Didn’t understand that when they said it, don’t understand it no matter how many times I replay it.” It also increases the amount of time we have to spend on the matter due to re-listening to testimony rather than having it clearly in our notes. Since many depositions go unread until there’s a motion to be filed or trial’s coming up, the number of complaints related to poor transcript quality will likely always be lower than the number of “your reporter interrupted me” complaints. This skews the world the non-reporter owned agency lives in. Make the customer happy and things will work out. Just hope they don’t need whatever was inaudible or unintelligible to make their case.

That’s a major problem for digital, and I am not the first one to write something like this thanks to Jean Whalen. You have audio monitors that may or may not know anything about legal transcription listening for issues that they anticipate the transcriber will have. By removing the ability of the person responsible for the transcript to interrupt, you increase the chance of serious errors. Throw away all my prior calculations. The answer is really that simple.

From a productivity standpoint, room control makes a big difference. I’ve timed myself no audio versus heavy audio use, and I personally can be an astounding 12x slower putting together a transcript when heavy audio use is involved. This is why collectives like Ana Fatima Costa’s Speak Up For The Record group are so vital. In some jurisdictions, there is no mandatory license. There is no legal standard. Our newbies and veterans alike are connected to best practices through the stories and experiences we share amongst ourselves and the encouragement we give each other to be better. Let that be my share: We will not be attracting anyone to this field if they’re peeling things off audio in the name of “our client doesn’t like to be interrupted.”

The Lip Service School

More mainstream legal news has been picking up on the fact that there’s an ongoing debate. I’d like to share some highlights from the article “Glitches Still Persist In Digital Court Reporting Tech” by Steven Lerner, Law360 Pulse.

  1. “…90 hours of testimony digitally recorded in a trial in the Northern Mariana Islands in 2008 resulted in poor audio quality and transcripts that were deemed unreliable and inaccurate.” It’s worth mentioning, but since it was so many years ago, it’s a minor point.
  2. Planet Depos told Law360 Pulse that the problem with a 285-page transcript in Maryland was not the technology, but rather the setting of a public hearing where they were unable to control audio quality, overlapping speakers, and random unidentified speakers scattered across a large room. This goes directly to my points about room control. If we are not serious about speaking up when the record is in danger, we are not serious about record accuracy. Customer education is going to be this decade’s biggest challenge.
  3. Brian Jasper, an attorney at Thomas Law Offices PLLC told Law360 Pulse “the technology was a problem, and it interrupted the deposition. I don’t scrutinize the depositions for perfection, but as an attorney, I have much more confidence in a stenographer because they are taking it down in real time.” This speaks to my point on room control. We generally know when we’re not getting it.
  4. The article talks about the Stanford study where voice recognition by Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon was tested. Error rates for black men were over 40%. I’m happy that this is getting more attention, because the adoption of automatic speech recognition (ASR) into legal transcription can really hurt equality and quality in general.
  5. Stenograph, through Anir Dutta, claimed the average wait times for customers is seven minutes. This conflicts with reports at the end of last year that wait times for some were over a half an hour. Anir Dutta is quoted as saying “if that means that that customer is going to go on Facebook and make it so that everybody thinks that our average hold times are tremendously high, I think it’s unfair and frankly malicious.”
  6. Lisa Migliore Black is quoted. “After 25 or more years of always keeping my Stenograph support contract up to date so that I would have the most current software advances, I let my support contract expire in January of 2022 due to long hold times with technical support and their failure to resolve the problems I was experiencing over the course of several months.” “My perception as a customer is that Stenograph is pulling too many available resources to develop the ASR side of their business.” I have to say I’m with Lisa. after over a decade of using CaseCAT, I’m very slowly teaching myself Eclipse, because being married to Stenograph just comes off as risky to me. The company seems obsessed with being at the helm of an evolution in court reporting that may never actually happen.
  7. Dutta stated 80% of the company’s investment is still in stenography and that it is a “false narrative” that going into digital court reporting is shifting its focus. He’s quoted saying “If Apple started making iPhones, does it mean that they make substandard laptops?” Again, this goes against what has been documented prior, a drop in customer service.
  8. Asked about the Stanford study, Dutta stated “People can quote studies from three years ago….” “…technology moves a million miles every three months.” This is demonstrably false. There’s a patent from 2000 showing 90% automatic speech recognition (ASR) accuracy was thought to be possible. The 2020 Stanford study showed accuracy lower than 80%. Is there anyone on Earth that believes 90% to 80% over the course of two decades is technology moving a million miles every thee months? ASR has improved. But it largely depends on who’s speaking and how good the audio is. I also find it humorous that Dutta takes exception to a 2020 study being cited when the entire basis for digital court reporting infiltration is Jim Cudahy, Speech-to-Text Institute, and a 2013-2014 Court Reporting Industry Outlook. Odd that an entire industry should shift focus for something that was done almost a decade ago and never adjusted for but should pay no mind to current events because “tEcHnOloGy.”

It’s a very interesting time to be in court reporting because nobody knows what happens next. Do the shot callers realize they’re wasting a lot of money trying to create a market for digital court reporting and start investing in the training of stenographers that will make them consistent profits? Will there be a breakthrough technology that renders stenography obsolete? Will our shortage get worse? Will our adoption of remote technologies compensate for the uneven distribution of court reporters across the country?

The data we’ve got doesn’t point to replacement. Until there’s a magic box that does everything, humans will be required to control the room, and it never gets more efficient than someone turning the speech into text right then and there with 95% or more accuracy. I’ll speculate that technology like CoverCrow will become more polished, mainstream, and accepted in helping with stenographer shortage woes. Agencies say they’re having coverage issues, and from what I understand, CoverCrow aims to work collaboratively with companies rather than cutting them from the equation.

As it stands, stenographers have a huge say in what happens next. Why?

  1. There’s a market for it. 2. No technology has come along that’s more intuitive and better.

Press Release Services by Christopher Day – Stenonymous Network

Why Press Releases?

One of the core issues we face together in our industry is the reach of our media. For years, we allowed the big players to dominate the paid-for press release space. When journalists go to find information on our field, the mergers and announcements of those players would be just about all that was available. Our professional journal and association newsletters are very important, but communicating who we are and what we provide to the world is also important.

To this end, I’ve gotten very familiar with the EIN Presswire service. The service takes a press release in a standard format and republishes it to many sites across the internet, resulting in more potential exposure for your business, nonprofit, or event. The $100 price tag of EIN per release is pricy. I buy press releases in bulk, so I’m able to help reduce that cost to our community of stenographers and related services.

For $50, I can use my press releases to get your news out there. High expectations for the next quarter? Announce it. Congratulating one of your favorite independent contractors on an achievement? Let the world know. We have so much news in this industry that we could easily fill a newswire with our own media. If you would like to submit a press release to me, just write me at contact@stenonymous.com.

How To Do It:

The EIN system is simple. Give me a press release title and a subtitle or summary along with the city, state, and country of your release. Give me the date you want the release to go out as well.

Next, I need the body of the press release. You may also add three links to the press release by telling me the keywords in the body text and where they should link.

Next up, I need the contact information for the press release submitter. This is who you want journalists to contact if they’re interested in learning more about your announcement. I will also need the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media link you want in your press release. If you don’t want social media links, that’s fine too.

As for stock symbol, if you have one, let me know the exchange that your company is traded on. Most stenographic corporations are privately owned, so there would not be a stock symbol.

Also, pick a quote from your press release that you would like to stand out. Short and powerful quotes are very effective at grabbing readers’ attention.

Finally, you can give me up to five images you would like in your press release, one video, and one website embed. This can draw more traffic to your content and site, and should not be overlooked.

At that point, I can send a press release preview to you for approval. I’ll also select the industry channels that make the most sense for your content.

If you want me to do the work:

I understand that some feel uncomfortable creating their own content, and I’m happy to do the work for a fee, but in order to create content, we need to set a realistic budget. If you expect me to write your press release for you, expect to spend $300. If you want to create a video together, expect the cost to be more within the $500 range. Time and effort goes into my work, and while I can’t guarantee a journalist will pick up your story, I can guarantee that the story will be reprinted across many outlets and that you will get a full report of all the reprints.

My portfolio:

I have worked on or helped distribute several press releases for Stenonymous, as well as various businesses and nonprofits. Here are some highlights:

NYSCRA CRCW 2021

NYSCRA CRCW 2022

Skill Test Fundraiser

StenoMasters

MGR Reporting

Steno 101

Protect Your Record Project

Identimap

Stenonymous 2022

$100 Off Kentley Insights Market Research Report for CRCW 2022!

To all my readers and followers, you can now use the coupon code STENONYMOUS to get the Kentley Insights Court Reporting & Stenotype Services 2022 market research report. Inside you’ll get information such as the size of the industry, the number of firms estimated to be in the field, and many other compiled stats.

Information is vital to this vibrant field. We are a field of nearly 30,000, and the vast majority of us are self-employed people. Share this discount code with anyone that might be interested in growing their businesses knowledge. $100 is a 33% discount from the $295 regular cost, and again, that discount is available for the next few weeks to anyone that uses the STENONYMOUS code.

In my view, Kentley Insights is acknowledging the importance of Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2022 by offering this discount starting this week. Calling all entrepreneurs, it’s time to take advantage!

Victoria Hudgins’ Analyses for Legaltech News are Digital Court Reporting Marketing

To the lawyers and support staff reading, all you really need to know is that your consumer choice is under attack. Available data says consumer preference is solidly for stenographers and/or voice writers.

Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 by Ducker Worldwide

In spite of this, a small number of court reporting firms and the nonprofit Speech-to-Text Institute have published bad data to get you to believe stenographers are not available despite there being a free national directory of stenographers. This bad data is then pushed by “reporters” like Victoria Hudgins and the Legaltech News outfit, whose primary purpose is to convince you to buy into their BS. You all have the power to fight against this attack on your consumer choice by sharing this blog with your colleagues. I have been a stenographic court reporter for the last twelve years. All I know is how to make an accurate record. With that, let’s set the record straight:

Victoria Hudgins has come up in my blog before. I wrote to her about some inaccuracies or issues with her past articles back when I believed she was an honest analyst or journalist. I let her know that Stenograph used a stock photo to represent its offices in one of the articles, and to this day the article still says “Stenograph offices” under the picture. In short, she does not seem to care about the accuracy of what is published with her name on it.

Missing the Point Consistently by Victoria Hudgins.
Wow. Those computers look familiar.

Now she’s come out with this article in Legaltech News. “There’s Fewer Small Court Reporting Agencies — But Don’t Blame Technology for That.” It’s very easy to see what’s happened. The shortage claims are falling apart, and the next move is for the private equity brigade (MAGNA, Veritext, and US Legal) to pivot to “we can provide investment in technology that small shops cannot.” As told by stenographer social media, that’s not even true, with small firm owners writing things like they have been proudly providing for all of their clients’ needs since the 90s.

Growing together is a euphemism for “we couldn’t eradicate stenographers because they fight back, so we need to lull them back into complacency.”

This pivot is an admission that Veritext knows we can’t be beat. The big companies are having a hard time convincing stenographers and consumers the shortage cannot be solved, so it’s onto the next spin. They’re having that hard time because the propaganda they’re using is mathematically unsound. For example, in the linked JD Supra article, U.S. Legal Support uses an equation where we would have negative stenographers in about 30 years. That can’t happen if we’re getting new stenographers every year. How did the company fail to adjust for that? It’s not information being given, it’s an agenda being pushed.

U.S. Legal Support was giving off the same vibes just last week as far as not being able to defeat the stenographic legion. It’s actually kind of comical. The lack of serious and sustained antitrust enforcement for the last 40 years has caused the corporate types to realize we are a nation of unenforced laws. So we’re in a weird game of incongruence where the corporate types have been blatantly violating the law, and the workforce, namely stenographers, have been conditioning themselves to believe that even the tiniest appearance of antitrust infraction must be avoided at all costs, even to the point that our trade associations do not or did not collect and publish rate data despite being entitled to.

As for Hudgins herself, I would be shocked to learn she’s not taking money under the table. She ignored my comments in the past. She doesn’t seem to do any digging beyond getting a story to sound tech friendly. It’s all a media game of getting lawyers to buy into the hot new thing. It’s a hearts and minds game of getting people to repeat the same useless drivel so that everyone starts to believe it, because once people believe something, they hold onto that belief thanks to confirmation bias and/or post-purchase rationalization. Maybe that’s all Legaltech News itself actually is, a marketing piece to convince lawyers to buy, buy, buy into the next “it.” But if I were a lawyer, I’d be mad as hell when I figured that out that something labeled as news was being heavily skewed to influence me and my business. I’d be mad that the data and news showing “technology” would hurt my clients was being swept under the rug and routinely ignored. After all, Hudgins writes about the stenographer shortage woes.

“The dwindling pool of stenographers” is being systematically exaggerated to make it sound worse than it is by Speech-to-Text Institute, Veritext, and US Legal.

But Hudgins doesn’t bother to mention the undeniable fact that there’s a debate about the shortage where, as I am quoted saying, 16% of all depositions in this country would be going uncovered if the shortage was as bad as claimed. That’s not something we are seeing anywhere in the country, not even in California, where the shortage was forecasted years ago to be far worse than anywhere else in the country. Hudgins doesn’t bother to mention that the shortage numbers have never been adjusted to account for increased recruitment over the last decade. Hudgins doesn’t bother to give facts, so I have no problem putting it out there: Victoria Hudgins is a liar by omission and Legaltech News seems all too happy to host the incomplete reporting. So says the largest commercial blog in the court reporting industry, Christopher Day, Stenonymous, which again, somehow flies under Hudgins’ radar.

That’s 51,000 visitors last year in a field of about 30,000 stenographers.

The explosion in popularity came after I came forward about the dishonesty and pricing games permeating my field. I have risked my entire professional career to tell the truth. Lawyers, paralegals, and court reporters simply respect that.

Just for the record, stenographers utilize a lot of technology. Just about every single one of us invests a ballpark of $5,000 on a stenotype and a ballpark of $4,000 in software. The software has the capability to take our notes and stream them just about anywhere in the world with an internet connection. This idea that stenographers are still running old school with the paper tape manual machines is a fiction promulgated by propagandists. That’s in the ballpark of a $252 million investment in technology that the current workforce has made and not counting a single stenographer that is no longer working. How much money are the bigger companies saying they’ve invested directly on hardware and software?

Since it’s a media game, I’m ready to play. I’m going to advertise this on Facebook to the tune of $100 today. If you’d like to join me in an amount of your choosing, please head over to the home page at Stenonymous.com and use the donation box. All of my campaigns are public on the Stenonymous page and/or my Twitter, so you can see the kinds of comments we’ve gotten on past campaigns.

Addendum:

Apparently even Victoria agrees because she liked my retweet on this.

NYSCRA’s Upcoming Webinars Can Shape Our Profession

There are a slew of New York State Court Reporters Association webinars coming up that you can register for here. I’d like to point out two of them in particular:

How to Stay Relevant in an Industry at Risk of Disruption by Dr. Erika Jacobi. I want to hone in on one line from the flyer, “empower reporters, captioners, and individual business owners to thrive despite adversity.” The more of us that learn to do this, the more of us that can then turn around and share that knowledge or even sell the knowledge through educational events. By attending, you’re basically becoming a part of the first wave of stenographers that will teach the next waves ways to think which will culminate in an ocean of us all armed with the knowledge not just to survive, but to prosper.

Speech Perception, from Spoken Word to Written Text by Culture Point. The data available today says that stenographers are the best there is, but that there is room for improvement. This is part of that improvement. Through academic understanding of linguistics, we can improve how we hear. I’ve spoken to a stenographer with linguistics training about this, and her thoughts were that these types of classes are very important. Again, the first wave of us that learns these concepts can teach the next waves and increase our own personal value and our skills. I know this because I was a ripple sharing what I learned and it landed me on TV. I was on NYSCRA’s board when the first discussions about this workshop were had, and I have a firm belief that the education will help stenographers, both newbies and masters.

NYSCRA has put a lot into this. A press release was drafted and republished to various sites across the web like Daily Ledger, American Tech Today, and The Business Gazette Online. We all have an individual choice to make. Do we take that effort and toss it away, and allow these opportunities to pass unnoticed, or do we take charge of our profession and turn the first wave of stenographers to learn these concepts into a mile-high tsunami?

Recent events have made it very clear that you, reader, are in charge of what happens next in our profession. I hope that you will join me on those webinars and that we will march into the future ready to help others thrive and close the narrow gap in our stenographic linguistics training. I know that together we can make our gold standard shine brighter.