Why Active Readback’s No Steno Man is Wrong

Some have seen this video. I got around to it. I have honest reservations about giving someone like him more press and attention, but then, my audience outnumbers him by a lot, so if you all have the data, it’s a force multiplier and family he doesn’t have. You can tell Readback is terrified of us because they don’t have the guts to leave the comments on and get called out on their lies. Let’s take advantage of their fear.

He likens court reporting to medical transcription. I made a short TikTok on that. I’ve spoken to Mitch Li from Take Medicine Back. Emergency room physicians are being pushed out for nurse practitioners in the same way big money is trying to push us out for digital. Guess what? The doctors largely don’t like that their scribes were pushed out, and the quality of medical transcription has been suffering because of its lean to automation. As a matter of fact, as a young reporter, I was getting requests to get involved with medical transcription (MT). That was only ten years ago. Nowadays the Association for Health Documentation Integrity says there’s a transcriber shortage.

Wow, sounds like the exact excuse they’ll use in court reporting.

It’s so bad that they STILL want to attract court reporters to do medical transcription. So how good was automation for MT anyway?

“Automation is so wonderful, please God send the court reporters to save us.”

Well, isn’t it interesting that jerks like no-steno man (NSM) created problems in an industry that they didn’t bother to stick around and solve? “Oh, people are dying from the reckless automation of something important? Exit stage left. Time to try court reporting!” Guess what? We’re not medical transcriptionists, and we’re not letting you destroy our industry without a fight, you jackalope.

Ultimately, I decided to eviscerate your puffery with cold, hard, facts.

His entire line about automating medical transcription and making it cheaper is fluff. What good is cheap, useless, garbage? And make no mistake that automatic speech recognition, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, or whatever fancy label we want to put on it, is just that. The objective science that exists today says that it’s 25 to 80% accurate from all the major players. When was the last time you had a 20% untran and called yourself “neartime?” This also kills his argument about the technology being revolutionary. He’s comparing our 99% real-world accuracy rating to AI’s 80-at-best average accuracy and calling it revolutionary. This is more like if Google maps led you the wrong way down a one-way street about 20% of the time. It’s not acceptable and we shouldn’t be forced to pretend that it is. If they’re not using full automation, they’re using human transcribers, and that means there are zero efficiency gains from a manpower perspective. This is a hide-the-ball trick of saying technology is better than it actually is to fool investors and consumers. It only fools people who have not seen the trick before.

Next strawman argument by the liar: Court reporting costs have gone up. In actuality, we’re working for less than we were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation. Let’s call this out for what it is, a ploy to get court reporters scared of demanding the rates and pay that they deserve. Less money in our wallets means less money for us to spend on our associations to fight for us. The push to get court reporters to accept less has been largely successful in the last decade, and it has been driven by low-intelligence businesspeople that look at the labor expense as something to be cut no matter who it hurts. There are over a million lawyers in the United States and about 30,000 of us. We’re a rare commodity and need to start acting like it — keeping pricing reasonable, but not abusively low.

Notably, NSM refers to the democratization of technology and talks a good game about how realtime is too expensive for the little guys to afford. Anir Dutta of Stenograph also referred to the democratization of technology in the Speech-to-Text Institute podcast. What does this tell us? This is a coordinated buzzword in whatever business circle they’re all playing in. They’re using democracy as transfer propaganda. Who doesn’t like the sound of democratization in a free society like the United States? This ignores that in actuality adopting his active reporting model would likely hurt democracy in the form of disproportionately hurting the quality of black and minority speakers’ records. We have put immense effort into ensuring everyone has an equal record. Are we willing, as a field, to allow technological snake oil to kill the equality we stand for every day in every proceeding?

The puffery in the advertising is on full display:

Active Readback gets several things wrong in their advertising.

This looks intimidating to a stenographic court reporter that doesn’t grill it a bit. First, questioning our accuracy. How dare they? I just gave the science. They’re not guaranteed accuracy. Nobody can guarantee accuracy. What happens if a word is wrong? Does everyone get the service for free? That would be a guarantee. Tellingly, they make no such promise. Audio available? Stenographers have been using audio for years. It’s called asking nicely or getting a subpoena. Lawyers don’t want to re-listen to depositions anyway, that’s why they hire us. Exhibit handling, stenographers literally led the way and trained clients on that after COVID. The rest of it, hey, we can give all that away for free too, but we like our businesses to be profitable instead of losing $13 million a year like VIQ Solutions. We need profitable businesses so that we can continue to provide the same great service we have for over half a century. NSM’s investors must have their mouths agape. He’s not charging what the market can bear, and that’s a recipe for low returns and disaster in business. I’m pretty sure I learned that in business 101. What’s this guy’s excuse?

The low, flat rate that he talks about in the presentation isn’t really that low, which tells me that this process isn’t automated. Just to break it down, there are stenographers working for less than $4 per page in New York City right now. Assuming 60 pages an hour, that’s $480 for two hours. Lawyers can get the tried and tested stenography for a little bit more than the brand new maybe-this-works-maybe-it-doesn’t Active BS. This isn’t a sell, it’s an embarrassment.

“Active Readback, charging 72% of what a stenographer charges for half the quality, guaranteed.” (Parody)

Final point I’ll address is his mention about the shortage and how the stenotype is “hard on its operators.” We’ve been cremating our shortage despite some of the biggest names in the business, Veritext and US Legal Support, actively sabotaging us. Additionally, our technology is a lot easier on the hands than the Mechanical Turk game that Active and others are probably playing. Mechanical Turk lets services crowdsource transcribers. When people buy into active reporting, they’re likely buying into inefficiency and hurting workers.

Stenographers, I cannot stress this enough: Hold your ground. Our industry is worth $3 billion and we control most of that. The people that are trying to convince you to give up and run away are not doing so out of the kindness of their heart. These are liars, nothing more. Now that I’ve peeled back the curtain and exposed some of the flaws, I hope you will follow the Protect Your Record Project motto of “connect, educate, advocate.” I hope you will follow the STRONG motto of “we are strongest together.” I hope that if you found this blog post helpful, you will take the time to donate below.

I also hope that Active Readback will come on here and comment. We do not cower behind censorship like them. Perhaps that is all the world needs to see to know whose version of events is truest.

The more money I make from my media, the harder I can fight.

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Our Shortage is Not the Only One Being Exaggerated

A good friend passed me this New York Times opinion article, “We Know the Real Cause of the Crisis in our Hospitals. It’s Greed.” In brief, nurses are being pushed out under the guise there’s a shortage. In truth, their working conditions are just horrible and they’re moving on for greener pastures. This blurb from the article says it all.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_4369-1024x685.jpg
Nurses are fighting the same war as stenographers. If that doesn’t give you pause, keep reading.

Funny enough, this is happening in emergency medicine too. Emergency physicians are being pushed out for nurse practitioners, as told to me by Dr. Mitch Li of Take Medicine Back. TBM’s rallying call? “Taking back contracts, livelihoods, and our values.” There are even two holding companies with investments in the emergency medicine staffing business helping drive out working physicians. Sound familiar?

In social work, I’m told by my mother, Dr. Dawn Picone, that at least in New York City, psychologists were pushed out for LCSWs and LCSWs are now being pushed out for BSWs. We often think of ourselves as unique. But knowing that other professions are under the same corporate corner-cutting attack leads me to a conclusion: We are not alone.

Why is this good news for the stenographic legion? It means that the playbook being used by the Speech-to-Text Institute camp and their new pet Stenograph isn’t new. Claim shortage, make the shortage seem much worse than it is, and get customers to accept lower quality under the false premise that there’s nothing else to be done. This a plan copied and pasted from other industries, meaning they don’t have the creativity or intelligence to deal with the massive counter-push of stenographers nationwide. We, on the other hand, emanate creativity. Faced with what we were falsely told was an insurmountable shortage, we took immediate steps to beat it. We created and continue to nurture a bonding, organization, and community that other professions are jealous of. I suspect we are on track to recruit enough court reporters to not only cover every deposition in this country, but also to retake our courts one by one. We truly are guardians of the record, and our guardianship extends well beyond what we’re paid to protect. The digitals are joining us and leaving their corporate masters in the dust. It’s a beautiful thing.

As a musing, I love StarCraft. At the end of the first chapter, the fictional megalomaniac, Arcturus Mengsk, gives one of the best speeches in video game history. I’d like to parody/steal the end of it: “And to all the enemies of stenography, seek not to bar our way, for we shall win through no matter the cost.”

On the issue of video gaming, I’ve reviewed the Readback video starring Bottles the Mole. I’ll be making a fuller post on that sometime within the next seven days, and explain why several things he says are wrong, stupid, or generally shortsighted like Bottles. Until then, enjoy Googling Bottles the Mole.

Stenograph’s Disrespect of Stenographers Continues with Texas

Stenograph has been in hot water because of its degradation of quality and service. This led to a boycott of the company by stenographers across the country, a boycott which continues to this day. As stated in my Oh My update, Stenograph’s push into automatic speech recognition is not being done properly. It’s being sold as a productivity boost, but available science says AI/ASR is a productivity killer. Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s embattled president, doesn’t care. He ignored a personal letter from me alerting him to these issues.

As if these issues were not enough, Stenograph promised to meet with Texas Court Reporters Association members and address their concerns. The company then retracted its agreement and set up its own meeting, likely to confuse consumers and attempt to manipulate us. TCRA addressed Stenograph’s behavior as follows:

Stenograph claims its plan is to meet with TCRA members.
Stenograph apparently pulls out because one member they don’t like might be in attendance.
Sonia G. Trevino, TCRA President.

Then, perhaps under the delusion that stenographers are stupid, Stenograph decided to hold its own meeting:

Stenograph attempts to create its own meeting in place of the Texas Court Reporters Association town hall.

This is a bait and switch. This behavior is disgusting and in my opinion we shouldn’t condone it as a field. It’s very clear what’s happening. Stenograph does not have an answer for why it is requiring stenographers to get releases for data it wants to steal from us or the liability it wants to be put on us, as per its licensing agreement:

“You understand you are responsible for obtaining consents and authorizations for data we may or may not be using.” – Stenograph (parody)
“We may be using your data to build our digital reporting products, but you’re not entitled to anything from it, which we’ve just unilaterally decided.” – Stenograph (parody)

Since Stenograph doesn’t have an answer, it doesn’t want to be in a position where that’s revealed. Again, I know factually that there are great people that work for the company and great software trainers for the software. That does not excuse what they’re doing. They’re barreling into automatic speech recognition in a haphazard, might-makes-right, and manipulative way that should give us all pause. We are the profession of blatant honesty. You say it, we write it. Can we not agree that this is not a direction we want a company, one that is practically our namesake, to take?

I have a message for Anir Dutta and Stenograph: We may not be computer programmers or $10 million companies, but human intelligence is not linear, it’s on a bell curve. We are not “stupid scribes” for you to play word games with. Words are all we know. We listen to people for a living, and we know when we’re hearing lies. If you have deluded yourselves into believing that you are so far ahead of all of us on the curve that you can lie to us with impunity, then I offer you the same stenographic proverb I offered Naegeli. TKPWHRUBG.

New Mailing Address, Stenograph Update, and Academic Integrity, Oh My!

I’m relocating! Fan mail and things of that nature can go to 2744 Hylan Blvd, Unit 502, Staten Island, New York 10306. This is also where blog donations by check can go for those of you that prefer not to use the Stenonymous.com homepage box.

Sometime next week I’ll do an article on how Stenograph attempted to bully the Texas Court Reporters Association. As most of you know, I am against their push into automatic speech recognition for many reasons. The science we have today says ASR is only 25 to 80% accurate, yet they’ve billed it as a potential 50% productivity boost. That’s not possible. Stenograph has also slipped something into its licensing agreement where court reporters have to get releases for people’s voices or data being collected or run through the program. It doesn’t take a lawyer to tell us this is wrong. This is remarkably different from the apparent ethos of Eclipse on this matter, where they’re certainly developing ASR for use in stenographic software, but as of yet not attempting to shunt liability onto stenographers, and not, as far as I can see, making bogus productivity boost claims.

If you have digital court reporter transcripts you’d like to share with Dr. Halcyon Lawrence, please send them to me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. Academics have now taken note of the opaque behavior of tech companies. In order for this to be further studied, and to protect the public, we must become serious about sharing our knowledge and experience with those, like Halycon, that seek truth and transparency. The freedom of speech afforded to us in the United States protects academic integrity, and academic integrity protects the scientific processes that make our society great. This social contract gives all of us a special power to influence the future and make the world a better place.

The next few years are critical for this field. Our actions decide whether the future we sold our students is bright and positive or a constant struggle against the private equity brigade that is trying to consolidate and crush our profession. Life is a game of survival. I am firmly on the side that chooses to design the game in a way that we all win. And if life must have winners and losers, then may the losers be those that thought they could rob the future from our students and that we would stand back and let them. We stand resolute and united: This is our profession. We will survive and thrive.

Shortage Explained

I am beset by claims that I do not believe there is a shortage. Then, in a recent social media post, a court reporter came on stating that she felt hopeless and that she felt the companies are gaining ground. Below is what I wrote. It is a summary of all my research as of today.

“There is a shortage. It’s being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext, US Legal, and the Speech-to-Text Institute. Digital is not cost effective. The companies are picking up speed because they literally have no choice. We blew open their deception of student consumers and started reporting it to the FTC.

We are solidly more powerful today. The reason we feel smaller is because we are fragmented and operating on incomplete information. What do I mean by that? Well, we are by best estimates about 28,000 strong. All told, by 2033, we probably need to be about 30 to 33,000 strong. When you multiply that 28,000 by the median stenographer salary of 61,000 you get about 1.7 billion. We represent $1.7 billion of an industry that is approaching $3 billion. The goal of the companies is to encroach on that $1.7 billion.

There is hope. The companies may be operating at a loss on the premise that they can jack up the rates when we are defeated. The concept of a company operating at a loss is called a zombie company. A lot of big names you know are zombies or have made massive blunders. Uber’s a zombie. Zillow burned billions in market capitalization believing it could trust its algorithms to buy homes. These big companies don’t sound scary when you realize they can make simple mistakes that cost them large percentages of their value, do they?

But this requires our continuous recruitment and training of stenographers. We should band together as a field and start talking about things like relocation funds where necessary. There are many creative things we can do with the power that we have. But it requires talking to each other and keeping hope.

We know from Richter’s rats that hope likely makes people superhuman. I suspect that’s why we get stories like the mom who fought the mountain lion off with her bare hands. Physically impossible, but apparently happened? And compared to things like that, our problems are easy to solve.

We’ll win if we try. The dirty tactics being used against us wouldn’t be necessary if our fate was inevitable.”

This is also why I revamped the payment system on the Stenonymous.com home page. The fact remains that if each reporter made the suggested monthly $5 donation or annual $60 donation, by best estimates, this blog would have a larger annual budget than Veritext and US Legal combined. That’s enough money to end the shortage (assuming $1 to $2 per engagement) and advertise what’s happening to about half the lawyers in the country. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and the people that have spent well over the suggested donations.

I still have cards up my sleeve. So, even assuming the blog receives not a single penny more, thank you all for your trust in me. Stay tuned for big news expected the weeks of January 24th and January 31st.

Video Evidence That Veritext is Defrauding Consumers

A source that shall remain anonymous passed me information that NYPTI prosecutors were being given education about stenography and court reporting that doesn’t match up with reality. During the presentation, stenography was made to look as old and outdated as possible when in actuality it is top-of-the-line tech in speech-to-text transcription. This supports my belief that the stenographer shortage is being intentionally exaggerated and exacerbated.

Pre-Launch: Stenonymous’s Project Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

Selling to Veritext? Read This.

Veritext has become synonymous with the private equity (PE) model. It’s a model of buying, holding, and flipping companies for profit, often on a ten-year timeline, and occasionally loading the company up with debt via a leveraged buyout. Private equity companies seek out fragmented markets, seek a company in that market, and begin consolidating by buying up or merging with other companies in the business.

Court reporting itself is fragmented and the market is worth about $3 billion. Maybe 3,000 or 4,000 firms fight over that $3 billion and most of the money ends up going directly to stenographers. We’re in Jeffrey Hooke’s Myth of Private Equity book. That’s how cookie cutter this PE model is.

Media’s failure to report accurate information makes it harder for investors to make good decisions.

Succinctly, many of our agency owners are getting older. There’s nothing wrong with them selling to Veritext or any other company with big money.

What we must realize as a field is that big money only translates so well to big power. Big money is concerned with siphoning more money to the bottom line. People like me support the workers that make that bottom line possible. Put it this way. If you were facing murder charges, would you want $100 or 100 minds working on your case? This is why every dollar donated to me moves mountains versus digital court reporting’s decades-long “investor money bonfire.” Most of our money goes back into reinforcing our education and skills. Most of theirs goes into marketing. This means that any consumer actually looking at the facts is picking stenography.

Selling to Veritext? Enjoy the money. Feel free to shoot lots of information over to the stenographic free press. Contact@Stenonymous.com.

Veritext and US Legal Launch Pro-Steno Emails November 2021

Let it be known that yesterday morning both Veritext and US Legal launched arguably pro-steno emails. Veritext supported becoming a court reporter.

US Legal supported giving to Project Steno for Giving Tuesday.

Can’t say much about it. This is exactly the kind of stuff I like to see. My general problem is with the frequency of support. I have personally witnessed digital court reporter ads through LinkedIn just about every day for US Legal Support since September. So for them to spam “high priority digital court reporter” ads for 60 to 90 days on social media, turn around and say “oh yeah, and Project Steno is cool too,” doesn’t impress me.

For the sake of honesty, let it be known that the companies did something nice for us. There is not yet evidence that this will be a paradigm shift. And, in fact, past nice things said about us were simply followed up by the continued expansion of digital court reporting.

Previously I pointed to similar exaggerated shortage claims between the two as one reason for why I believe there may be collusion to sell the inferior digital court reporting service to attorneys. I now have to point out how comical it is that the two release this pro-steno corporate appeasement on the same date and nearly the same time. Thank you to all the readers that made sure I didn’t miss it!

Stenonymous to Hire Investigative Team for 2022

My strategy for helping our industry is not limited to the centralization strategy I announced before Thanksgiving. If that doesn’t happen, I’m still going to be taking money and putting it into whatever’s been calculated to give results.

Right now I’ve put out a request for a budget proposal from an investigation team to help research and present information regarding corporate connections in our industry and a few other related items. The budget proposed is $5,000. If those that have not donated see a value in having that information, I would ask for help funding it. You’ll be giving our industry more information. I intend to publish whatever the team comes up with.

If the $5,000 cannot be funded by January 2022, I will finance it from my own personal money in February 2022. I mention this so that no one feels pressure to donate. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.

The reason I’m going light on the details is simple. The private equity folks have more money than I do. I don’t want them buying my team out from under me. There’s no indication that would occur, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Majority of the money raised to date has been placed into social media campaigns. I will likely release my tax returns next year so that my audience has that information. Seems the easiest way to be accountable.

Donations can happen through:

PayPal – ChristopherDay227@gmail.com

Venmo – Christopher-Day-141

Zelle – ChristopherDay227@gmail.com or 917 685 3010.