How 60 Stenographers Changed Reality

After unprecedented articles exposing the bad behavior of corporations in our field like US Legal and Verbit, with help from Protect Your Record Project, We were able to secure nearly $4,000 in donations from about 60 stenographic court reporters and stenographic reporting firms across the country. That’s an average of about $67 a reporter. All donations, big and small, have contributed to this moment. Advertising campaigns have been launched to facilitate consumer and public awareness via Facebook and Twitter. Many court reporters have shared the posts and/or tagged local state and women’s bar associations. If this is something you want to become a part of, it’s a great time to jump in and like or share the posts on the Stenonymous Facebook page or my Twitter. This publicity is getting people asking the important questions.

I must have been excited. I couldn’t even spell low cost.
Me? Ideas? Never.

Just for a recap, we got US Legal to admit to not using Sourcebook / PRO Link to recruit despite its contention that the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve. How can one make the claim something is impossible to solve in good faith when one has not tried to solve it? It’s consumer fraud at its finest and it’ll grow increasingly harder for them to dance their way out of it as more people know it’s happening.

We also exposed that Verbit, a company that misrepresents itself as being New York based and had posted family court deposition audio to the internet. I have a source that states the audio issue was known about prior to my investigation into it, but it didn’t get taken down until after the publication of my blog post. Stenographers, you did that!

When we speak up, people are forced to react.

It’s also notable that for all their money and “power,” the corporations have given us more valuable information. They are guarding an empty fort. I’m probably one of the easiest people on the internet to find and email, and they haven’t bothered to threaten me with a cease and desist letter. They have not bothered to do much of anything at all. Their strategy is seemingly to ignore the situation and hope that we cannot articulate these issues to the media, the public, and associations of lawyers. Their strategy is seemingly to hope that we are summarily dismissed without thought or question. Their strategy is to hope we declare mission accomplished and stop kicking down the gates of that empty fort.

Well, we have seen firsthand how that will work out for them. How well were things going for us when we sat idle hoping things would be okay? Compare that to what happened when 0.2% of this field stood up and said “no!” No, you cannot take our jobs with your inferior product. No, you cannot scapegoat digital reporters. No, you cannot lie about our shortage. No, you cannot post people’s proceedings on the internet to train your offshore transcribers and get away with it! If 60 of us can do that, what are 27,000 of us capable of? This field could afford to pay an advocate like me for nearly two decades with a one-time payment of $67. Heaven help whoever’s talking impossible shortage if we ever secure that much money.

Our strategy? Part one was to show all of you your own power. Part two has two prongs. One, we must continue to apply this social pressure so that the companies stop behaving badly or fold under the incredible weight of their own incompetence. It’s clear they know nothing about the field they insinuate having expertise in. Two, this pressure and publicity will bring people to stenographic court reporting. Young men feel lost? Here’s a direction. Caption advocates don’t like autocraptions? Time to make friends.

Stenographers aren’t perfect either, but ASR has such wacky ranges of accuracy that we outmatch it every time. We can help these people and we need not be shy about letting them know!

The publicity is a big thing. In the next ten years we could easily double or triple the size of this field and start expanding into new markets. Why not? Humans like being listened to. There’s an obvious human need to be heard. Computers can’t do what we do. What is business but profiting off of human need? What is court reporting but our quest to memorialize what others have to say? Even the grimmest view of our field, that only maybe 10% of the population can do what we do, means that there are over 30 million people in the United States that can learn this skill. Look how many thousands of people stenographic reporting has gone in front of already. And this movement has only just started.

Four days did that. People haven’t even had the weekend to see our stuff yet.
Four days of ads done. Now we’ve booked 50 more.

Try to remember prior to this week what our reality was. “Nothing we can do.” “Impossible.” “A dying profession.” “An industry ripe for disruption.” That changed because we willed it to change. If you have ever doubted your own power, I urge you to stop, reassess what’s not working, and push for the things that matter to you. Push to change the things people claim cannot be changed; 60 brave reporters have just shown you they are wrong. History is filled with all sorts of winners and losers, including winners that beat overwhelming odds. If you, reader, allow others to dictate to you what your chances of victory are, you are already halfway to losing, and you have a choice to win.

If you would like to support the campaigns going now, take to Twitter and Facebook and start directing news people, legal professionals, and bar associations to my articles. If you would like to contribute financially to the advertisement campaigns running, please feel free to donate to my PayPal at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, Venmo at Christopher-Day-141, and Zelle at my email or 917 685 3010. As this continues to grow, I will look into advertising in other media so that our message makes the largest impact possible.

Of course, to our beloved corporations, you too have a choice. You can get in line with the industry standards or cease to exist. You can help recruit stenographers or lose all of your investors and customers to them. Trying to outsmart all of the people all of the time didn’t work out. Do the right thing, suck up your pride, and move forward with us. Let your digital reporters know that stenography is worth looking into. As we have just shown you, we will accept no less. I personally will accept no less because as I admitted to everyone, I am a product of the sad side of the industry that took from me and my colleagues until we had no more to give. I now have no compunction against taking it all back, giving it to our next generation of reporters, teaching them the tricks of the trade, and exposing to them the silence that allowed the abuse of mine. It was a simple calculation for me. I knew we had more people and better funding. I knew we had the more advanced technology. I knew that if the narrative remained “nothing we can do” my job would probably be at risk sometime in the next ten years. All I had to do was let go of the embarrassment and shame associated with saying “my industry has problems and I’m willing to be a part of the solution.”

My early career was defined by people telling me there was something wrong with me because I was not as successful as them. Now that I have success, I move into the rest of my career with a message for every entity in a position of power that thinks it’s going to use it against our young people and our newbies: We are coming for you.

Steno was the best decision I ever made. Now I give back in the hopes that one day nobody will have to suffer the way I did.

John Belcher on Winning Depositions

Spreading through social media is a clip from John Belcher. He talks about how he got his dream job as a prosecutor, which allowed him to be in court almost every day and work with court reporters and other court staff. He talks about all the things that court reporters hope attorneys talk about. Some key takeaways?

  1. Don’t do something you wouldn’t do in front of the judge. They read the transcripts.
  2. Don’t step on the witness. Count to four before starting the next question or answer.
  3. Speak a little slower. He suggests 70% speed.
  4. Don’t disrespect opposing counsel, the witness, the court reporter, or other attendees.
  5. Be careful about side discussions that take away or distract from the proceeding.
  6. Adding fillers at the beginning of questions like “okay” or “perfect” may create bad habits for trial questioning.
  7. Preparation is key. Expecting the court reporter to put up your exhibits for you may burn valuable time.

Don’t take it from me, check out his video on LinkedIn today! You can also see his YouTube here.

PAF Steno

In a previous article about Stenotrain, I noted that its presence was scrubbed from the internet shortly after being acquired by US Legal. I’m happy to say I finally I had some time to sit down and write Patricia Falls, who was formerly involved with that program. I’ve learned there is another program called PAF Steno. I’m told it is an active program with a student graduating this month and five more set to graduate soon.

The website advertises a number of promising features, including a free basic steno training course starting July 19, 2021, and courses in scoping, transcription, CART, and court reporting. So if you know someone in your life who wants to give steno a try, and they don’t like other offerings like Open Steno, Startran Online, Simply Steno, Steno Key, Magnum Steno, or Court Reporting At Home, perhaps PAF is another option they can look into. Please feel free to make suggestions for the resource page if you see something missing or would like your program added.

Addendum:

A reader asked whether PAF teaches digital reporting so I reached out. PAF teaches only steno, scoping, and some transcription as of 7/21/21. This is in contrast to a 2019 post that stated PAF taught all methods.

Thinking of Taking Private Clients? New York Reporter: …Trust Yourself and Go Do It.

I had an e-mail exchange recently with a New York stenographic court reporter that began taking private clients. With the understanding their identity would remain anonymous, they gave me good insight into how it has increased their profit. I have presented plenty of academic theory on how low our page rates are here in New York and the importance of copies. Today I get to bring reporters a real-world example of just how much a little risk can increase your bottom line. Check out our Q&A below!

Q. How long have you been reporting?
A. I’ve been reporting for 10 1/2 years.


Q. We’ve had multiple discussions now where you’ve disclosed you’ve taken up private clients. How is that going for you?
A. So far it’s a success. I work with my clients 1-2 times a week, which I expected. They aren’t big firms, so I didn’t expect constant work. In March and September they gave me 15 jobs. One thing I hear people express concern about is collecting money for copies. That is, of course, a concern, and I have had to lean on law firms. But I can say that so far no law firm has stiffed me. And while some have been a little slow to respond, all have. So, fortunately, I haven’t had to chase anyone for payment yet. The best thing is the vastly increased copy rates, which makes this work a whole lot more enjoyable 😉.


Q. Did anybody give you permission to do this or did you just start doing it?
A. No one gave me permission. I took it upon myself. It’s all about developing a relationship with the attorney. I should say mostly. A law firm that has used one agency for many years and is happy with the service will not likely change. But still, without developing the relationship, it is unlikely that they will try to work with you. It can take a while, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. I probably worked with my first client four or five times, but we got along very well. I brought up the possibility of his working with me at a time when there was little pressure. I definitely did not bring it up while on a job for someone else. I took a chance and it worked. He said yes. There are other factors that induced him to switch to me. We worked out a good financial arrangement which benefited his law firm, too.


Q. What are your feelings on poaching?
A. By poaching, do you mean taking clients? When we use that term, it makes this sound like you’re doing something wrong if you take a client. This is common practice in all industries. Most of the client the agencies have, they probably acquired through “poaching.” The only thing to avoid is unethical practices. As I said, I would never broach the subject while on a job for someone else. And of course don’t lie.


Q. The audience is going to want to know some hard numbers. What kind of differences are you seeing in take-home pay?
A. I turned in a job 131 pages long, including the [word index], and got two copies. Total take-home was roughly $1200. That was for a med mal case that might have gone two hours . And by the way, I do not charge high rates. So with a different client with the same factors, the total could have been considerably more. This is not the only one.


Q. Wow. That’s like $9 a page. You charge your clients $9 a page in New York?
A. [No], my rate is closer to 4. Again, this is a relatively low rate. But the real profit is in the copy rate. That’s where you’ll make the money. (Just a side note, not one law firm has contested my copy rates. Hopefully that will never be an issue. I’m saying this for those who are concerned about collecting the payment.) So I don’t mind if the law firm wants to negotiate a rate down a little, not too much, as long as I’m aware I can keep the copy rate. On that 131-page job, nearly $800 of my pay was from the copy rate! Keep this in mind, remember this, we’re in business providing a service for law firms. So a) be gracious and patient in dealing with the law firms; b) be open to negotiate rates, just as long as you keep in mind where you’re really earning your money from.


Q. Isn’t it a challenge getting them to pay you?
A. Sure. But I’ll take this challenge over the challenge of trying to make money when agencies are charging 4 dollars a page per copy and they’re giving, so generously, 40 cents a copy. Exactly what was said there. No more needs to be said. We have to strive upwards. I accept the challenge of collecting over the challenge of squeezing small incremental rate increases.


Q. Isn’t the cost of printing eating into your money?
A. Not really. I had a $1,200 job the other day. When it was all said and done, I paid $90 to have it printed up. How come reporters are willing to blow a third of their money on scopists but not willing to even consider seeking their own clients and spending 10 percent on printing? Compare the costs to that of most industries. The cost here is very small in comparison to that in most fields.


Q. Anything else you’d like to tell reporters generally or New York reporters?
A. Look, if someone does want to go out on their own, it’s understandable. For years, I said I would. I made halfhearted attempts, but didn’t really follow up. Even when I got my first client, I almost didn’t expect the attorney to take it seriously. But now that I see the huge difference in what I can earn per job, it’s motivated me to try and get more clients. I will say to those who want to try and do it on their own, just try it. Don’t be afraid of being blackballed by other agencies. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. I’ve heard people say they don’t want to bother with putting transcripts together. First of all, it takes maybe 10 minutes. That’s it!

Second, it’s a great experience in motivating yourself to be an even better reporter, because you don’t want to turn in an error-filled transcript to your own client! You will be so much more careful and your notes will be so much better! I know because I’ve improved significantly just in the three months since I picked up my first client. If you’re so inclined to strike out on your own, I urge you to trust yourself and go and do it. Develop those relationships. Make business cards. Give them to everyone you know who knows attorneys. It can take time, so don’t get frustrated. Eventually you’ll get a first client. Not every job is big payday, but you will have some jobs where you will see double and maybe even more than what you would’ve earned if it was work for an agency.


In my view, this speaks for itself. Taking private clients can double your money. Collecting can become problematic, but the alternative of allowing certain agencies to continue to push substandard means of reporting on consumers is not a good one.

My girlfriend is very upset that I blew our vacation money on an ad campaign for steno. I’m not allowed to hire graphic designers anymore. Everybody that wants to donate to my vacation fund can do so at paypal.me/stenonymous. (joke)

Addendum:

A reader asked how many copies were charged in the above example. Our anonymous respondent said “2 copies. Keep in mind I give a discount to my client when I have copies. I also only charge 3/copy. I’m pretty sure many agencies, if not all, are charging more.” For more context on this model, it is called a sliding scale. Companies will often decrease the cost to their client when copies are sold so as to be giving them a page rate that cannot be undercut. After all, why would a reporter offer someone $2.60 a page when they could work for an agency for around $4.00? But in New York this continues to hide the value of copies from the working reporter, who up until recently were accepting as little as $0.00 to $0.25 on a copy.

Share Something For Me?

For those of you that have seen Social Dilemma, you know we live in a world that is largely curated by algorithms that are constantly assessing our likes and interests. Social media has developed into an engagement machine. The side effect of such a thing is that the algorithms will start to hide things your friends post on Facebook without you doing anything. Some of you are perpetually hidden from me and I am likely perpetually hidden from some of you. So when I share something, only the people that interact with me constantly see it.

Recently I posted that journalists may be reporting black people’s stories wrong. It was an easy dig at the inadequate reporting done on the Testifying While Black study. When you look at the big picture, journalism sucks right now, and right now is when we need to get the word out that stenographic court reporters are needed. If there was another way to get their attention, I’d take it, but I’ve been playing diplomat for two years, and we are running out of time. Perfect example? Last year I agreed to speak with Frank Runyeon. I said if he’d ever like to write anything on court reporting, he could consider me a resource. Sure, he said, just write him in 6 to 8 months. When I did, he didn’t bother to respond. I’m pretty sure there was an Alice Cooper song for this.

Our shortage is mathematically simple. Years ago I had the privilege of hearing Mirabai Knight speak about it and I completely agreed with her. There are a limited number of people that will be good at steno and want to do stenography for a living. We can’t really affect that number much. What we can impact heavily is the number of people that hear about stenography. That’s one of the reasons Open Steno was born. That’s one of the reasons this blog was born. We can no longer sit back and trust that it’ll all work out. The people that want to replace you with inadequate technology aren’t leaving this up to chance. Any time they can put their thumb on the scale, they do, and when they lose, they whine loudly.

So, without reservation, I choose to put my thumb on the scale and occasionally use the same tools weaponized against us. If clickbait journalism is the way of the future, then let it work for us. I set up an ad campaign to get my article in front of journalists and bloggers, but like I said on my Facebook page, when the money’s dried up, that’s the end of that.

Just don’t tell my girlfriend what I spent our vacation money on.

If you’d like to join me on this, I’d ask you to head over to social media and share my Facebook post, the Stenonymous post, or the original blog post with the hashtags #journalism and #clickbaitJournalism. You can share as is, say something horrible about it, or say something nice. If you feel comfortable doing so, please set the privacy settings to public on the post where you share it. When the ad money’s gone, the hashtags will live on. There’s evidence that failing to utilize stenographers will adversely impact people that don’t speak a certain way. This one’s for them.

Relationship Conflicts & What You Can Do When It All Goes Wrong

In our court reporting field today, there are a number of roles that need filling by caring, competent people. There is a constant need for good stenographic court reporters and scopists. If one doesn’t care about the work, it taints the work itself. You can see this in anything; news articles that don’t bother to use spellcheck, contractors that get drunk on the job, or waiters that “Frisbee” food plates at you are all good examples of work tainted by laxity. In some circumstances, there are opportunities to check the licensing and/or certification of the service provider or vendor. In other instances, a license may not be necessary or a certification may be misleading.

Even honest recommendations or reviews can go wrong. In our world, there can be a lot of “guess and check” when it comes to the people we work with and rely on. Great working relationships have been forged on giving someone a chance or taking a shot in the dark. But this can also lead to a lot of unexpected or undesirable outcomes. As an example, a long time ago, I sought out scopists for help on a large amount of work that I was hit with unexpectedly. I reached out to at least four scopists, two of which were recommended to me. The first recommendation dragged their feet on what I sent them and later admitted they were too busy to do it. The second recommendation told me my writing was “too confusing and labyrinthian.” The other two powered through what I sent them without any problems. This doesn’t mean anyone in the scenario was a bad person, but it does stand out as a great example of how recommendations can go south.

In another situation, a friend needed a scopist and/or transcriber. An individual reached out to my friend to get the work and said “I know Christopher Day and Joshua Edwards.” I expressed some skepticism then, and I pointed out that most everyone knows us, for better or worse. At the time, I was a New York State Court Reporters Association board member, and Joshua Edwards is, as of writing, the president of NYSCRA. I also let my friend know I didn’t know that person, with the caveat that I don’t know many scopists because I scope most of my own work. As it turns out, the work was done inadequately. Letters were where words were supposed to be, the work was unfinished, and incorrect words were found throughout. It was disastrous.

There are even situations where ostensibly respectable people will lie to you. There is a court reporter in my state that, from all I know, is doing fine. They have built a nice book of business and command good rates. Some time ago, they contacted me, telling me that a reporter in another state was telling others that my writing was horrible and to never scope for me. That would be believable enough, but I had never hired the accused to scope for me, and the accused and I were and are pretty friendly. We had just gotten to meet in person at Empowerment 2019. In short, I knew that the accuser was lying, but if things had played out differently, I might not have.

Finally, there are situations where someone looks great on paper, but there are other factors that make them impossible to work with. In one instance, I was asked what I knew of another reporter, and I admitted that I did not know much, but they had several certifications, including realtime certification, and I felt at that time that they must be a great reporter because they had acquired so many certifications. That certified reporter ditched a job early without obtaining any backup reporter or alerting the agency because they didn’t like the job they were on. Prior to that day, such a situation was unfathomable to me. So even where someone has the skill necessary to do the work, they might possess traits that make them a bad fit for our wonderful field.

All this is to say I have seen, heard about, experienced, and even created some tough professional situations. In an effort to help others avoid having to live through the same, I’ve got some general advice and flags to look out for that one can apply to court reporting, scoping, and beyond. There are rarely hard deal breakers, but there are certainly some situations that may make you want to put brakes on the deal. Just keep in mind that though this post focuses on vendors/sellers, clients and buyers can have similar traits that make them bad for your business.

The Namedrop
From all I have seen, when someone starts namedropping, it’s something the purchaser of the goods or services needs to take note of. Sometimes people are just proud of who they know or what they do, and that’s okay, but sometimes people drop a name or title to create an air of credibility. So don’t be a sucker. If somebody tells you they’ve worked for the president or that they know some other recognizable figure, take it with a grain of salt and consider verifying where possible. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the wrong person can be incredibly damaging to your wallet and/or reputation. The namedrop is also closely related to people that advertise skills and services that they don’t have. Be skeptical.

The Sad Story (SS)
If somebody approaching you for work is telling you a very sad story, you may want to consider it a flag. In life there are people that share too much. It’s a natural human response to feel empathy and even want to help. Unfortunately, when someone is telling you the sad story™️, you can’t tell if they’re genuinely over-sharing, a con artist, or simply have habits that put them in the position they’re in. A friend hired a scopist who complained that they couldn’t get work anywhere. Nobody would work with them. In typical sad-story fashion, the friend gave them a chance, they stopped communicating on the status of the job, and eventually turned over substandard work. The sad story doesn’t always have to be sad. Any story that’s engaging your emotions can be someone trying to manipulate you. SS is also linked to making excuses or apologizing instead of improving. Hiring people that do not take responsibility for their actions or people that “take responsibility” but make no attempt to improve is a sure way to ruin your business. It’s as bad as hiring someone who has a bunch of sad stories and no skills. Remember that you don’t have to light yourself on fire to keep others warm.

The Uncertified Certholder
Anybody can stick the letters RPR or CSR after their name in an email or transcript. There’s no Court Reporter Bureau of Investigation to bust down the door and arrest an offender the second they attempt to deceive someone. Luckily, you can often pull up a certified reporter in Sourcebook and check their certs on the spot. In places with licensure, you may also be able to do a license search. Trust, like empathy, is a fundamental part of being human, and therefore a major target for con artists. Trust, but verify.

The Unknown Certholder
Even where a license or certification is verified, one must have some understanding of what a license or certification is before purchasing a good or service. As an easy example, in our field, there are NCRA, NVRA, AAERT, and many other certifications. There are practical and knowledge components to certification exams, but they stand for very different things. AAERT’s CER seems to focus on multiple choice questions with regard to knowledge about court procedures, annotations, and vocabulary. It requires 80 percent to pass. Then there is the CET. In addition to its multiple choice questions, it presents a practical portion where the transcriber must transcribe audio and create a transcript in accordance with federal guidelines. The transcription portion requires 98 percent accuracy. Compare that now to NCRA’s RPR, which has a knowledge portion and three skills portions where a reporter has to create transcripts at 95 percent accuracy. A buyer that does their homework knows the RPR is sitting there getting 95 percent accuracy with no chance to interrupt or repeat. The CET is being given 150 minutes to listen to and transcribe audio files given to them. The uninformed buyer might just assume 98 percent accuracy is better than 95. The informed buyer understands there are different skills being tested here; be informed.

Even when one understands the nuances of the different available certifications, one must be sure to remember that certifications are not testing for every skill that might be relevant to a job. Billing, binding, and disposition are all things that can seriously impact a job or project. Nobody tests for those! Certifications can be a great starting point or strong indicator that someone is serious about their work, but buyers must be aware that until they’ve built a relationship with a service provider, the service provider is an unknown, and certifications won’t change that. Don’t rely exclusively on certification.

The On Again Off Again (OAOA)
Like any toxic relationship, somebody that is only there for you when it’s convenient for them is a problem. If you can’t get a hold of someone for weeks at a time and then they turn up when they need money, you’re not important to them. Chances are high you don’t want someone who doesn’t care about you working on your stuff. Dealing with the OAOA can be as simple as having an honest discussion with them or cutting them off completely, but it’s not often a problem that resolves itself. The hardest part of dealing with this is setting the boundary that their behavior is not acceptable. The OAOA may try to guilt you, may have a sad story or great excuse™️, or there may be any number of factors, such as a friendship in common, that make you hesitate in having a discussion about how you feel. OAOA’s nature is not always conscious or intentional and can arise from things like substance abuse or mental health issues. Ultimately, if someone is treating you in a way you do not like to be treated, it’s up to you to take action to stop it.

The Big Threat (TBT)
You’ve just hired someone to provide a service. Suddenly, without any arrangement or discussion, they’re demanding payment upfront. If you don’t pay right now they’re going to tell everyone on Facebook you don’t pay your bills. The big threat people™️ solve problems through anger. They want what they want, and they’ll threaten you with whatever they can to get their way. Most people don’t really like conflict, and TBT largely takes advantage of this by applying pressure. “If you don’t do what I say, X will happen.” This could come in the form of threatening to file a lawsuit, threatening to damage your reputation, or in extreme cases threatening to harm you in some way. These conditional threats are designed to make you afraid and get you to do what TBT wants you to do, and often the way to deal with it is to call the bluff. Just like sextortion scams, if TBT carries through on their threat, they no longer have any leverage over you. If they do not carry through, then you get to see firsthand that their threats are empty and you will feel that much stronger and certain the next time someone tries to use threats against you. Let go of fear.

One major exception to the “ignore it” strategy is when threats are illegal. If the threat itself is coercive or otherwise illegal, it makes good sense to cut contact and alert the authorities. Do not wait until the threat is carried through. While I haven’t personally run into this in the court reporting world, I know that victims of crime often feel embarrassed or scared. A victim dealing with a violent or malicious TBT might very well blame themselves for getting into the situation. Police and district attorneys often publish resources about what to do if you are the victim of a crime or believe you may be the victim of a crime. Remember, the perpetrator is doing it to you because it worked on somebody else. Break that cycle and remember you are not alone.

The Buy Now
We usually see this more in the timeshare business than the court reporting business. Anybody using high-pressure sales tactics to get you to commit to something is likely under some kind of quota or is not being upfront about what they want from you. If they’re under a quota, they do not care what they sell you, they care only that they sell it. If they don’t care, it calls into question the quality of the work or product that will be produced. As far as not being forthcoming, you might see that in the shape of “order a depo today, get one on us.” Free is never sustainable, and if someone offers something for free, the buyer needs to start questioning what’s sustaining those giveaways. Is the firm selling your information? Is the firm cost shifting? Is the firm going to hit you with lots of hidden fees and charges that they just forgot to mention™️? What are they getting from you and do you want to give it to them? It can get a little tricky differentiating regular sales and someone trying to rope you into a service you don’t need, but buyer beware the “buy now.” Ask questions.

The Sage
Regularly you want someone confident to handle whatever you’re paying them to handle. The Sage takes that confidence to an unbearable extreme. They’ve been doing this so long that they discard your concerns out of hand. “I would really like it if you used the margins we agreed to last week” says the client. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” says the sage. This one is big in court reporting. The average age of the court reporter is around 55 and the vast majority of reporters have been doing this one or more decades. Frankly, it’s not wrong to be reluctant to cave to every consumer demand. Most of us are independent contractors and the customer is not always right. But when you have someone that’s completely unteachable or so set in their ways that they won’t hear you out, it might be time for you to wise up and hire somebody else. Note that though we often equate age with experience, the sage mentality can happen at any age or experience level. Reasons matter, and if someone is almost always answering your questions with “that’s just how it is,” it’s fair game to assume they’re a sage. Seriously, ask questions.

The Social Media Monster (TSMM)
You can usually pick up a few things about a person from their social media. When you’re considering hiring them it’s not out of the question to check. If you see rants about their former employers littering their space, it’s a good idea to pause and evaluate whether or not you want to risk ending up there as well. We often go through life with the best of intentions, and no one wants to start off a business relationship by thinking about what might happen if it goes bad, but for TSMM you might want to stop and have that thought exercise and conversation with yourself.

Note that heavy social media use is not inherently a problem. I knew a very kindhearted albeit political interpreter that would attend many rallies and marches. Their social media broadcasted this heavily. They applied to be an employee for a local court. At the interview, they were asked about their activities and social media. “Do you think you can separate your personal activities from your work performance?” The answer was yes, and to this day they serve as a shining example of what a language interpreter should be. Let social media be a part of your hiring decisions, not a manual.

Great. What Do I Do?
Now that we’ve gone through some problem personalities and things to look out for, it’s opportune to write about what to do when everything goes horribly wrong™️. But first, a word from our sponsors (WARNING, some viewers might find this unsettling or graphic. If cartoon violence bothers you, do not watch it. It’s also not really a sponsor. My only sponsors are donors.)

0. Admit there’s a problem.
For everybody who skipped that, it’s a cartoon dog, sitting in a room that’s on fire, sipping coffee, saying “this is fine.” The point of the thing is the situation is clearly not fine, and by refusing to acknowledge that there’s a problem, our cartoon hero suffers a terrible fate. Similarly, when you are looking to buy a good or service, if you refuse to acknowledge a problem, you may suffer. Solving any dilemma requires admitting there is a dilemma, and psychology tells us that once we’ve invested time, money, or effort, we’re more willing to keep sinking resources into the investment even where the cost outweighs the benefit.

Like so many things in life, how to solve a problem can be very context sensitive. Creating a guide to every possible scenario and how to solve it would be long, boring, and nobody would read it, so I’ll boil down the thought process I use for solving most conflicts.

In Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Conker the Squirrel gets incredibly drunk before meeting the alcoholic scarecrow, Birdie.
Birdie explains B Pads are context sensitive. So when Conker uses it near Birdie, it gives him some alcohol.
When he uses it at the gate to start his journey, it gives him a magic hangover cure.
We don’t get B Pads in real life, we just get Brains.
  1. Assess the relationship.
    After you’ve admitted to yourself there’s an issue it’s time to start problem solving. What are the power dynamics of the relationship? What do you like about it? What do you dislike or what’s the problem? Is it a relationship you want to keep? What kinds of changes would salvage it? What changes could you personally make? What changes do you need the other person to make? This first step sets up everything else. You are going to treat a longtime business partner, friend, or lover differently than you will treat someone you met an hour ago. Right at the start, you want to start forming an idea of how much the situation is impacting you, your ideal solution, and boundaries you can live with if you cannot reach your ideal. The first step is assessing the relationship because you may very well realize you don’t want the relationship.

    If you take a position on just about anything, you’re going to find that you have allies, enemies, and a whole lot of neutral parties. The allies are the ones you’re going to want to spend the most time on in the context of a problem or personality conflict.
  2. Assess the communication.
    Have you communicated clearly to the other person that there’s an issue? Have they communicated to you that they understand the issue? Have they communicated that they see the issue differently? Do you believe their communicated perception of the situation is genuine? Is it possible that there’s been a miscommunication? When young children begin to lie, it is a sign of cognitive health, because they are grasping that other people have knowledge or beliefs different from their own. As adults, we often forget that and fall into a world where we assume people have seen the things we’ve seen, know the things we know, and most importantly, know what they’re doing. “He knows what he did.” “She knows what she did.” How do they know? Telepathy? People do this all the time; It’s a logical fallacy called the hasty generalization. In fact, I just did it by stating people do it all the time. If you haven’t communicated with whoever it is that there’s an issue, then it’s generally best to start from the assumption that they don’t know there’s a problem. By assessing the communication, you’re helping to make sure you’re not the problem.

    This is something I have real experience with. In the context of this blog, I once had a situation where I published a post without doing enough research and without reaching out to a party for comment. Now, I do a lot of commentary, and I do not always ask people for their comment or quote, but I ended up looking pretty stupid because my communication was lacking. Don’t be stupid, communicate.
  3. Assess the response.
    Once you’ve opened up the topic for discussion, it’s time to see what the reply is. If the person shuts down or stops answering, is it possible they’re busy? Are they belligerent? How many times have you attempted to have the conversation? Have they brought up valid counterpoints? Does it seem like the two of you can reach your ideal solution or, at least, a solution that is satisfactory to you? If you’re at this stage, it’s worthwhile to keep an open mind, because it means the relationship is worth salvaging and you care enough that you’ve communicated to the other person there’s an issue.

    Even where you don’t know someone very well, or don’t feel it is comfortable or appropriate to communicate all your feelings or knowledge, it is possible to communicate enough that you form an idea of what the person thinks. For example, I had a situation where I vehemently disagreed with the way a reporter handled something. Rather than launch into a stalwart defense of all I stand for, I said “you know, I’ve been in the business a while, and generally, it’s not right to handle things that way.” They didn’t care, and that lack of caring was enough for me to realize this was not someone I would be associating with.
  4. Conclude.
    Eventually you’ll have to decide what to do. You started off with a problem, got a rough idea of what you wanted to happen, communicated that to the other party, and got some kind of reply, even if the reply was silence. At this point, there are some general avenues you can take if you’re unable to reach a resolution together.

    4a. Continue on with the problem.
    Take all the work you did assessing and communicating and throw it out the window. People take this avenue a lot. Maybe after everything they decide the problem isn’t big enough to threaten the relationship, or maybe they’ve fooled themselves into believing it’ll resolve on its own. Whatever the case, you can always choose to not do anything, but know that it may leave you unsatisfied or resentful no matter the benefits of working with the person.

    4b. End the relationship.
    If the negatives outweigh the positives and the other person isn’t meeting your needs or won’t make any concessions, it’s time for things to end. This might take the form of hiring somebody else to scope or report the proceedings. This also can take the form of a final confrontation with the person where you let them know that they’ve let you down. Thanks to the sunk cost fallacy, this can be very hard to do dependent upon the situation. The relative smallness of our field can exacerbate the difficulty of letting go, since burning a bridge may mean something goes uncovered on some future date. But there are health considerations when dealing with someone who is stressing you out with no end in sight. You have to choose yourself.

    4c. Be A Mentor.
    Sometimes in the course of communicating you’ll find out that the person is not being difficult on purpose. If you’re close enough, you may learn that they have some other underlying issue that’s causing them to behave strangely. Substance abuse, mental health issues, changes in medication, or domestic incidents are all things that can hit hard, fast, and without warning. For many business relationships, you simply won’t be close enough to a person to learn about what they’re going through. On the rare occasion that you become aware of such deep personal issues, you can take the time to listen, understand, and perhaps even offer suggestions or help. There are many ways to be a mentor. One can just listen and let the other party vent or one can go so far as to help the other party with their work obligations or schedule appointments. The most important part of being a mentor is setting boundaries, because simply erasing the other party’s problems creates a situation where you become a de facto punching bag. Some people will use up every ounce of your kindness and simply continue on with their bad habits. Just remember, mentor, you can only bring a horse to water.

    4d. Create consequences.
    When someone’s bad behavior is pushing down your business, it’s fair game to push back harder than simply ending the relationship. This can take root via social media shaming, an ethics complaint, or even legal action. More often than not, my moral compass points toward compassion, unity, diplomacy, and forgiveness, and I’m sure that many of my readers cringe at the idea of “attacking” someone. But as noted above in the TBT section, there are people who will do whatever they want. Their philosophy in life is “screw you, stop me.” They will continue to crush people until somebody stands up to them. Lying, cheating, denial, and projection are all tools in the “screwer’s” arsenal.

    Fiction can make very powerful statements about the real world while keeping things light and entertaining. I think the Boondock Saints movie said it best. “…We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.” Sometimes taking the path of least resistance is an admirable course of action. Sometimes doing nothing simply allows the screwer to move on and screw the next person.

    Many posts on this blog are an example of consequence. By keeping a public archive of statements and events in or around the field, it creates a social pressure that makes it harder for people to misrepresent events. Two years ago I pointed out that vTestify’s calculator erroneously claimed it could save attorneys $3,000 per deposition. As of today, a lot of that stuff has been scrubbed from their site and they now advertise themselves as a platform that, to me, is more reminiscent of Zoom than a traditional court reporting agency. Can I claim it was thanks to me? No. But I had a part to play in letting court reporters know “this company is saying they can do what you do for dirt cheap, and they’re pants-on-fire lying.” Happy they made the pivot. Haven’t heard anything bad about the platform. But consequences matter, and when someone is not being honest about a product or service, it doesn’t make you a bad person to stand up and say “NO.”

    4e. Reroll.
    In the video game world, sometimes the strengths and weaknesses of a character or situation are decided by a roll of the dice or a random number picked by the computer. You don’t like what you get? Oftentimes you can reroll. Same holds true here. Sometimes restarting the whole process of assessing your relationship, communication, the other party’s reply, and your conclusion can change an outcome. Every few years I have the pleasure of getting raving-lunatic levels of angry at something or someone in this field. Usually with some time and reassessment I am able to see things from their perspective and realize something I thought was a huge problem in the moment is actually a minor bump in the road in the context of a close business and/or personal relationship. Other times, with time and reassessment, I feel more justified.

    To really drive home the power of the reroll, about half a decade ago, I received a message telling me I needed to be more involved with the field. I had just started a new job that I felt completely unqualified for. I was in the middle of a relationship with someone who was hopelessly addicted to drugs. The insulin levels in my body were about eight times more than a normal human. I blocked the person that sent me that message. Be more involved? The only thing I wanted to be more involved with was laying in bed all day hoping tomorrow would forget to come. Over a week or so, I thought the situation over and quietly unblocked them. To this day they are one of the people I look up to and love in this field. We share a love for the field that not too many can match. Such a relationship would’ve been impossible without the reroll.

There will be people inside and outside of our little field grappling with all the same pains and problems. “Why don’t we get along?” “How do I navigate this stressful situation?” None of us will have all the answers, but I hope that this one reaches people who need it. It’s okay to stand your ground. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to help people. It’s okay to help yourself. It’s okay to set boundaries. It’s okay to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.

It’s okay to be human, because if they wanted a robot, you wouldn’t be in that seat today.

If the sad iron stenographer got you to crack a smile today, pass it on.

Journalists May Be Reporting Black People’s Stories Wrong

Journalists, we need to talk about court reporting.

Court reporting? What’s that? Court reporting traditionally refers to stenographic reporting, where somebody is taking down verbatim notes on a stenotype. We do this in legal proceedings as well as broadcast captioning, and believe it or not, our keyboard design, invented in 1911, is the best technology in voice recognition and taking down the spoken word today. Sounds incredible, right? But look at the airplane. It started out in 1903 looking something like this:

But what about my in-flight movie?!

We all know what happened. The design got better and today we have airliners that can fly hundreds of people at once. Same with the camera of the 1800s that became the compact and ubiquitous technology we have today in so many devices. Very much the same happened with our stenotype. In fact, I have a handy guide here. Feel free to use that middle image in any article you want.

Manufacturer: Stenograph. The notations on the right are just me poking fun.

We started off with old timey machines where you tap the key and it punches the ink into the paper. We evolved into an era of Dictaphones and floppy disks where we’d narrate our notes to be typed up by somebody else. These days we’re packing laptops attached to minicomputers. We’re always asked “why don’t you just record it?” Truth is we’ve had that capability for a really long time. We go beyond that and have the ability to transcribe what we’ve “recorded” in record times.

We have audio jacks, SD cards, USB ports. Some of us even use Bluetooth.

We have a real perception problem in our field. There’s this ongoing push from tech sellers to come in and say our technology is old and that automation is on the way. The problem? Tech journalists, publications, or analysts often eat it up and publish it right away. I always point to this October 2020 article as a great example. It literally depicts an old-fashioned stenographer phasing out into computer code under the headline “Will court reporting undergo a pandemic shift?” It goes on to publish some quotes from Verbit and Veritext that point to things changing/evolving/shifting. The messaging is really clear. “We have the technology. Why do we need court reporters?” They term court reporter criticism as “resistance.”

Where did those SILLY court reporters get the idea we’re coming for their jobs?

A lie is being sold. This isn’t something that takes heavy investigation to figure out. When asked about the field in that article, Veritext’s CTO was quoted as saying “there will be no choice but to move forward with well-proven audio and transcription technologies and services to meet the need, and we expect to see rapid adoption there.” Meanwhile, when asked for a quote for Stenonymous, Veritext said with regard to technology “…it will not take the place of the stenographer…” They’re not alone. Tom Livne of Verbit has been quoted saying our world is not yet digitized when I just showed you that it is digitized and it has been for decades. In series A funding for Verbit, claims of 99 percent accuracy were thrown around. In series B funding, it was said that technology would not replace the human. All these automation proponents are pretty quick to dismiss automation. Could it be that automation of speech transcription is just not that simple?

It would be fair enough if it was just my word against theirs. But there are outside observers that have looked at the situation and concluded all the same things. In a May 2020 article from Scientific American, journalist Wade Roush noted that speech recognition simply was not perfect and might never be. He pointed to Microsoft’s claim in 2016 of 96 percent accuracy, better than human transcribers, and noted there have been few improvements since. In the Stanford study “Racial disparities in automated speech recognition” it was noted that automatic speech recognition was 80 percent accurate on white speakers, 65 percent accurate on black speakers, and “worse” on the AAVE dialect. “Worse” meant 25 to 50 percent accurate. So here we are taking stenographic reporter accuracy, certified with 5 percent total errors or fewer and comparing it to a word error rate between 20 percent and 75 percent.

But do we really need accurate court transcripts and good captions for captioning consumers? Nobody cares who this hurts as long as it makes investors happy, right? Sadly, there’s not much evidence to show that it’ll even do that. Much of the financial data for court reporting is hidden through private companies or paywall research data. When I examined VIQ Solutions, a company that recently acquired Net Transcripts and is ostensibly part of the “record and transcribe” crowd, I pointed out there’s plenty of revenue there, but net losses. In news regarding Verbit’s acquisition of VITAC, it was stated that revenue was in the millions and cash flow was positive, which means it’s likely profits are low or non-existent. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, I think it’s very clear, if there was profit and a decent rate of return they would be unreserved in telling us that. Like other AI ventures, there’s probably just a slow burn of money. So every time a writer jumps aboard the “technology” train without consulting anybody that actually works in the field or doing a little research, it’s burying the truth a little deeper under this false perception and really hurting a vibrant, viable field that really needs people. We’re not so different. The tech sellers are coming for your job too, and it’s just as hilarious and embarrassing.

I admit it. I skimmed the article because it was an absolute bore.
That didn’t stop them from claiming that it “rivaled human skills.”

The other issue we have is that we know you can figure this stuff out. When our job is up for grabs, there’s a kind of jubilant repetition of the word “disruption.” Meanwhile, when it’s a job that has some sense of importance or power, like a judge, journalists begin explaining things. Take this article on Chinese holographic AI judges, where the author makes sure to point out there are differences in American and Chinese law that may make this more plausible, as well as explaining that the “AI” is only as good as its dataset. This is a big problem, because the companies invested in “AI” have zero accountability. If someone brings up issues with a technology’s output being racist or sexist, they are summarily fired and their opinion swept under the rug. In my field, at the very least, every member of the public is entitled to make a complaint about a court reporter that violates our ethical codes. That’s on top of any legal remedies that may be available or justified in the event a court reporter acts irresponsibly! If you can’t get it right when you report on it, these companies are not going to correct you when you’re wrong in their favor.

All we are asking for is some fairness in the way our field is reported on in the news. I’ve often joked that advocating for stenographic court reporting is a lot like the children’s story Horton Hears A Who. We’re here but we’re unseen and unheard. We’re in danger of being boiled by big money and tall tales. Those of us that speak up can face a lot of ridicule or be cut short. Take my appearance on VICE News about the Testifying While Black study. Here’s an important topic that deserves headlines, namely, addressing disparate outcomes based on the dialect that someone speaks. I was filmed for about two hours, and Taylor Jones and his people were, as I understand it, filmed close to nine hours. Nobody expected a ten-hour special, but this topic got fifteen minutes. Court reporters took some serious heat in the news because we scored 80 percent accuracy in African American Vernacular English dialect. Every single news source I’ve seen has missed or excluded pilot study 1, where regular people scored 40 percent, and pilot study 2, where lawyers scored 60 percent. VICE cut me talking about the pilot studies and how people who really care about record accuracy need to join our field. You have a story here where court reporters are twice as good as the average person at hearing and transcribing this AAVE dialect that we get no training in, and that got warped into many variations of “court reporters don’t understand black people.” That’s a concept mired in ignorance. The story itself acknowledges not all black people speak AAVE, and yet the headline and lede rips on us despite the fact that we’re the most likely ones in the room to understand AAVE. I cannot imagine such an irresponsible word game. It’s almost like publishing an article with the headline “Journalists May Be Reporting Black People’s Stories Wrong” just because they might ostensibly fit into the category of “regular people.” But I can’t imagine that anyone would ever lump groups of people together and make broad, false headlines just for clicks. Oh, wait —

It’s a perfect topic, a good story, and a great writer, but the headline pits people against each other.
You harvested court reporters, AAVE speakers, and black people for clicks.

Even in a pretty amazing article about social justice where I got to offer some input, the accuracy of us versus others ended up not making the cut. I like the author a lot, but it’s pretty clear that somewhere along the way a decision was made to exclude the possibility that we’re hearing people better than anyone else in the room. Not much different from when Max Curry was quoted as saying digital reporting was too risky, but there was hardly any explanation as to why, despite a field of nearly 30,000 people and data that suggests recording proceedings achieves no real cost reduction and no efficiency gains. See what I’m saying? Sometimes it’s worse than simply not publishing anything from us. Sometimes it’s cherry picking what we say to make it look like both sides are represented when they simply aren’t or that a topic was explained when it simply wasn’t.

I know that this perceived unfairness is a result of many factors and that some are outside your control. The drive to get people to read strongly encourages clickbait journalism. Editors and outlets can decide to cut journalists’ work if it doesn’t adhere to a particular narrative or standard. The fact that court reporting and machine shorthand stenography is a fairly niche skill adds to the dilemma. Industry outsiders are not going to know there are national, state, and nonprofit databases to find court reporters for interviews and demonstrations. There are a myriad of issues that coalesce to create the situation I’m describing. But we really need some attention on these issues. We create the legal record for so many lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. We broadcast (good) captions so that the deaf can have access. The inadequacy of alternatives cannot be understated. But the average reporter age is 55 now, and to continue our good work we’ll need the media to be unafraid of publishing the truth. Help us attract people who will carry on this service for generations. We need the media to stop republishing the shortage forecast from 8 years ago and point people towards all the resources that we have built since then to help people find this career, such as Open Steno, Project Steno, and NCRA A to Z.

And to the next publication that discusses the $27 billion voice recognition market: We are here! We are here! We are here!

Addendum:

A reader suggested I define AAVE better in this article. I feel it better to point to the work of the linguist Dr. Taylor Jones if you want to learn more about this dialect.

How We Discuss Stenographer Shortage

There is a small, loud contingent in the private sector that describes our stenographer shortage as mathematically impossible to solve. Years ago, the Court Reporting Industry Outlook by Ducker Worldwide, in a nutshell, forecasted the demand of stenographic reporters eclipsing the supply of stenographic reporters. At that point in the 2013-2014 report it was forecasted that about 70 percent of existing reporters would retire over the next 20 years. It was forecasted that in 2018 there would be a gap of about 5,500 court reporters due to increased demand and retirements. In a breakdown by state, it was clear that California, Texas, Illinois, and New York would have it the hardest, but the prediction was a gap of at least 100 reporters in several states by 2018.

This is but one of few bold arguments put out by digital recording proponents as to why the modality of taking the record must change away from stenographic reporting. As reporters and committees like NCRA Strong started to push back against the myth that digital was better or cheaper, and developed resources to help others explain the truth, the stenographer shortage became the last bastion of hope for recording equipment to take reporter seats.

It’s a simple message that’s easy to digest: “It takes too long to train stenographers and the failure rate is too high, therefore we must change.” This argument is even embraced by CSRs working for larger agencies that have actively promoted digital reporting as the way forward, such as Veritext or US Legal. I take umbrage with this simple message because it’s a lie. This idea that there is nothing we can do is a lie by omission, and it ignores any and all progress we’ve made in recruitment. Since the Ducker Report, Open Steno has expanded exponentially in introducing stenography and free resources to learn it to people all over the world. Its Discord channel continues to grow and has hundreds of users online each day.

8:00 in the morning and 300 online. It takes a remarkable person to build a community like that. Thanks Mirabai.

Also since the Ducker Report, NCRA A to Z was born. Project Steno began heavy recruitment activity. Independent actors such as Allison Hall have worked in their own communities to get programs started and flourishing. Again, all things generally ignored by the we-must-record crowd. It’s only business, right? If they can’t fill the seats, it’s not their fault! But it’s painfully obvious that digital recording proponents are not attempting to build interest in stenographic reporting. We are a community, and some members of our community are obsessed with spouting the shameful idea that there’s just nothing that can be done while watching everyone else do.

But even those of us who know all about the shortage and have worked in some capacity to fix it have overlooked some important industry comparisons. In the tech world, there’s a forecasted need of some 1.4 million workers and an expected graduation of 400,000 workers. If our 5,000-person shortage is mathematically impossible to solve then tech must be absolutely doomed, right? It takes a whole four years to get a computer science degree! Time to replace all the programmers with robots, right? Nope. Instead, the argument is made to look at the number of self-taught people or people that do not have a traditional degree. The argument is made that programmers should be paid more to entice workers. Even in fields of “unskilled workers”, when there is a shortage, they don’t sit around and whine about there being nothing they can do, they jack up the prices to reflect demand.

What? Businesses can create a problem by understaffing and then charge 40 percent more? Where do I sign up?

Compare this to our field, where freelance reporters in New York are currently working for less than 1991 rates adjusted for inflation and companies still aren’t happy. At a certain point, there’s simply no more we can give. We’d each do better taking our own customers and binding our own transcripts than continue to forfeit large percentages of our money just so we don’t have to handle clients. To illustrate this better, the following is a chart for the average US worker hourly pay adjusted for inflation.

Wow! Over a decade the average US worker wage became 58 cents more per hour! Bring on the steak and lobster!

If we were to have an identical chart for reporting in New York, for reporters making under $5.50 a page on their original, the number would be decreasing. We’re not just behind the average US hourly worker, we are steadily losing ground and the gap is widening. It’s not really surprising we’re having trouble filling seats. It’s good money for what we do, but the great money in the private sector has been quietly locked behind roughs and realtime, forcing reporters to work harder and write more to have the same buying power.

The above notes on pay come with a caveat. I’m not a stupid man. I know the money in this field comes from the copy sales. I know that’s very unlikely to change in the near future. But for an honest comparison, I’ve examined the original prices, and if the original prices are that deflated, reporters have to ask themselves if copy rates have budged when adjusted for inflation, and there’s no evidence to suggest they have.

So when we are discussing shortage, I hope there are four points everyone will remember and educate fellow reporters on when they buy the line that there’s nothing we can do.

1. The number of self-taught reporters is not counted, making our shortage forecast larger than it is.

2. There are many more programs and resources for people who want to learn about stenography today than there were when the stenographer shortage was forecasted. Some examples include NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno.

3. Companies that genuinely care about the shortage can directly impact it by promoting steno, relaxing deadlines, or increasing reporter pay, which is in line with other industries.

4. With an estimated 30,000 stenographers, if we each spent an hour a year on recruitment activity, it would be the equivalent of 82 hours of recruitment a day, far more time than any company is spending promoting or recruiting for other modalities.

1 in 4 Court Reporting Companies May Be Unprofitable

In my Collective Power of Stenographers post, we explored how court reporters collectively out-earn every company in business today. In Aggressive Marketing — Growth or Flailing, we took a look at VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts, and saw how a transcription company could be making millions in revenue but be unprofitable. This all set me down a path of learning about zombie companies, companies that are not making enough to meet debt obligations, or just barely enough to make interest payments. You can watch Kerry Grinkmeyer describe how that happens here. This isn’t very rare. A Bloomberg analysis of 3,000 publicly-traded companies found one in five were zombies. The main takeaway? Companies can make lots of money and still be taking losses.

I had the pleasure of looking through the Kentley Insights June 2019 Court Reporting and Stenotype Services market research report. I do want to be upfront about it: I have some reservations about the methodologies and some of the reporting. Very much like the Ducker Report, as best I can tell, it’s based off a sampling of respondents from in or around the field. There are parts of the report that are arguably a little incomplete or unclear. For example, being industry experts, we all know the vast majority of the work is done by independent contractors. Independent contractor isn’t a term that appears in the report. Unsurprisingly, when we reach the job pay bands and employment section, it says there isn’t detailed data on the industry and compares us to the telephone call centers industry. So this report is not a must-have for court reporters, but it does have some interesting insights.

Those remarks aside, when we get to the profitability section of the report, we get to see something pretty striking. Based on their data, more than 1 in 4 court reporting companies are not profitable. Average net income as a percent of revenue for the ones that are profitable? About 9.3 percent. For the ones that are not profitable, a loss of about 9.6 percent. And a pretty chart that says as much.

I never want to see the term capital benchmarks again.

On the following page, there’s a forecast for operating expenses and industry revenue. That’s summed up in another pretty chart.

This was pre-pandemic, by the way.

If we look at the trends here, it’s pretty clear that the forecast is for expense growth to eclipse and outpace revenue growth. If that keeps up, the unprofitable companies are going to be looking at bigger losses year after year. Given all the information I have today, I surmise that the smaller court reporting companies are the more profitable ones and the bigger ones are the ones struggling. There are sure to be some outliers, like small court reporting shops that go bankrupt and leave their independent contractors unpaid. But overall, the smaller companies can’t afford to remain unprofitable for very long, so it’s probably the “big dogs” eating that 10 percent loss. If I’m right, that may also mean the push to go digital is the dying breath of companies that can’t figure out any other way forward. In February, I wrote “…we only lose if we do not compete.” That is becoming more evident with time and data. It is a great time for the stenographic reporter to open up shop and be a part of the 74%.

Speaking of data, if everybody that read this blog donated $1.50, we’d have enough money to stay ad-free for the next two decades. To all donors we’ve had to date, thank you so much, put your wallets away. To everybody else, check out this cool song from M.I.A. about taking your money.

Does Stenonymous Spend More On Steno Ads Than US Legal?

When you care about something, how difficult is it to do? I can only go by my own experiences here. I hate calling lawyers. A family member got fired and there was potentially an attached legal issue. I was on the phone chain calling lawyers for them until I found one that could speak to the family member that same day. I don’t have any desire to be a public speaker, but I figured it out when I thought our profession might need it. US Legal, by all appearances, cares a lot about attracting digital reporters and strengthening AAERT.

I would love to talk to you too, senior recruiter.

In fairness, US Legal does have a reporter corner and a few spots on their site where they specifically mention stenography. But we have to look at the totality of the circumstances to decide whether this is out of genuine care or whether it’s a facade to point at and say “look, we care!” It’s been known for a while that US Legal is backing digital reporting. They bought out Stenotrain, made some announcements to look good, and killed it. Now reporters are getting offers to join USL as long as reporters drop the stenotype and fall in line with whatever junk USL wants to peddle to consumers. Again, I have to look at my own experiences, and when I don’t advertise very much, my site can get as little as 500 views a year.

What a year that was. Am I right?

Meanwhile, when I spend a few hundred bucks on an ad, I get the word steno in front of thousands of people.

A seven-nation army couldn’t hold me back.

Hopefully the point is pretty clear. If and when they cry shortage and say they just can’t fill the seats, it’s a lie. According to Owler, they have a revenue of over $100 million. They’re taking that money and betting it against stenographic court reporters. There are national, state, and nonprofit databases of reporters. This is a game to take our relatively high-paying jobs and organized, educated workforce, and replace them with low-paying jobs and people who won’t have the same ethics culture we do.

It’s a game I need some help winning. All corporations are made up of people. Educate those people on the truth, and just maybe they’ll realize they’re risking everything by backing the losing horse. If you happen to get a message from one of the recruiters working on this, please don’t blast them, but let them know what’s happening. Chances are good they have no idea.

I do wish him luck and success. But I also hope he finds a better employer.