The FTC seems very conscious of gig workers, a label that freelance court reporters almost certainly fall into. Our industry was doing gig work before it was popular.
While nothing in the statement linked above specifically mentions our industry, it does show that they have a very good understanding of how markets like ours operate. It talks about the concentration of markets. In ours, this is similar to how the private equity brigade is quietly buying everybody out so that it’s an open secret they own dozens of smaller firms and are using that power to turn around and dictate rates to court reporters. This becomes illegal if and when they start agreeing with each other to fix prices on us, at least as can be inferred from this bulletin.
The FTC is more or less coming out for the workers here. That’s the “freelancers” that might be subject to the illegal conduct described below.
Court reporting companies should take note. This reads to me like a warning shot. “Clean up your markets and treat your people well, or the government gets involved.”
We made a lot of noise at the FTC back in January. While I can’t guarantee that this action is related to the concerns raised by us and other antitrust activists, I’ve got a feeling our industry is on their radar despite its size.
This also makes the deceptive actions of companies like Veritext risky. How long before consumers are aware that the company has used its market power to limit consumer choice? Can the company guarantee that not one consumer has been denied a stenographer under the guise of shortage? And if the company can, then it calls into question shortage claims, because the statistics say 20% of the jobs should be going uncovered. If I had some advice for the private equity brigade, it would be to stop squeezing the people that perform the work. It’s not a good look for you. It’s only going to shake consumer confidence when they find out that instead of helping to grow and develop the existing processes, you sought to make money off of worker turnover — virtually guaranteeing a workforce of amateurs, exactly what every lawyer asks for at their legal proceeding! Even if there isn’t some kind of suit and direct losses, the loss in reputation will be phenomenal, and in this business, reputation is everything.
For now, this is a solid case of “let’s see what happens.”
I’m informed that John Jay is now partnered with Veritext.
Of course, I object to this for many reasons. I still believe that stenography will lead to better accuracy outcomes, particularly for minority speakers. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers were only 80% accurate taking down African American Vernacular English. Laypeople were 40% accurate (pilot study 1). Since emphasis in the above examples is on short-duration training, which accuracy level do we expect from digital reporting?
If Veritext wasn’t threatening the futures of our students with its lies and misinformation, I’d admire the company for its brilliance. It’s set up to earn money from digital, at least according to Twitter.
Of course, we still have the fact that we are honest, hard-working people on our side. We still constitute the majority of workers in this field. Our collective voices can still win this. We have a choice to remain silent and resign the future to the agendas of others or resist and lead this field into its next iteration.
Thank you to my readers for informing me of this development. Without you, what am I?
If you have ever doubted that we are under attack as a profession and that the incomes and outcomes of our students are at risk, here is your sign. It is time to be bold. It is time to stand up for the profession that has given us so much. Share this with your fellow colleagues so that they know what’s happening and can begin to talk about solutions.
If yes, I think a valid argument could be made that the company does, as it has stated in the past, support all its contractors. Please throw it up in the comments.
But if not, let me humbly suggest that Veritext is clearly expanding digital over steno because it likely has financial interests in digital court reporter training. If successful, it means fewer opportunities for our stenographic students.
This goes to my previous comments, that their actions can exacerbate our stenographer shortage. When you put a spotlight on the demand for something, you pull attention from other things. We now have evidence on this blog of constant digital reporting spotlighting from companies that claim to want and need stenographers. Other than supporting that school over in Maryland, I rarely see stenographic support from Veritext. This is why the shortage exists. There’s not a clear strategy beyond hedging.
When the available evidence suggests digital technologies are not up to the task of reliable transcription and these folks are all piling their effort and money into it, I really think it’s fine to stop supporting it. If you’re somebody that’s got to work for them, I get it. Otherwise, why contribute to stenographers’ elimination? Perhaps if the company were to just be honest, “this is the direction we’re going,” I’d feel differently. But it’s been a complicated maze of claims and actions.
While we’re on the topic of Veritext, let’s talk private equity. There were a number of research firms looking into our field recently. It’s possible that one or more of the PE giants was looking for a buyout and buyers were looking into the field. Though this is mostly speculation on my part. It is still a mystery how profitable those PE giants are. The whole thing is troubling because in the event one or more of them are zombies they’ll be able to operate until cash flow is a problem, all the while influencing the market. That would be like stenographers being able to operate at a loss for multiple years — we could all offer $1.00 per page if big money was subsidizing us.
It’s good to see businesses setting up for the counter to tech’s obsession with pretending to automate everything. Eventually investors will stop being fooled by the buzzword “AI,” and at that point businesses that value people will end up in the limelight. At present, LL caters to attorneys and mediators. It will be interesting to see future offerings for court reporters.
There are a lot of great choices out there, like the shop that TCRA just opened or Steno Swag. As some of you probably saw in an unfortunate social media spam incident, I’m dipping into the world of stenographer merch.
Tired of your old steno shirt?
Try something new!
Some of the designs are an in-your-face style, but there’s a little something for everyone.
The images are also available to download. If you have your own little side hustle, feel free to buy the image as your license to slap it on whatever merch you want.
Students that take and complete the NCRA A to Z program will now be provided two years of Eclipse student software and support.
Honestly, this is a colossal step in the right direction. I feel we suffer from a lack of teamwork on the steno side of the steno v digital debate. That collaboration is incredibly important. As shown by NCRA and Advantage here, it opens up new opportunities.
Advantage and other steno software and hardware vendors may find themselves in a great position to ride the circumstances set in motion by myself and the Open Steno community. Open Steno has introduced stenography to well over a thousand people and continues to raise a community of people that want to learn steno, including transcribers. Meanwhile I have set the stage and made the case that stenographer pay is too low in some markets. It follows that transcriber pay is too low in some markets and will have transcribers looking for a way to increase their efficiency. Who better to help than stenography software and hardware vendors? All during a time when workers across the country are realizing their value and asking for it. Conditions are ripe for the strengthening and reimagining of our timeless profession. It’s exciting to witness and be a part of, and today I can honestly say I’m proud to be an NCRA member and Advantage customer.
Not long ago, I surveyed over 200 respondents for page rate and appearance data in our field. The general idea is to bring some transparency to a very opaque market. There are plenty of pie charts for people that want ’em. For this survey, I focused on New York, Illinois, California, and Texas, but we did get a number of respondents from “other” states.
With more time and resources, I could perform more conclusive surveying. But, as all of you, I must operate in a world of finite resources and do the best I can with what I’ve got. The Ducker Report, for comparison, was built off of 120 research interviews. This is built off of 271 self-selecting respondents. I am grateful, as always, to the donors that help keep Stenonymous ad free and help me fund projects.
I do have an ask. If you’re an educator or mentor looking at this, you’ll see the wide spectrum of rates. Push your students and mentees to aim high. We band together and teach each other for the betterment of legal records everywhere. Our next frontier is going to be producing stenographers that can understand and seize the market. If I am correct about the shortage being exaggerated and there are no sudden technological leaps, we may very well have the majority of market share for decades, but only if the reporters we’re molding understand that there is a spectrum and that they do not have to be at the bottom of it, as I once was, even if they are not yet realtime.
Thank you again to all my readers. Feel free to share the report, it is free.
I’ve already commented, in my own way, that things don’t seem right in California. Here, PYRP makes the astute point that the big box companies likely would’ve opposed the bill if it was not in their best interest, among many other great points.
I’ve called what’s being done to consumers fraud for many reasons, and that’s a word that pops up in this statement too. Ultimately, it’s that kind of bravery and boldness that will seize the day, and is a departure from the positive toxicity that permeates stereotypical corporate cultures, including our own.
All I can really say is that association board members should heed these words and realize that the more advocacy that is shouldered by nonprofits like PYRP or for-profit enterprises like Stenonymous, the more advocacy dollars will flow away from traditional associations. The success or failure of our institutions rides on the motivations and feelings of working reporters. If people feel that associations are not doing enough, or that associations are working against their interest, then wallets will, perhaps rightfully, close, in some cases permanently.
MAXScribe and the Digital Court Reporting Academy were both brought to my attention. Before I launch into my usual full defense of stenography, I’ll put it out there that I think I understand Stenograph from a business perspective. My assumption is that they see the retirement cliff combined with big money’s interest in expanding digital, and they are doing what they see as the most profitable move, diversifying into a product line that they expect will be growing (digital) rather than shrinking (ostensibly stenography). From a purely business mindset, I think all of us get it. But I’ve been down on Stenograph these last few months and remain so.
My criticism comes from a place of circumstance. We let Stenograph into our schools and gave them access to our students. We encouraged each other to get and keep support contracts over the years, though admittedly I was never in with that crowd. The bottom line is that we built Stenograph with our wallets and brand dedication. We need to grapple with the obvious truth, Stenograph does not have the same dedication to its customers, the stenographic trainers, or anyone else. It’s going to sell to whoever will buy.
By itself, that might be annoying, but there is another reason I find fault with what they’re doing. We have some data that suggests stenography is better for equality. If we look back at the Testifying While Black study, stenographers scored something like 80% on African American Vernacular English — a shock at the time it happened. The pilot studies of that study tested laypeople and lawyers, and those people scored around 40% and 60%. The hard truth is that stenographers may, on average, be understanding more of what’s said by speakers of that dialect in the courtroom or deposition than anybody else. Couple that with the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, where automatic speech recognition by major companies scored as low as 25% on the same dialect. Simply put, stenographers are better for accuracy on the dialect studied. I’d bet results would be similar for a number of dialects and accents, though funding for further studies seems elusive. By taking this hard push towards digital, companies, including Stenograph, are basically saying “we do not care about people.” Anir Dutta and others have used the words “democratization of technology.” Perhaps this really is the democratization of technology and we have simply “voted” that AAVE speakers and anyone else that would be better served by stenography or voice writing does not deserve that service. Good thing nobody’s told the press. Seems like the kind of thing the public might object to. “Court case? Congratulations, if you don’t speak in the way the powers that be deem appropriate, your transcript’s accuracy may be lower.”
Even putting aside all that science stuff, Stenograph’s claims are questionable. Take a look.
It states the number of pages produced per hour can be boosted up to 50%. If there was such a product, wouldn’t it have been marketable to stenographers? If it’s not marketable to stenographers, then that likely means stenographers already produce pages faster. If stenographers already produce pages faster, why is Stenograph not trying to improve our methods and processes? It doesn’t make much sense unless one locks oneself into the bubble of “big money wants digital, and we want big money.”
Maybe it’s time for us to get into the business of helping out digital court reporters. Dear DCRs, anyone that says they can double your earnings without giving you a real good idea of how that happens is lying to you. Ask questions.
Then there’s the Digital Court Reporting Academy.
The effort put into enticing digital court reporters is obvious. But I suspect that Stenograph has missed the mark here. Digital court reporters are likely to face the same income disparities stenographers are currently facing, and they’ll make cuts largely the same way stenographers have because they’re people too. The problem remains this wage or income issue. Cash-strapped “contractors” cut corners and court reporting and transcription companies are forcing as many expenses onto the contractor as possible. That means Stenograph is trying to run from a world where stenographers are avoiding purchases because the money isn’t there to a world where digitals will avoid purchases because the money isn’t there.
Though perhaps I have a naive view of the world. I have assumed that the working reporter is the customer. But perhaps they are all really after the “potential working reporters” or students. If you sell 80 student stenotypes for $1,500, it’s a lot more money than selling 5 professional stenotypes to graduates at $5,000. That same logic likely carries to digital. I expect there will be incredibly high turnover based on communications I’ve gotten from past and present digital reporters about their treatment. Stenograph may be financially incentivized to support that turnover because every person that tries digital and doesn’t like it would be a potential customer.
Big money wants digital. It wants digital so bad that lies about the NCRA were plastered to the internet before NCRA apparently got them taken down, students were being misled into digital, questionable claims have been made to get attorneys onto digital reporting, and a piece to discredit me was apparently commissioned and poorly executed. These are just some of the things we look at in horror and wonder how we could find ourselves in such a lopsided competition where actors on the digital side of the equation get to lie and obfuscate while we get cudgeled by our licensing authorities and consumers are left to fend for themselves. Stenograph’s not responsible for any of that, but by continuingto alienate existing customers and continuing to chase big money over morals, Stenograph has set itself up to hemorrhage stenographic customers, and if growth of digital is stunted by stenographers spreading the word that there’s a better career in stenography, the company may well end up the sten-tech industry’s biggest loser.
A scam email was sent around to some National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) members claiming to be for fundraising for “treatment” for “Mindy” and “Kevin,” a fabricated one-year old. Many stenographers received their first alert of the scam from Margary Rogers, NCRA Membership Committee Chair, and the group NCRA Membership Matters.
One of the main giveaways that this was a scam was the domain name, NCRA.org.us. The NCRA’s domain is NCRA.org.
The National Court Reporters Association released a statement immediately, and took measures to educate members on scams.
As a general rule, scammers play off human bits like fear and sympathy. Any time someone is trying to get you to act without thinking, you can be sure a scam or propaganda will follow. The name of the game is manipulation, and our alertness and critical thinking skills are how we win the game.
Our communities and associations are seeing increased scam activity in recent months. We mustn’t allow scammers to pull at our heartstrings and take our hard-earned money. A sincere thank you to those that fight to keep members informed. We need you now more than ever.