Trolls and You

We try to keep political stuff from being published here unless it’s educational, about court reporting, or about the industry. I’ve been pretty good about this. Commentators have been great about it. The occasional guest writer has been amazing with it. This topic touches with politics, but it’s not strictly political, so it should be fun to learn about.

It’s established that the United Kingdom, United States, China, Russia and several other countries view the internet as, more or less, another theater of war. They’ve had operatives and people hired to create fake posts, false comments, and advance the interests and ideas of the government. The prices reported? Eight dollars for a social media post, $100 for ten comments, and $65 for contacting a media source. In the case of China, they’re reportedly working for less than a dollar. If the host country allows it, you have trolls for hire.

So in the context of stenography and the court reporting industry, seems like whenever we get into the news, there are regular comments from regular people, such as “why not just record it?” Typical question. Anyone would ask this question. There are fun comments like “Christopher Day the stenographer looks like he belongs on an episode of Jeopardy.” Then there are comments that go above and beyond that. They make claims like — well, just take a look.

“…I gonna tell you that in modern technology we can record something like court testimony for hundreds of years back very easily…” “…the technology is smarter every single second…” “…if you store data in the digital format we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data, it will be very accurate so much so the stenographer loses their jobs.” Wow! Lose our jobs? I felt that in my heart! Almost like it was designed to hurt a stenographer’s feelings. Right?

We can store the video for hundreds of years? Maybe. But consider that text files, no matter what way you swing it, are ten times smaller than audio files. They can be thousands of times smaller than video files. Take whatever your local court is paying for storage today and multiply that by 8,000. Unless we want a court system that is funded by advertisements a la Youtube, the taxpayer will be forced to cough up much more money than they are today. That’s just storing stuff.

The technology is getting smarter every second? No, not really. Whenever it’s analyzed by anybody who isn’t selling it, it’s actually pretty dumb and has been that way for a while. Take Wade Roush’s May 2020 article in the Scientific American (pg 24). “But accuracy is another matter. In 2016 a team at Microsoft Research announced that it had trained its machine-learning algorithms to transcribe speech from a standard corpus of recordings with record-high 94 percent accuracy. Professional human transcriptionists performed no better than the program in Microsoft’s tests, which led media outlets to celebrate the arrival of ‘parity’ between humans and software in speech recognition.”

“…And four years after that breakthrough, services such as Temi still claim no better than 95 percent — and then only for recordings of clear, unaccented speech.” Roush concludes, in part, “ASR systems may never reach 100 percent accuracy…” So technology isn’t getting smarter every second. It’s not even getting smarter every half decade at this point.

“…we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data…” This technology exists, kind of, but perfecting it would be like perfecting speech recognition. Nobody’s watching 500 hours of video to see if it accurately returns every instance of a word. Ultimately, you’re paying for the computer’s best guess. Sometimes that’ll be pretty good. Sometimes you won’t find the droid you’re looking for.

Conclusion? This person’s probably not in the media transcoding industry, probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is in all likelihood a troll. Were they paid to make that comment? We don’t know. But I think it’s time to realize that marketplaces are ripe for deception and propaganda. So when you see especially mean, hateful, targeted comments, understand that there’s some chance that the person writing the comment doesn’t live in the same country as you and doesn’t actually care about the topic they’re writing about. There’s some chance that person was paid to spread an opinion or an idea. Realizing this gives us power to question what these folks are saying and be agents of truth in these online communities. Always ignoring trolling leads to trolling leading the conversation. So dropping the occasional polite counterview when you see an obvious troll can make a real impact on perception. The positive perception of consumers and the public is what keeps steno in business.

The best part of all this? You can rest easier knowing some of those hateful things you see online about issues you care about are just hired thugs trying to divide us. If a comment is designed to hurt you, you might just be talking to a Russian operative.

Addendum:

I understand readers will be met with the Scientific American paywall. I would open myself up to copyright problems to display the entire article here. If you’d like to speak out against the abject tyranny of paywalls, give me money! I’m kidding.

Turning Omissions Into Opportunity

We’re in an interesting time. Pretty much anywhere you look there are job postings for digital reporters, articles with headlines talking about our replacement, articles with headlines talking about our angst. Over time, brilliant articles from people like Eric Allen, Ana Fatima Costa, Angie Starbuck (bar version), and Stanley Sakai start to get buried or appear dated when, in actuality, not much has changed at all. They’re super relevant and on point. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, we’re going to have to use our professional sense, think critically, and keep spreading the truth about ourselves and the tech we use.

One way to do that critical thinking is to look squarely at what is presented and notice what goes unmentioned. For example, look back at my first link. Searching for digital reporting work, ambiguous “freelance” postings come up, meaning stenographer jobs are actually branded as “digital” jobs. District courts seeking a stenographer? Labeled as a digital job. News reporters to report news about court? Labeled as a digital job. No wonder there’s a shortage, we’re just labeling everything the same way and expecting people who haven’t spent four decades in this business to figure it out. In this particular instance, Zip Recruiter proudly told me there were about 20 digital court reporter jobs in New York, but in actuality about 90 percent were mislabeled.

Another way to do it is to look at contradictions in a general narrative. For example, we say steno is integrity. So there was an article from Lisa Dees that shot back and said, basically, any method can have integrity. Can’t argue there. Integrity is kind of an individual thing. But to get to the conclusion these things are equal, you have to ignore a lot of stuff that anyone who’s been working in the field a while knows. Stenography has a longer history and a stronger culture. With AAERT pulling in maybe 20 percent of what NCRA does on the regular, who has more money going into ethics education? Most likely stenographers. When you multiply the number of people that have to work on a transcript, you’re multiplying the risk of one of those people not having integrity. We’re also ignoring how digital proponents like US Legal have no problem going into a courtroom and arguing that they shouldn’t be regulated like court reporters because they don’t supply court reporting services. Even further down the road of integrity, we know from other digital proponents that stenography is the gold standard (thanks, Stenograph) and that the master plan for digital proponents is to use a workforce that is not highly trained. I will totally concede that these things are all from “different” sources, but they all point to each other as de facto experts in the field and sit on each other’s boards and panels. It’s very clear there’s mutual interest. So, again, look at the contradictions. “The integrity of every method is equal, but stenography is the gold standard, but we are going to use a workforce with less training.” What?

Let’s get to how to talk about this stuff, and for that, I’m going to leave an example here. I do follow the court reporting stuff that gets published by Legaltech News. There’s one news reporter, Victoria Hudgins, who has touched on steno and court reporting a few times. I feel her information is coming mostly from the digital proponents, so in an effort to provide more information, I wrote:

“Hi Ms. Hudgins. My name’s Christopher Day. I’m a stenographer in New York. I follow with great interest and admiration most of your articles related to court reporting in Legal Tech News [sic]. But I am writing today to let you know that many of the things being represented to you by these companies appear false or misleading. In the August 24 article about Stenograph’s logo, the Stenograph offices that you were given are, as best I can tell, a stock photo. In the September 11 article about court reporter angst, Livne, says our field has not been digitized, but that’s simply not true. Court reporter equipment has been digital for decades. The stenotype picture you got from Mr. Rando is quite an old model and most of us do not use those anymore. I’m happy to send you a picture of a newer model, or share evidence for any of my statements in this communication.

Our position is being misrepresented very much. We are not worried so much about the technology, we are more worried that people will believe the technology is ready for prime time and replace us with it without realizing that it is not. Livne kind of admitted this himself. In his series A funding, he or Verbit stated that the tech was 99 percent accurate. In the series B funding he said Verbit would not get rid of the human element. These two statements don’t seem very compatible.

How come when these companies are selling their ASR, it’s “99 percent” or “ready to disrupt the market,” but when Stanford studied ASR it was, at best, 80 percent accurate?

Ultimately, if the ASR isn’t up to the task, these are transcription companies. They know that if they continue to use the buzzwords, you’ll continue to publish them, and that will draw them more investors.

I am happy to be a resource on stenographic court reporting technology, its efficiency, and at least a few of the things that have been done to address the shortage. Please feel free to reach out.”

To be very fair, because of the limitations of the website submission form, she didn’t get any of the links. But, you know, I think this stands as a decent example of how to address news people when they pick up stories about us. They just don’t know. They only know what they’re told or how things look. There will be some responsibility on our part to share our years of experience and knowledge if we want fair representation in media. It’s the Pygmalion effect at work. Expectations can impact reality. That’s why these narratives exist, and that is why a countering narrative is so important. Think about it. When digital first came it was all about how it was allegedly cheaper. When that turned out not to be true, it became a call for stenographers to just see the writing on the wall and acknowledge there is a shortage and that there is nothing we can do about it. Now that’s turning out not to be true, we’re doing a lot about it, and all we have left is to let those outside the industry know the truth.

Addendum:

A reader reminded me that Eric Allen’s article is now in archive. The text may be found here. For context purposes, it came amid a series of articles by Steve Townsend, and is an excellent example of what I’m talking about in terms of getting the truth out there.

August Asterisks 2020 (Jobs)

One thing I’ve learned in this business is never be too predictable, and that’s why I completely skipped July. Before we get to actual jobs posts that have popped up in the last two months, we’ll get down to something for our freelance friends. and people looking to make a difference in this field. NYSCRA is promoting no fewer than three online sessions that should have a little something for everybody. First, on August 16, there will be a session with Jason Wisdom on freelance success. On August 24, Jessie Gorry and Joshua Edwards are presenting Zoom for Freelance Reporters and will be talking, as I understand it, about best practices and hardware stuff you can do to make your life easier. Finally, for those of you seeking to build some skills and confidence in making a difference, Project Steno will be hosting courses on clean writing, developing a high school program, and conducting a training course. Even more for people looking to make a difference, you should see NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards’s message in the Summer 2020 Transcript. Without further delay, in steno, if we want to change something, we hit the asterisk, right? So change the job up with August Asterisks.

Onto the jobs. First, a very special posting. Eric Allen, President of ASSCR, was kind enough to post this excerpt from what I believe to be the Chief last month. In my very first post about finding a job in New York City, I talked a little bit about Workers Compensation and how they no longer seemed to be hiring even though the application was up. So to see these very recent, current postings for Verbatim Reporter 1 in New York State is very comforting. It should be a clear message to every jobseeker and our employers that what we do has a lot of value. We will rise to the challenge of filling these positions, but we need the shotcallers to keep the demand for court reporting steady so that people are not scrambling in and out of jobs. Every former Verbatim Reporter 1 that I have ever spoken to has told me that it was an amazing job that they really liked. If you’re a reporter looking for change, this just might be your sign. Also, if any legislation comes up regarding that position, as it had in the past, I urge every reporter to support it, because you are supporting the stability and sustainability of your field. Thank you, Eric Allen, for bringing this job post to everyone’s attention.

For the first time in a while, there do not seem to be any grand jury reporter jobs open in New York City. I’m actually happy to say that because it shows that we can absolutely fill vacancies. We can beat the reporter shortage. Please, take my advice seriously when I say if you want a grand jury job with New York City, check the district attorney sites of every borough every single month, including the SNP, and check DCAS. It is very easy to miss these postings. If you need the links, they’re under the grand jury section of Get A Real Job.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still up. This should surprise no one. We need stenographic court reporters. If you’re waiting for the civil service exam to come out so that you can get a permanent position, make sure you’re checking the exams page every month. You don’t want to miss out on a test that, by law, can only be held every 1 to 4 years. If you’re interested but want more information, why not reach out to Michael DeVito? His contact information is at the bottom of the posting, and it just might help you make your decision.

For the reporters out there looking for a spot in the federal judiciary, there’s plenty for you. We are looking at open spots in New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Illinois, Arkansas, and California. The federal judiciary jobs page remains a great resource for finding these job postings, and every reporter out there should take the time share it and familiarize themselves with it.

For those looking for a little more, NCRA’s got a jobs page too. As of today there are 87 results to flip through. Alternatively, if you’re looking to put down the machine for a little while but stay employed “in the field,” you could apply to become an NCRA Content Specialist. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with NCRA staff before, and it’s always been really positive. I can only hope whoever fills that spot is just as positive, dedicated, and wonderful as the rest of the team. I have a lot of faith in Dave Wenhold and the current Board of Directors. There’s good leadership. There’s good staff. There are good committee volunteers. There are great general members. There’s a real chance for stenographic reporting to prove its adaptability, superiority, and technological advancement despite all the world has gone through in the last six months. Humans have known for a long, long time that when there’s a chance of something happening, it can happen. There’s even a latin phrase for it, a posse ad esse, which translates roughly to “from possibility to actuality.” So let’s take that chance, hold onto it, and make sure that our markets know stenographic reporting is here and ready to do the job.

StenoKey, Stenographic Education Innovation?

On June 19, I had the privilege of getting to talk with Katiana Walton from StenoKey. I’ve mentioned her program from time to time right alongside things like NCRA’s A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno as major positives for this field, but I never had a good grasp of what StenoKey was about. The discussion we had changed all that, and now I get to give readers a synopsis of all the good StenoKey is looking to do for our field and our students.

StenoKey is looking to have a science-based approach to learning. There are many reasons students struggle in stenographic programs, and the way they learn might just be one of them. As it was explained to me, Ms. Walton could’ve opened a traditional school in Florida right now, but because she’s looking to innovate, she must prove to the State of Florida that her method works in order to have a school. That’s where this pilot program comes in.

Centered on Magnum theory, StenoKey utilizes Realtime Coach to grade students instantly. Instead of a traditional model where students learn theory and then move into speed, StenoKey seeks to introduce speed right from the beginning. Students are expected to reach introductory levels of speed in each chapter, as high as 60 to 120 words per minute, before moving on to the next chapter. Briefs relevant to each chapter are also incorporated so that students have an early understanding of the concept of briefing.

Through practice logs, Ms. Walton is able to gauge each student’s level of engagement. This way, students that practice often but have difficulty progressing can receive relevant advice on what to practice to. Students that are not practicing can see in writing that they’re not practicing enough to make meaningful progress. In addition, students have designated times to call in, ask questions about things they’ve encountered during a lesson or take, and receive guidance or support. In the words of Ms. Walton, it “helps build community.”

Similar to our brick-and-mortar institutions, StenoKey seeks to get students to stop looking at the stenotype keys. As early as week two, students are encouraged to stop looking down. The program, by design, acknowledges that five-minute takes may be harder for people who are just starting out. Each chapter has a syllabic 120 WPM test. At chapters 11 to 20, that test is a 2 minute, 140 WPM test. By chapter 41, students are expected to be taking five-minute takes at up to 180 WPM.

The overall goal is not just to reach a working speed of 225, but to have students working towards RMR-like speeds of up to 240 to 260 WPM. Numbers, long the bane of learning reporters, are baked into the program from chapter 12 onward. As it is not yet a school, the program does not offer “academics,” but it does offer one grammar rule every chapter to keep students’ transcription sharp. In addition, it gets into the finer points of realtime writing by explaining conflicts. Magnum theory is conflict free, but the lessons go further by teaching learners about “inconsequential conflicts,” or conflicts that can be spotted and corrected easily during editing on a regular deposition or job.

Asked about superstars in the program, one learner was said to have made it through chapter 12 in six hours. Ms. Walton’s nieces, 12 and 14, also attend the program, and have completed 9 chapters. Part of the success of the program seems attributable to in-depth error analysis. Students are encouraged to identify and analyze their mistakes, either in how they practice or how they write, and fix it. Students are also encouraged to read each other’s notes because sometimes students have an easier time pointing out and learning from others’ mistakes than their own. Asked about the biggest challenge of running such a program, Ms. Walton admitted that not every individual commits to the program. Some just don’t put forward as much effort as they expressed they would during their introduction interview.

StenoKey is looking at helping people with all different learning styles. For visual learners, each chapter has two videos,  a professional video and a “Katiana Teaches” video. The videos work together to give students an in-depth understanding of each chapter. Student feedback from each chapter also goes into tweaking the program to be more successful. Not just for students, StenoKey also has had two working reporters join the program in order to improve their realtime writing. In that sense, StenoKey can also be viewed as a Realtime Development Program. “Magnum Steno is not hard to understand. It’s very systematic” says Walton. She explained that writers do not have to change their whole theory to adopt some Magnum and shorten their writing. “Look for what is holding you back in your writing. There are realtime reporters in every theory out there, and with the right mindset, you can be better.”

One might look at such an idea and wonder if there’s a way to get involved. To that end, Ms. Walton says she’s looking into the possibility of bringing on assistants for administering StenoKey and getting more people engaged with it. She may also be seeking a programmer to develop readback tools or materials.

At that point, Katiana had to go and counsel her program’s attendees. Before we hung up, I was able to get that the pilot program is currently $200 a month and always online. Currently, she’s looking at the possibility of having a longer, more valuable subscription model, and weighing options out. Overall, I think that the idea of fully integrating speed and theory is a valuable one. If students are able to hit working speeds faster than in the past, our shortage becomes a bad memory for the next three decades and beyond. I would urge associations and schools to keep an eye on developments here. If the results start coming in that this is a better method, it may be worth putting some money down on the expansion or adoption of this type of educational innovation. From a distance, I’ve read a little about Walton’s Lady Steno Speed Clinic. I’ve seen the testimonials. I know her heart’s in the right place when it comes to this field. I hope we’ll see similar success and glowing reviews for StenoKey!

Expedite Legal, Enhancing Coverage Nationwide?

Everyone is moving faster than ever into new solutions to problems. Adaptation of technology has spiked like never before. There are many hyped technologies out there that promise the world and don’t deliver. Then there are real companies with a tangible product. After taking the time out to review Expedite’s public-facing materials and after having a brief exchange with Expedite’s CEO, Eve Barrett, I am convinced that Expedite is among the companies out there that has a real product. In this case, it’s also a unique product.

We can think of Expedite as the Uber for legal service professionals. It’s helping link providers, namely court reporters and interpreters, with customers, namely courts, lawyers, agencies. I learned that the product is set up to be flexible. People can register as both a customer and a provider. This means that traditional reporting agencies can make use of Expedite to get coverage or get work. This means that independent court reporters can use it the exact same way.

A post I came across on Expedite’s blog, the Docket, sums business up well. Be willing to stick your neck out a little bit. In my view, there is great importance attached to being a skeptic, but we cannot allow our skepticism to hamper our willingness to try new things. I had touched briefly on Expedite’s model in my shortage solutions series. There was some honest skepticism there. But in normal times, we were experiencing a shortage of reporters partially as a result of the disjointed state of the market. There is no central marketplace to just log in and find a reporter. It’s not like the stock market where you can get immediate data on every business out there. There are a lot of tools out there for finding reporters or finding work. Why not add Expedite to your arsenal?

In my exchange with Ms. Barrett, she pointed me right to the Provider FAQ, blog, and vlog. I saw there’s a provider referral program. If a provider refers a provider and both get verified, there’s a bonus. I asked about whether the same was available for providers that refer customers to the program. It was confirmed that anyone can refer anyone, and the bonus shows up in the next job taken with Expedite. This is a smart way to get people using a nationwide app, and I think a robust referral program is a smart move.

The website and app are both available for customers. The app is available on Apple Store and Google Play. The overall message is one of courage and commitment to us. We’ve all been to the recent educational webinars. Presenters have talked about letting go of fear, adapting, making changes to enhance our businesses. I think Expedite is a major enhancement to many reporting businesses.  I asked pretty bluntly if there’s anything she’d tell reporters in the industry, or even people outside the industry. I’ll end with part of the response I got, as it says all it needs to say about the power of the individual. “My goal with Expedite was to help save the profession by alleviating the critical shortage. I also wanted to create a new business model for court reporters whereby they could work more efficiently, keep a higher percentage, receive payment faster, and market their services on a free platform. I’m just one reporter trying to solve the problems that have plagued our industry for decades.”

Check Out 225 and Beyond (Beware of Busywork)

A few days ago I came across something in the Facebook feed of Realtime Rich. It was an upcoming newsletter by a new professional among us, Euan Williams. Aptly named 225 and Beyond,  it came with a bold statement. There’s a lack of quality written content out there for court reporting. Williams wants to change that. I joked, I said I object, and I signed up. As promised, the newsletter came in my e-mail today. It’s definitely worth the read.

Without stealing any thunder, it describes busywork. It describes how, in our quest to optimize our quest, we can fail to start our journey. It is something every professional and student should get familiar with, and you can read it right here. Logging your practice is also discussed, which I support.

I anticipate this becoming something I’ll blog about often. Great job, Euan. Keep up the great work!

How Organizations & Associations Work

Our lives are built on perception. The perception that someone must do more, or that someone does too much, or that someone is doing something wrongly or rightly can be very powerful. Perceptions can change outcomes. We see it in social movements. We see it in the Pygmalion effect. Think of the power of your own opinion. If you do not like a store, you do not shop there, and that store effectively loses the money it would have made off of you. Some voice that opinion, some vote silently with their wallet, and others buy away. All of these contribute to the reality of that store’s situation. While you read, continue to keep in mind the power of your opinion.

When I was younger, I viewed associations, unions, and groups of people, collectives, as inherently powerful. In that perception, I also expected them to be wise and knowing. “They should be able to fix this. They should be able to fix that. They should know what to do.” Perhaps others believe as I once did, that the association and members work together to create things. Perhaps some believe the members support a group and therefore the group should be able to do everything by itself. There is probably not a simple graphic to perfectly illustrate how everything works. Again, though, there is one overarching truth, the power of your opinion.

Think of something in your life that you wanted and you now have. Did it magically appear in your lap? It’s likely that there were steps you had to take to get what you wanted. It’s likely that there were “vehicles” you drove to get there. Maybe the “vehicle” to something you bought with money was a good job. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to a good relationship was a dating service, or a night at a bar, or walking down the street in a squid hat. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to being a successful person was forming good habits, strengthening weaknesses, or playing off strengths. In the context of this discussion, associations, unions, and organizations are all vehicles to get where we want to go.

One jab that large organizations and corporations get is their usually slower reaction. This has to do with organizational structure. When a group is formed with one decision maker or very few decision makers, that group can respond to things at the will of that sole decision maker. A great example is this blog. Not a single person needs to be consulted before something is posted. However, in order to ensure that budgets are spent wisely, many organizations are built up from a board structure. The nonprofit “sector” runs heavily off of volunteer boards. A board of directors is typically a group of people that oversee the management of the entity. Think of them as the manager’s boss. In the case of our stenographic associations, these tend to be professionals from our stenographic community. Larger associations can afford to pay a management team under the board’s direction to deal with legal obligations, filings, and member questions. Even in larger organizations, the team may be very large, with an executive director and many people under him or her, or it may be a very small one-warrior management team. Smaller organizations may have a board that has to devote their own time to doing these things and act as both board and management. Ultimately, think of a board of directors as a group of people coming together to vote on the best way to direct an organization and its funding.

How do you fit in? Maybe you’re not a board member. Maybe you have no desire to be a board member. Maybe you’re “just” a member. You don’t control management, so where does a guy like me come off telling you your opinion has power?  In the association and union structure of an organization, the members give the board and management power and resources to act. Very often there is a constitution and/or bylaws that dictate how someone can run for a board position, how someone can propose an amendment to the constitution and bylaws, or how someone can participate with management and the board as a volunteer. Any member can contribute a great deal to the organization as a whole. If members dislike the way something is being run in an association structure, they have the power to replace the board by running against them. If members do not feel the mission of an organization is being accurately carried out by management, they have the power to submit changes. Association management generally has a duty to follow the law of their country and the bylaws of an organization. This all amounts to a great deal of power being given to members of large organizations. The importance of the association structure is in its ability to be “owned” by the members. Again, for example, let’s say that you log onto the Stenonymous Facebook group and you want to post an article about birds. Let’s say I say “I would prefer not to have posts like this on my group.” There’s no mechanism for you to take over and make it okay to post about birds. In an association structure, if the members want posts about birds, there’s a mechanism to override management and post about birds.

How can one enhance their pull as a member? In many organizational structures, there are groups of volunteer members dedicated to a task handed down by the board and/or management. These are often called committees and/or subcommittees. Committees do not have a direct vote in what the association does or what the board decides, but they are charged with giving input and/or creating things that can be used by the association for its mission. Committee work also helps teach members to work together constructively in a team so that if they ever do decide to run for board membership, they are used to working cohesively with others that may have very different opinions on the “right thing to do.”

Now we get down to the greatest power members have. We are the boots on the ground. We see what is occurring in our workplaces, out in the streets, and on our social media. I’ve been a proud union member of two different unions in the last 5 years. Occasionally, when I hear or see something strange, I’ll let a union person know, or I’ll ask a union person a question. Why? It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s not about being more friendly with my union leader. It’s not about being a busybody or a know-it-all. It’s not about scoring points at the workplace. It’s about realizing that these management and director teams are human beings. They are not omnipotent giant floating brains.  Often, they have not heard about what we are sharing with them, or they have not thought about it in the way we have presented. Imagine you are now John or Jane Doe, CEO of Your Corporation. Your boots on the ground are your employees and your customers. If someone’s lying about your company behind your back, do you expect your boots on the ground to mention it to you? We are a community. Like any community, we each have great power in protecting and growing the community.

Over the last decade, I have seen something startling in the way that we view our leaders, and sometimes how our leaders view us. For a time, I know people in power were dismissive.  I have friends and colleagues whose concerns and opinions fell on deaf ears, whether that was management or board members. Those friends and colleagues voted with their wallet and they backed away from the association structure. Those deaf ears are long gone or have gone on to support associations that work against our community’s best interest, and yet still there is a pervasive attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” There is a disowning of the community’s triumphs when they come from people who aren’t in our tribe. There is a strong push towards factionalism. This divides our house. This forces us to spend time and energy fighting each other. With the inherent power of members of a community described, and the reasons for an association structure described, it’s my hope that we’ll spend less time beating up on our allies and their organizational structures. There has been a great push to platform each other in recent months. This pandemic showed us that unity is achievable. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t get it; if there’s someone that has no clue how powerful they are or why certain things operate the way they do, it’s up to us all to let them know, and in that order. You got this, now go get it.

May Machinations 2020 (Jobs Post)

Plot your course into the future with some of these May 2020 job openings. Of course, this is all with the caveat that things are still closed and that hiring probably won’t happen immediately. That said, this is a good look at the demand for the stenographic reporter in New York and nationwide.

NCRA’s got 93 listings up as of writing. Some of these same listings can be found via the federal judiciary job page and the USCRA job page.  Here in New York, our Southern District and Eastern District Courts both have jobs posted.

DANY’s got a grand jury stenographer job going on in New York County.  Remember, if you’re looking for grand jury work in New York City, check in with the HR people at each of the five district attorneys and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. It might seem like a lot of work, but you might get tipped off to a job before somebody who waits for it to get posted. The DCAS Reporter/Stenographer Exam has not yet been rescheduled. The New York State Unified Court System maintains its statewide posting for court reporters, but it’s my understanding that there is no hiring going on right now.

Assuming all goes well in terms of the state’s reopening, now is the time to be planning, filling applications, or looking up information about certifications available if the job of your dreams requires a test or certification. If you’ve already got your dream job, be a mentor, do what you can to point others in the right direction. For example, one thing a lot of people come to me and ask about is what the heck to study for the Written Knowledge Test of the RPR. They can’t afford the study guide or they want to self-study.  We can’t give them the answers on the test, but we can point at the RPR Job Analysis, and how that breaks down what you should learn about before you walk into the exam room. If it gets somebody one percent higher, and that one percent passes them, it’s worth it. Finally, as a habitual procrastinator, I can tell everyone interested, don’t wait. I waited to apply for a job opportunity ten years ago. Thanks to my “smart decisions,”  I waited four years for another opportunity at that same job.  It’s not always who you know. Sometimes it’s who you are. If you’re the type of person that waits, that’s okay, but you also have got to acknowledge that that can hold you back. You’ve got to make a personal decision whether you want that to hold you back. Everybody reading this has agency. Everyone has some control over their destiny. Embrace that and make yourself shine.

Stenopalooza was POWerful

It’s going to be old news to all who were able to attend, but yesterday’s Stenopalooza was great. I can only speak to the courses I was able to attend, but I noticed something very special about all of the presentations. All of them blended together with nice and overarching or connected themes of releasing fear, making smart and data-driven decisions, adapting, and learning new skills. The videos of these are going to be available to people that registered, as far as I understand, and it’s impossible to touch on every topic we hit during the 8 hours of coursework, but maybe putting this out there will encourage people who didn’t register this time around to give the next webinar or CEU session a try. At the very least, take a glance at the topics and see if they’re relevant to you.

The day started off with Max Curry, NCRA’s president. He talked about letting go of fear and making smart choices. He discussed introversion, his push to overcome introversion for his professional life and career, and how that positively impacted his life. This hits home for a lot of us. There are a lot of introverts in this field. We don’t like public speaking. We don’t like marketing. We just want to do our jobs and go home. Through Max’s story, we can understand that letting go of fear and pushing past those limitations can broaden our skill base and make us better workers and leaders.  Next, I attended President-Elect Christine Phipps’s “Turning Coronavirus From Pandemic to Opportunity and Marketing Through Adversity.” Almost seamlessly, this presentation built on a theme of making smart choices. The central theme was seeing this as a time to pivot and become the person and resource your clients go to for information and service.

Then we got to the NCRA Strong POW session. I’ve been a volunteer with NCRA’s Strong committee for months now. The work that they put in prior to my joining was extraordinary. Sue Terry, immediate past president of the NCRA, introduced the Strong committee and talked a little about the work we’ve been doing. She encouraged members to research and ask questions about some of the terms and things they’d be hearing during the session. I got to have a conversation with audio forensic expert Edward Primeau. We got to briefly touch on some very important topics, like how having an objective person in the room  helps add integrity to the process of making a record, and how valuable his services are in authenticating audio. At the end of my presentation, I asked whether members would have the courage to ask questions they needed the answers to, and the stage was set for stellar presentations from Cathy Penniston & Alan Peacock, who dove into how people could educate themselves on advocacy materials and products that are found all throughout NCRA’s site, including the Strong resource library. Kristin Anderson & Rich Germosen talked about advocacy efforts they’ve made in official and freelance positions, and gave examples of grassroots advocacy. They made clear and reinforced Cathy & Alan’s theme that everyone can step up and be an advocate. Rich said something that resonated with me on a personal level, “I’m not much of a talker,” when it comes to clients. That reinforces one thing. It doesn’t matter where your strengths are, anyone can make a huge difference. There was a STRONG finish by Strong Chair Phyllis Craver-Lykken, Elizabeth Harvey, and Dineen Squillante. They discussed finding an audience, making connections, and again, gave real-world examples for attendees. We put together a social discussion group on Facebook, Steno Strong, for people to hop online and talk to us. Just do us a big favor and answer the admission questions. It’s just a way of determining who really wants to be in the group and who got caught in a mass invite.

We moved into State of the Industry by NCRA Executive Director Dave Wenhold, Max Curry, and Christine Phipps. Common themes were diversification of work and being able to pivot business and plan for times of stress. The Paycheck Protection Program was discussed alongside the fact that some associations, including our NCRA, have contracts for conventions that require them to attempt to go forward in good faith despite the current COVID-19 outbreak. Dave made it very clear that members should stay tuned for more news about the 2020 convention.  Next up, Alan Peacock & Heidi Thomas jumped in with a fantastic CART / Captioning Intro for the Court Reporter presentation. They discussed mainly broadcast captioning, the need to get the correct words and meaning out to the end user, the people who need the access captioners are providing, and even provided attendees with a list of offensive words that captioners do not want coming out on the screen by accident! I do a good amount of mentoring, and from time to time, my mentees seek information on captioning. All I can say to “old” and “new” reporters is you want to get on webinars like the ones that Heidi & Alan put together, because it’s going to help you, or it’s going to help you help somebody else.

The rest of the afternoon and evening kept up the energy. There was a presentation by NCRA Board Member and past NYSCRA president Meredith Bonn on the Power of the Positive Attitude. Meredith talked a little about how our frame of mind can change outcomes, increase productivity, and proceeded to give attendees a whole host of ways to get themselves thinking positively. Everyone in attendance got suggestions on music, videos, and activities to keep themselves positive and motivated. Motivated by Meredith’s presentation, coursetakers then got to join Lights, Camera, Zoom with Debbie Dibble, Lynette Mueller, and Sue Terry. People got to learn about optimizing their internet connection, fine-tuning their settings for streaming and remote work, and captioning without an encoder. Denise Hinxman and Kelly Linkowski finished our day with Captioning Facebook Live. They talked about bringing our services online to people who may not traditionally use it, like churches or Facebook users. They dove into using OBS Open Broadcast Software to help stream and connect people to captioning and access.

At that point, my computer decided to take itself offline, so I completely missed the Stenopalooza remote social. Maybe it’s best we don’t write about what happens at stenographer socials.

I could never do justice to the hours of work and dedication of every presenter. I’ve given a short summary here just to get people thinking about the next time they have a chance to sign up for continuing education workshops or see a class they’re on the fence about taking. I would say go for it. This was a huge confidence booster for me as member, seeing how NCRA staff put together this session, connecting volunteer and presenters with members and nonmembers that signed up for the betterment of our whole profession. The one recurring theme is that our future is largely in our hands, and by remaining positive, educating ourselves, and educating the public, we all have powers to be agents of change and pillars of community. This event truly brought out the grassroots nature of advocacy as a whole and association volunteers. The more I learn about association structure and nonprofit entity organization, the more I realize just how tricky the whole thing is, and just how talented the people who get involved in nonprofits or advocacy efforts are. I have to say I’m grateful to reporters who are able to open their schedules for advocacy and their wallets for contributions. It’s no easy task, especially at a time when many are hurting financially. Thanks to all of you for encouraging so many reporters to jump in and contribute however they can. Coming off the Stenopalooza high, I know we all can make a difference.

Pricing Pages In A Market of Fear

We’ve had fairly extensive discussion in the past about page rates and pricing. We have basic math tables showing a rough guesstimate of the amount of work that goes into making your “goal salary.” We have had posts on supply and demand when demand was high. We’ve talked about attempting to price in risk. We’ve also had heavy discussions on the economic principle of inflation, and that, succinctly, rates must go up periodically to keep any job or field healthy. All of these things kind of coalesce into my opinions on our field’s prognosis. With the coronavirus outbreak, the field has seen a sharp drop in demand. Depositions just aren’t going through for so many of our colleagues across the nation. There are many of us scared to death about keeping business afloat, and so it seems a good time to talk about the flip side of supply & demand.

Right now many states are in lockdown status. People aren’t supposed to be going out, and even those who are, essential employees, are at serious risk. The demand for depositions isn’t there.  This may have the impact of causing prices to dip. Gas prices are going down in some areas. Restaurants are offering specials. Some essential employees, generally underpaid for the valuable work that they do, are receiving raises to ensure they turn up to work. In their case, their essential labor is in high demand. We are not immune to the supply and demand principle. Many of us will feel the pressure to offer discounts, offer specials, basically offer to do the same work for fewer dollars. People need to eat. People need to feed their families. There’s really no shame in partaking in whatever tactic we need to partake in to get our clients to buy into taking deps over Live Litigation, Zoom, or whatever our preferred platform. Even before the outbreak, it was not uncommon to hear of “first dep free,” or “X off of Y deps,” type of deals. It’s a business starter and foot in the door for entrepreneurs and companies hungry for work.

The important thing is to try to be forward thinking. Check local courts. For example, here in New York, Lawrence Marks encouraged parties to postpone proceedings for not more than 90 days from 3/20/20. What does that tell our New Yorkers? If we’re going to do a special or contract, it probably shouldn’t lock us in for more than 90 days because demand can be reasonably anticipated to rise around that time. We have to remain on top of the market and keep an eye on civil court news to try to feel out when demand will spike back up again.  At that point, when the calls are coming in again, it’s appropriate for our rates to go back to what they were pre-outbreak. Many of us are introverts or individuals with no special business training. It is very easy to convince a group like that that they are low value, replaceable, and so on. That’s not true. And in fact, many of us need help with confidence, communication, and leadership to help us in our business pursuits. That’s why we have vendors out there like TALLsmall, Katen Consulting, and Outfluence.  There’s never a good time to stop relaying just how valuable we actually are.

It is true that this is an emotionally stressful time. Just like with stock trading, we will feel pressure to make decisions that may not benefit us in the long run. It’s okay to be emotional. This is a scary and unprecedented moment in history. But when it comes to our livelihoods, it’s worth distancing ourselves from those emotions, sitting down with the latest press release from the local court, and trying to determine about when we can expect things to bounce back in a state so that we can make arrangements with creditors, clients, utility companies; keep the bills paid, and our credit intact. People are hurting. This is a time for spreading solutions and ideas without shame and without shaming. From big picture economic articles like this one, to smaller nuanced technical solutions, everybody has something to bring to this table of survivors and steno stars.