Collective Power of Stenographers

One piece of feedback I get back from time to time is “we can’t stand up to XYZ Corporation. They make 100 million in revenue!” I deeply empathize with this reaction because I’ve felt that before. Back in freelance, that feeling was constant. How could I negotiate with a company that was only offering $3.25? They were a big company with lots of work. I was basically a kid just out of college with my extremely shiny AOS. I didn’t even have a squid hat yet.

With this thing on, I became unstoppable.

But about 3 years ago I started to teach myself very basic computer programming. I began to learn a little bit more about numbers and math. I had always hated math, and the whole experience completely changed that perception. I started to like math. One the first programs I ever wrote was a simple counter program similar to this one:

This program loops for as long as steno is awesome, and steno never stops being awesome.

In this code, you start with the number 0 and it adds one forever until the computer malfunctions or the program is shut down. What you see happen very quickly is that when you’re adding one several times a second, one quickly becomes 10, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000.

What the hell does that have to do with stenographers? We are the ones that add up in this program called life. For example, let’s say we have XYZ Corporation and it makes $100 million a year in revenue. Now let’s say there are 23,000 reporters, like vTestify said almost three years ago, and let’s assume that reporters ONLY make a median salary of about $60,000 a year. Those reporters make $1.3 billion in revenue annually. You take two percent of that a year and throw it in advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.

5 percent? I said 2 percent. Someone should fix this immediately.

So now to bring this out of theory and into reality, you can see it happening in real life. There’s no group of people that’s going to have a 100 percent contribution rate. But when you look at the numbers, you start to see that overall we put far better funding into our organizations and activities than alternative methods or spinoffs. Take, for example, AAERT, which pulled in about $200,000 in 2018 revenue. For those that don’t know AAERT, they’re primarily engaged with supporting the record-and-transcribe method of capturing the spoken word. As I’ve covered in past blog posts and industry media, it’s an inefficient and undesirable method (page 5), and most digital reporters would do a lot better if they picked up steno.

Published by ProPublica

Then we can look towards the National Verbatim Reporters Association, which seems to focus more on voice writing, but definitely includes and accepts stenographic reporters. We see the 2017 revenue here come in at almost $250,000. Not bad at all.

As far as I’m concerned, every dollar is deserved. I’ve never heard a bad word from an NVRA member.

But then we look to our National Court Reporters Association, which is primarily engaged in promoting stenography and increasing the skill of stenographic court reporters. This is where we see the collective power of reporters start to add up in a big way. In 2018, the NCRA saw more than $5.7 million in revenue. The NCRF brought in an additional $368,000. That’s over $6 million down on steno that year.

I think I can see my membership dues somewhere in there.
When I pay off my massive personal debt, I’m going to become an NCRF Angel / Squid.

What conclusions can be drawn here? As much as the anti-steno crowd wants to say the profession’s dead, dying, or defunct, there’s just no evidence to support that. Here you get to see some fraction of every field contributing to nonprofits dedicated to education, training, and educating the public. We know from publicly-available information that our membership dues are not 30x more than these other organizations, so we know that there are a lot more of us, and we know that there are a lot more of us participating in continuing education and sharpening our skills. We’re the preferred method. We’re the superior method. We’re training harder every day to meet the needs of consumers. There are only a few ways this goes badly for stenography.

  1. We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
  2. We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
  3. We spend time tearing each other down instead of boosting each other’s stuff.

See the common theme? There’s really nothing external that’s going to hurt this field. It all comes down to our ability to adapt, organize, and play nice with each other. In the past, I equated it with medieval warfare and fiction. The easiest way to win any adversarial situation is to get the other side to give up and go home. It’s an old idea straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Applied to business, if you can convince people not to compete against you, you win by default. This might be in the form of a buyout. This might be in the form of convincing people that stenography is not a viable field so that there are not enough stenographers to meet demand. This might be in the form of would-be entrepreneurs believing they cannot compete and never starting a business. This might be in the form of convincing consumers that stenographic reporters are not available. This might be in the form of casting doubt on stenographic associations. This might be in the form of buying a steno training program and ostensibly scrubbing it out of existence. These are all actions to avoid competition, because as the numbers just showed you, we only lose if we do not compete. If you do nothing else for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, please take the time to promote at least one positive thing about steno. If a guy in a squid hat could get you to think differently about just one topic today, what kind of potential do you have to make a difference in this world?

I’ll launch us off with an older quote from Marc Russo. “If you are a self-motivated person with a burning desire to improve your skills, this is the field.” This is our field. This is our skill. All we have left to do is stand up to the people that take advantage of our stellar customer service mentality and the public perception that we’re potted plants.

Can a potted plant do this?

PS. That $3.25 I was having trouble negotiating up from? Some of my friends were making $4.00+ with less experience than me. The limitation was me and the way that I was thinking about it. We have all had to deal with hurdles that seemed insurmountable. Max Curry talked a little bit about it in his NCRA Stenopalooza presentation “Fear…Let It Go!” when he talked about his father and introversion. It was an amazing presentation. But here’s my takeaway for those that missed it last year. If you’re having a problem, try looking at it another way.

For The Record Documentary Goes Free

Years ago I attended the New York screening of the For The Record documentary. Didn’t really know who Marc Greenberg was (I think we’d exchanged e-mails exactly once). Didn’t really know about Simply Steno. StenoFest hadn’t happened yet. Well, Marc Greenberg is a phenomenal creator and educator for our field. He’s made more content, websites, and listings than I ever will. He’s a solid support for our students. I purchased the documentary on Vimeo and I believe it’s still available for purchase there. But Marc’s come up with something big that I think nails Court Reporting & Captioning Week’s theme, “all you need is steno & love.” He’s released For The Record free on Stenotube. Tell us how you really, feel, Marc.

It takes a lot of courage and commitment to take such a work of art and effort and offer it for free. Show the love back with some likes and shares. If you’re a new reporter or never got the chance to see the documentary, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. In the screening version, it dove into topics like vicarious trauma and the captioning of 9/11. For me, as a young reporter, these were new and foreign concepts. Want to see your “tiny” profession on the big screen? Enough from me; go check it out!

StenoFest 2019

Marc Greenberg’s been a real ally for the stenographic community. He runs Simply Steno, created the For the Record documentary, and most recently came out with StenoFest 2019, a virtual conference and webinar hub that let us start court reporting and captioning week off with a bang. I’ll be the first to admit, I dropped the ball and didn’t advertise it on here, and didn’t contribute to its success this weekend, February 9 and February 10.

They had tons of speakers and influences from all over the stenographic community. I couldn’t be present for some of my favorite steno personalities like Dom Tutsi or Mirabai Knight, but my understanding is I’ll be entitled to watch those on demand soon.

I did get to catch Mark Kislingbury talk on Sunday about shortening writing. I very rarely correlate a person’s success to their ability to help others succeed, but Mark had a very interesting theory and mathematical concept I think everyone should learn and know. Take your strokes per minute, divide that by 60 to get your strokes per second. He basically posited that writers will fall somewhere between three strokes a second and five strokes a second. He then said look at your strokes per 100 words. If you take multiple strokes for every word, it makes it much harder to reach high speeds even if you have very high finger speed. If you are phrasing and briefing, and you are getting many words into a single stroke, then you can achieve very high speeds even if your strokes per second are low. I support all writers, whether we are writing it out or briefing, but it is definitely worth taking the time to consider the math. If you are writing 3 strokes a second and every stroke is a word, that’s 180 words per minute. If every two strokes is a word, you’re down to 90 words a minute. It makes that much of a difference.

Bottom line: StenoFest was great. On Sunday, I saw over 300 people logged in from all over the world, including Australia. I think there was a lot to take away from it and if you have any interest in any of the seminars that occurred throughout the day, I advise you to look into getting it on demand. Everything from the pain of vicarious trauma to the future of court reporting was discussed, and it can all be relevant to how you live and work as a stenographer. Thank you, Marc, for StenoFest. I know you will inspire more webinars, more sharing, and a larger community.