Proof STTI is a Propaganda Machine

I got to review this infographic put out by the Speech-to-Text Institute. I had seen it around before, but never had time to study it.

Assuming their numbers are accurate — though I don’t know why we would considering STTI is a digital reporting marketing front — we can already see some issues. From my analysis of available statistics, we have about 28,000 court reporters in 2021. This is just a bit upward from the NCRA estimate of 27,000. STTI claims that in 2018, we had 27,700 reporters, and this is a number taken straight from the Ducker Report.

Why is this a problem? STTI fails to account for ANY increase in recruitment since Ducker. We know that NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno all grew considerably after the 2013 industry forecast. There are other programs like Steno Key that grew considerably in that time. To assume they had no impact tells us all we need to know about STTI’s mission. They do not care about accuracy, they care about telling a story.

STTI also claims we’ll have 23,000 reporters by 2023. The idea that 20% of the field is retiring in the next year and two months is crazy. Just to bring us back to what Ducker actually told us, it told us about 70% of the field would retire over the next 20 years — between 2013 and 2033.

So if we assume that that 70% is retiring evenly over the 20 years, that’s about 3.5% a year. If we assume absolutely no one retired 2013 to 2018 and then suddenly there was a cliff of retirement that would constitute 70% of our field, that would be an average of 4.67% a year. Again, assuming that in any given year 20% of our field is retiring is either stupidity so overwhelming it looks like fraud or fraud so confident it doesn’t care how stupid it looks.

And it is stupid. What if we take the numbers as they are? Digital recruitment is not going well. Between the poor treatment of digital court reporters and our industry’s efforts to let digital court reporters know they’re being played, I suspect the recruitment will only get worse. So what if we had really had a gap of 5,500 reporters in 2018? Well, 5,500 required + 27,700 existing = 32.200 total need. So 5,500/32,200 = about 16.6%. 2018 to 2023, over 16% of depositions or proceedings would have went uncovered, with a growing number of uncovered depositions each year. Those of you that own businesses, are 16% of your depositions going uncovered? Less? That means we are doing better than forecasted. More? That means we are doing worse than forecasted.

Like I always do, I asked Lisa Migliore from Migliore & Associates to weigh in, this time on her uncovered jobs. What did she say?

“I have yet to have a job go uncovered by a stenographic reporter. Sure, there are a handful of days a year where it can be a challenge on a particularly busy day/time to find coverage, but that’s the exception, not the rule. But I have a good relationship with many firms and reporters and don’t engage in practices that make accepting work from my firm unattractive, or worse, ILLEGAL. It’s no surprise to me that firms that are known to contract with parties in interest, are known to dictate low rates to reporters, and are known to engage in unethical practices have a smaller pool of talent from which to draw. I won’t work for these firms, and I imagine there are many others like me that don’t want to take a long, hot shower to scrub the stink off of themselves at the end of a workday either. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the largest firms have become the largest firms by taking unethical and illegal shortcuts to their success, that they value the dollar more than integrity and impartiality in their dealings.”

To be entirely fair, according to Ducker, Kentucky was one of the states with a surplus of stenographers. It’s not surprising that Migliore & Associates is doing well. So I asked a couple of New York firm owners, and they said their percentage of uncovered jobs is under 5%. One firm said only one job has gone uncovered in 30 years. But our shortage in California is forecasted to be worse than the rest of the country, so it seems fair to ask Californian business owners. Out of the people that responded, nobody gave an estimate close to 16% of jobs uncovered, which means to drag the average up to where it’s supposed to be, “big box” companies would have to be letting go of way more than 16% of their jobs. If that’s happening, I think it’s safe to say the problem is the mismanagement of those companies and not our shortage.

Sorry to say, we’ve been duped. These jackals have been telling us the math is stark and irrefutable, and we’ve been eating it up, but the only thing the math actually shows is that our stenographer shortage can and will be defeated if we continue to recruit. The math shows us that we’re the best value workers in the country, because we haven’t asked for a raise in 30 years. The math shows us that if we successfully communicate the fact that attorneys are being defrauded, we do have the numbers to turn this around and build a field far larger than the one we have today. Will we do it? I think so. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Magician’s tricks only work for as long as they go unexplained. And now that everyone has a quick reference guide for the number games going on here, let’s see what happens.

Facebook Boosting 101

If you’re looking to promote your steno nonprofit or your primary steno business, the numbers don’t lie, marketing is going to bring more eyes to what you’re selling. That’s a common-sense statement, but let’s drive it home. This blog, on average, will get about 500 to 1000 unique visitors a month and about double the views or clicks. That’s just me writing what I write and sharing it on Facebook. In honor of CRCW 2021, I ended up posting a lot this month. I published over a dozen articles, and the “average” did not change much. Now we’ll compare that to December 2020, where I wrote three posts and advertised two on Facebook.

I wrote my heart out and it’s not even close.

About 700 visitors, 14 posts, that’s about 50 visitors a post. That’s compared to nearly 3,000 visitors, three posts, a thousand visitors a post. About $200 gave me 20x the reach.

Yay for me. Why am I writing this? To help you. On Facebook today there are groups and pages. Groups serve, more or less, as discussion boards. Pages are more like ad space. They’re promotional and you generally control the content on there. You can have a page and a group, and you can have a page act as an admin to a group. There’s one major difference between the two. As best I can tell, groups cannot advertise. Pages, on the other hand, have the power to boost posts. So if you’re looking to market, get yourself a page.

What kind of monster doesn’t even like his own page?

When you create a post on your page, you have the option to boost a post. Check the boost post option before you make your post to get to the “boost” controls.

Nobody liked that.

After you click post, you’ll get transported to the magic world of the boost page. That’s going to look like the image below, hopefully, and it’s going to give you options to put in your budget, and more importantly, edit your audience. Generally if you put in more money, they’ll estimate more views per day. If you put in more days, you’ll get fewer views per day, but the ad will run longer. There are some minimums, but you can go as low or as high as you want. Again, in December, I felt comfortable spending in the ballpark of $200 for week-long campaigns. What will you see in the edit audience tab?

You get to target, gender, age, location, and then add specific demographics.

The only thing you should know is your audience has to be broad enough to run the ad. If you’re way too specific, it blocks you. For example, I started clicking demographics for all these things and the potential reach was only about 5,000. I clicked “lawyer” and the potential reach jumped up by millions.

That’s all there is to it! There are a few other options, like whether you want your ad to run in Facebook, Messenger, or both, and whether you want to use Facebook Pixel. My personal preference? I run the ad only Facebook and do nothing with Facebook Pixel. I know a lot of us trust and believe in face-to-face conversations. We want to grow deep connections and be one with our audience. But again, we’re looking at 20x the reach with a small budget.

With that in mind, I’ll be launching and advertising a post on March 1 directed at digital reporters and transcribers. Here’s my thinking: We have this whole group of people who probably like sitting in court proceedings, the companies they work for are not telling them about steno, or maybe even lying to them about steno. It’s time to break that in half and get the good ones over to us. If you support that, or even if you’re just grateful for the information in this post, feel free to donate here. I’m very grateful to people that have donated in the past. Every dollar helps keep this place ad-free. We don’t want to go back to that time.

Alternatively, if you’re tired of my blog, check out Glen Warner’s or Matt Moss’s. There are so many out there, including businesses like Migliore & Associates or MGR. It can be really heartening to see the incredible amount of information and opinions we have out there. Highly suggest checking out any of them.

Need Continuing Education? Consider CCR Seminars.

Wind the clock back about eleven months ago. I grabbed my RPR after a decade of not grabbing my RPR, and I was quickly introduced to the world of court reporting continuing education. We have to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. There’s a lot of ways to get it done. You can hit up prerecorded educational material. You can pay per credit. You can also do longer courses and effectively pay bulk prices for the credits. I want to talk about the value of a longer course today.

Last year I tuned into the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 CCR Seminars webinars. I have to say that overall I really appreciated the presentations. There were things like building your brand, apps for court reporters; all kinds of stuff that gave me new perspectives. Last year, thanks to CCR Seminars and NCRA’s Stenopalooza, I was able to complete all my required credits. So that brings me to this year, I get this in my inbox:

Humorless humorist? Is he talking about me?

The value being offered here is high. This is a little under $15 per hour or per 0.1 education credits. There are instances where you can pay $45 per credit, so this is cutting your cost down by 66%. Using these types of services and events can bring your cycle cost down by up to $900. My advice? Get on the mailing list. If you need the credits or just want to attend courses that might be helpful to you, CCR is a great option. The user experience is positive. Everything is logged into your account on the website so it’s easy to track.

If I had to come up with a “negative,” it was that I disagreed a little bit with one presenter’s personal opinion on one topic. That, to me, is a great presentation. Disagreement makes you sit there and think a little bit. It makes you examine why you feel the way you do about a topic, and it doesn’t take anything away from what you’re actually learning. Good value, good customer service, and presenters who aren’t afraid to present professional opinions right alongside facts/content. I’m definitely thinking of attending again this year despite my unfortunate credit situation:

I have at least one reader that has more credits.
She’s also cooler than me.

If you’re not sure about where you are on your cycle, remember that you can always check the transcript here. It can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out, but it becomes really easy and second nature. Feel free to chime in with thoughts on continuing education!

Associations and Why You Matter

The other day on Facebook I came across some rather honest remarks about the upcoming NYSCRA social. They said hey, Diamond Reporting has been depressing our rates for a while, how are we supposed to feel with their names on this event?

Let’s just say we have touched on the fact that sponsors of events do not control the event. The working reporter controls the NYSCRA leadership, and when you sign up as a member you become a part of the decision-making process.

This blog is all about the working reporter. By the time I’m done with it, I’ll have figured out how to organize the dozens of posts a bit better and the 200 or so monthly readers will have an easier time finding information. That said, it’s time to talk less about Stenonymous and more about you.

You matter. I did the math on it. Think of anything you want to legislate in New York. Stenographers in the courts? Bring back the Workers Comp stenographers? Copy protection since courts often rule our transcripts are not copyright protected? This is all done with funding, representation, and grassroots action. Lobbying is expensive and can cost 5,000 to 50,000 a month. In a six-month New York legislative session that might be 30,000 to 300,000 dollars a year. Seems impossible, right? But let’s use some easy numbers. There are 1,300 reporters on the NYSCRA Facebook page. If 500 of those reporters (38 percent) donated 100 bucks a year, which is less than the $165 annual membership, NYSCRA would have a lobbying war chest of 50,000 a year cash. In only two years, NYSCRA would have the cash for a $100,000 lobbying campaign. What could we do with a biannual lobbying campaign of 100k? Even assuming we fail half of all campaigns for ten years, that’s 2 or 3 successful campaigns. Between playing political Powerball and grassroots action, we have a serious shot at making a difference. For a C-note a year and a letter or two when there’s a campaign on, January to June, you’re looking at bolstering your field, securing your job, and protecting all of your fellow stenographers.

And I’m not saying 100 a year is easy to give up. I’ve given up thousands of dollars in membership fees and donations to organizations over the years. I’ve felt the sting of putting down money I didn’t necessarily have. I felt the pain when the Workers Comp campaigns failed. It cost a lot of good people their job and made those that kept the job miserable. I know a lot of you reading felt what I felt. I know a lot of you reading had to do more than feel it. Some of you had to live it. But there are two options: Suffer through the defeats so that we might see victory, or put our heads in the sand and wait for the next big thing to come around and threaten our jobs.

There’s a lot to say for the human factor. Machines don’t vote. Politicians will side with stenographers when they learn how many stenographers they represent. But the bottom line is we have to put together resources to educate them. To do that, you matter.

What Rate Should Freelance Reporters Charge?

This is an interesting question for stenographers across the country. What rate should be charged? What is fair? What is a good amount of money?

I have often simply left the answer at: It should be more. I have a body of work on this site that talks about negotiation, inflation, and makes several cases for higher rates for New York freelance. It bears repeating that in New York, the current private regular rate mandated to be charged by officials is about $4.30 per page. If you’re a freelancer paying your own taxes, advertising, business costs, benefits, or workers compensation insurance, then you should consider trying to make more than that by any means necessary, including realtime, rough, daily delivery, and copy sales. The skills you bring to the table are as important as your ability to negotiate and seek out work.

Without more fanfare, let’s turn to what I did tonight. I designed a very small calculator program that takes the user’s input of how much annual salary they want to make, and divides that by all the different rates someone might charge per page to figure out how many pages you need to make that annual salary. It then takes the pages and divides those pages by 20, assuming that’s how many pages a person transcribes an hour. Then it divides  those hours by 7 to tell you how many 7-hour workdays you need to make that money. To tailor this to yourself specifically, you can either edit the calculator, do the calculations manually, or simply half, double, or triple your transcription speed.

I understand that most people do not really do anything with computer code, so I ran the program for several different salary ranges.

These are the calculations if you want to make:

$25,000 a year.

$50,000 a year.

$75,000 a year.

$100,000 a year.

$125,000 a year.

$150,000 a year.

$175,000 a year.

$200,000 a year.

The moral of the story is obvious: The lower your rate is, the more pages you need to make money. The higher your rate is, the fewer pages you need to make money. But to see this in action, let’s just take one point of data: $5.00 per page.

At $5.00 per page, you need about 35 days worth of transcribing to make $25,000 a year.

That’s about 70 days to make $50,000 a year.

That’s 140 7-hour days of transcription to make $100,000 a year.

Anecdotally, if we spend an hour transcribing for every hour we are on the machine, that’s 280 7-hour days of work. There are only 260 weekdays a year. That means to make that $100,000 a year you’re giving up 10 weekends a year at $5.00 a page. Increase the rate to 5.50 and you’re giving up no weekends. 50 cents makes that much of a difference.

Bottom line? Your rate is going to dictate not only your income, but your quality of life. Strive to be a good reporter, know your market, team up with a mentor, and make sure you’re getting paid enough to reach your goals.