NCRA Net Assets Dwarf Competitors, Digital Court Reporting Bad for Business

I’ve raised questions about the Speech-to-Text Institute’s data and some companies’ blind reliance on that data. Today I’ve got to raise the fact that, if we compare net assets on 2020 tax returns and information found on ProPublica for NCRA, STTI, AAERT, and NVRA, it seems like NCRA is the clear leader at over $6 million, and its nearest “competitor,” AAERT, had about $217k. STTI came in dead last, more than $100,000 in the red. This doesn’t even account for the myriad court reporting associations and nonprofits across the country and the money that goes into them.

It still remains a serious question why the public and court administrators would rely on the word of an organization that doesn’t seem to have the monetary support needed to address the court reporter shortage in California, let alone America. Think about it. If you want to raise a workforce of possibly 20,000 professionals, who do you turn to, the organization with $6 million or the organization that’s in the red and being kept afloat by some undiscovered means?

There also remains a question about the severity of the shortage. As told by the document linked above, it states that over 50% of California courts have reported they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types. California’s shortage was forecasted to be the worst in the country, about 20x worse than many other states. If around 50% of California courts are having trouble, it would follow that somewhere around 2.5% would be the average across the country. Devising relocation incentives could pull more people to California and solve the problem.

This has implications for the big business bosses and the small businesses they bully. They’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to match stenographic initiatives. Eventually shareholders are going to ask why these businesses are swimming against the direction of the market. Why would you spend time and attention trying to cultivate a professional community in digital court reporting when one clearly exists in the stenographic community? Why would you aggravate the talent/labor until it starts discussing things like misclassification, pay, and working conditions?

Stenonymous reporting live from the dead internet.

NCRA 2020: $6,293,223 net assets.

AAERT 2020: $217,609 net assets.

NVRA 2020: $122,098 net assets.

STTI 2020: -$119,169 net assets.

NCRA: Pay Rates Often Lead to Replacing Stenographic Court Reporters with Digital Methods

In a press release yesterday, the National Court Reporters Association acknowledged that different markets are having different experiences when it comes to court reporter or stenographer shortage. NCRA President Jason Meadors is quoted as saying “Claims of a court reporter shortage are all too often a matter of geography and market. When courthouses pay and offer benefits competitively, they become fully staffed, and litigants are not faced with the choice of paying market rates to have the best system available or rely upon what the courthouse is willing to provide for keeping the record.”

The press release is concise and worth a read. It gets across some important ideas, such as stenography being modern, the gold standard, and acknowledges in its own way that economics plays a role in where court reporters are available. Very similar to the realizations I had when I saw that many reporters in New York City were working 30 years behind inflation while agencies were crying shortage.

This could not come at a better time. The courts in California just more or less declared that funding was not the issue, with some screenshots below. With our profession setting the stage to dispel the misinformation spread by the Speech-to-Text Institute, there’s a real chance at educating court administrators as to the controversy and issue (ultimately, if they want there to be court reporters, they have to stand behind us and help keep the demand steady. If they continue piecemeal replacement of us across the country, there will be fewer of us to hire. It’s an unfortunate elephant-in-the-room scenario. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.)

We’ve also passed a milestone here on Stenonymous. Many of the claims I’ve made and articles I’ve published are over a year old or rapidly approaching such, and the statute of limitations on defamation in my state is a year. The best defense of the corporate juggernauts against my claims of fraud was to ignore me. At the very least, I hope some of the things I did help many of you connect, educate, and advocate without fear. It really does appear to me that the corporate powers that be are milking the shortage for the purpose of selling digital reporting and the equipment associated. That’s not the easiest problem to deal with, but we are a strong profession, and we’re on the road to dealing with it.

I cannot claim to always agree with NCRA, but it remains a pillar of our profession and today I am very proud to be a member. Thank you to our president, Jason Meadors, for speaking up and speaking out.

I Diverge From NCRA on Independent Contractor Classification

NCRA has set up a campaign to oppose a rule change around independent contractors. We are all entitled to make public comments via the little comment bubble on this page.

Welcome to the little comment bubble.

Sadly, I have to take the complete opposite stance on this. I’ve written about misclassification in many articles. My public comment will reflect as much, and I’d like to share it here.

“The proposed rule change is exactly what my industry needs. I am in the court reporting industry, and though our national association, the National Court Reporters Association, stands against this change, I feel it is of paramount importance. Many stenographers today are treated as common law employees. The agencies/companies control the customer. They decide the prices. They have the advertising. We do the work, and despite being the mainstay of the business, many of us are labeled independent contractors. All of the ‘benefits’ of being labeled an independent contractor could be secured through unionization and adequate employment contracts.

I suspect there are many industries like mine where people will be rallied against change by the powers that be because the powers that be benefit the most from the status quo and the people cannot take the time to read through and understand your wall of text.

The true independent contractors of my field would be unaffected by this change whether or not they are willing to acknowledge it. Please go forward, do the right thing, and consider the economic dependence of workers when deciding whether they are independent contractors or employees. It will secure a lot more rights for a lot more people.”

Why? For better or worse, I have decided to be an advocate of the working reporter. We have been conditioned to think “independent contracting good.” It has been used to systematically rob us of rights we should have as working people. Rights against illegal discrimination, something that probably saved my career after my mental health episode. Rights to compensation when injured on the job. Rights to unionize. Even our most basic right of free speech is destroyed by the independent contractor label under the cloud of “we can’t discuss rates.” As an employee, the working reporter would have the absolute right to discuss pay and working conditions.

To the extent that trade associations are groups of independent contractors, this kind of thing probably seems threatening to NCRA. If there are fewer independent contractors, they may have fewer members, fewer dollars, and less power. But this is a shortsighted observation. My publications stating that the New York market is 30 years behind inflation have gone undisputed. Many of you in many markets across the country are feeling a pinch in the wallet thanks to stagnating pay and rising inflation. That’s while the agencies charge consumers sky-high prices and blame us for them. If associations want to survive, they need to understand that court reporters at the bottom end of the pay gap need to make more money. We can’t afford to rally against things that are good for the overall long-term health of our profession, and in my estimation, this is such a moment.

Note that the big box agencies will likely be really quiet about this and let the NCRA handle it. They wouldn’t be quiet if it wasn’t in their interest to be so. They benefit from the status quo more than NCRA or any other player on the field. If they come out in opposition to the rule change, it’s a dead giveaway that it’s bad news for the working reporter.

I understand these ideas may be unpopular, but I am a believer in the power of one. This is an issue that, from my research and experience, touches my soul so deeply I’m willing to speak out against an organization I’ve been a member of for over a decade. Ask yourself what you would do if you found yourself in such a position, and you’ll know exactly how I feel today.

Scam Email Targets NCRA Members – August 2022

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.

Scam email targeting members of the National Court Reporters Association sent to Stenonymous.com

One of the main giveaways that this was a scam was the domain name, NCRA.org.us. The NCRA’s domain is NCRA.org.

This blog has a history of reporting scam activity in our industry and informing readers about scams. It seems natural to join the chorus of voices helping get the word out so that not one of us is fooled by would-be scammers.

The National Court Reporters Association released a statement immediately, and took measures to educate members on scams.

Response to the activity of scammers by the National Court Reporters Association

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.

Median Pay for Stenographers Falling Despite Demand?

The interpretation of statistics is something that fuels plenty of jobs and debates. From serious matters such as crime and the criminal justice system to industry niches such as futures trading, people are always seeking new ways to collect and describe data. The court reporting and stenotype services industry is no different. There are numerous market research reports on our $3 billion industry, along with the publishing of data from sources such as industry associations and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Due to the nature of our field, with over 70% of it being “freelance” according to the Ducker Report, these statistics vary a lot. Take, for example, the BLS’s current count of 21,300 court reporter jobs in 2020, with 500 jobs expected to be added 2020 to 2030.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 1, 2022.

Now compare that to about a year prior.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 21, 2021.

Does anyone think we had 15,700 jobs in 2021 and that number grew by about 6,000 in 2022? No. We must understand and accept that there’s some inaccuracy or margin of error here, the BLS can’t be 100% correct.

For the sake of completeness, let’s go back about a decade using the wayback machine, which shows past images of websites, and see what kind of changes the entry for court reporters had.

Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 20, 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 3, 2019
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of October 14, 2018.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 6, 2017.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 28, 2016.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 21, 2015.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 4, 2014.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of July 8, 2013.
Bureau of Labor Statistics stenographer statistics as of June 15, 2012.

The BLS does seem to acknowledge the retirement wave we are expecting in the job outlook portion of its statistics, and mentions a potential 21,000 openings due to retirement.

Job outlook of court reporters from the BLS as of July 6, 2022.

Interestingly, 21,000 is 70% of 30,000. Ducker said 70% of reporters would retire over the next 20 years (2013 to 2033), and predicted a 2018 supply of reporters of 27,700, which is close enough to 30,000 for this comparison. The only issue I have with the numbers here is that they condense the time frame. Ducker predicted 70% of reporters retiring over 20 years, or an average of somewhere around 1,050 a year. This seems to assume all the retirements will take place over the next decade, when the reality is the forecasted retirements were spread over double that period of time.

The Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 predicted that about 70 percent of court reporters would retire 2013 to 2033.

Otherwise, looking at the Bureau of Labor statistics numbers in isolation, they don’t really make sense to me. In 2012 there were 22,000 court reporter jobs and a gain of 3,100 jobs over 10 years (2010-2020). By June 28, 2016, only four years later, it was reported there were 20,800 jobs with a gain of 300 jobs over ten years (2014-2024). Going by the BLS, jobs reported 2012 to 2022, we lost over 28% of the jobs in this field. Our growth rate is far down from what it was in 2012 pre-shortage forecast. The BLS stats are really bleak.

But we cannot look at the BLS statistics in isolation. We must take other available industry statistics. Again, the Ducker Report, commissioned by the National Court Reporters Association in 2013, forecasted a 2018 supply of stenographers of 27,700 and a supply gap of about 4,000 court reporters.

Ducker Worldwide forecasts 2018 supply and demand for stenographers.

The Speech-to-Text Institute pretty much copied those numbers to make the case for why digital court reporting is required. They say we can’t fill the stenographer demand. That doesn’t appear to be mathematically true.

Illustration of stenographer supply and demand by Speech-to-Text Institute. Notably, the supply gap was not as bad as forecasted.

Reconciling the two sets of data is a nightmare. Are there around 27,000 court reporter jobs or 15,000? Are we adding 1,400 jobs over the next ten years or will there be over 22,000 jobs? Are we in demand or is our median pay falling? Some of this is explained by looking at retirements versus growth. But these things really matter, because ultimately, over-recruiting is going to lead to lower incomes and bad outcomes. There’s already one person out there whose experience with court reporting was so bad, they dedicated a Twitter to it. My goal is to avoid that kind of suffering for people. So I’m opening up an uncomfortable conversation. What if we reach a point where we are recruiting to fill a supply gap that’s on its way to being filled? Unless we start creating more opportunities by branching out and building demand for our services, some of our graduates may end up with nowhere to go. That’s a future that those of us deep into mentorship do not want for the people we guide. We need to start coming up with things that drive up demand if we want the number of stenographers to begin consistently increasing.

If we can’t get a handle on how many of us there are, we’re going to get mowed over every time someone comes out with a new agenda or misleading statistic. We are in a weird place politically because just about every player benefits by pushing the shortage. STTI, U.S. Legal, Veritext, and the digital court reporting brigade get to sell digital by stating the shortage is impossible™️ to solve. NCRA gets the increased volunteering and stenographic fervor that comes with everyone fighting against the digital menace™️ and against the untimely death of stenography™️. Schools get increased enrollment from our stenomania™️-style recruitment. Perhaps this is a pessimist’s point of view, but I’m left with the sense that even if I could show with 100% certainty that the shortage wasn’t as bad as forecasted, it wouldn’t really matter, because all of the major players would ignore it.

I write because I believe that prosperity flows from truth. When we see situations as they are and not as we want them to be, our combined commitment to excellence seizes the day. Our “gold standard” situation doesn’t arise merely from telling ourselves we’re the best, but from our human ability to be problem-solving machines. In order to be effective problem solvers, we must state the problem accurately. I am now of the belief that our falling median pay is a greater threat to our wonderful profession than the shortage, thanks largely to the initiatives that were created to confront the shortage, such as NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno, as well as hundreds of volunteers. I further believe there are steps that can be taken to address the issue, such as the collection and distribution of aggregated rate data, which the FTC says is legal, or an increase in the overall entrepreneurship, sales, and marketing of court reporters through education. Tools to help new reporters understand the business. These things would keep court reporters informed and marketable, help slow the rate at which newer people without ties to the existing market are taken advantage of, and surprise, attack the heart of the issue, pay disparity is killing our field.

If we do nothing, our association numbers will likely tumble as people fail to find the money for their annual membership during a time of soaring inflation and falling wages. Realtime is not a sustainable answer for the majority. There are fewer than 3,000 CRRs and CRCs combined. If we allow ourselves to be boxed into a world where only realtime is treated as valuable, we lose a significant percentage of the market share and field. Those kinds of losses are the true threat to our sustainability, considering they would come atop the loss in jobs and growth reported by the BLS.

This is not a doom-and-gloom scenario though. Recognizing the challenges ahead will allow us to meet them. For my part in it, I have recently started a reporting firm and hired an operations manager to help bring in business. If I am able to bootstrap this operation successfully, I’ll be doing my part to raise those median wages while also saving consumers money. Even in the worst case scenario, I’ll learn lessons I can pass to the next entrepreneur, and this timeless profession will endure.

Correcting the Record on Dave Wenhold and NCRA

Some months ago, I was writing about a plot in our industry. In its loosest sense, this deals with Veritext, US Legal, and my documenting that the companies tend to spend a lot of energy building digital court reporting at the expense of stenography. In my view, both companies and the Speech-to-Text Institute appear to be crafting a narrative rather than responding to legitimate shortage concerns. “We cannot recruit enough stenographers from the 40 to 80 stenography schools nationwide, but we can somehow fill demand with digital reporters and Blueledge.” It’s not a believable position. To this day, I’m making efforts to determine whether there is actual cooperation among competitors, a sort of tacit parallelism where major players in our industry all suddenly and “independently” decided that digital reporting was the future, or something else. The motivation would be money. By making our market out to be an emerging market that investors can be first in on and omitting the fact that there’s a well-established profession, more low-information investors can be drawn in and more capital can be raised. My work is largely about restructuring the discussion from “the stenographer shortage is irreversible” to “we beat it.”

In the course of my writing and documentation in December 2021, I began experiencing psychosis symptoms. This culminated in a nasty bout of paranoid thinking where I made some crazy claims. Specifically, claims attaching Dave Wenhold and the National Court Reporters Association to the plot claims. I do want to clear this up for my readers: Dave Wenhold and NCRA have done nothing wrong. On all the available evidence I have today, Dave’s been a leader and friend to stenographers for many, many years. I’ve written before that I generally admire Dave Wenhold. I think he’s brilliant. My more negative thoughts about him and the NCRA were a side effect of the distorted thinking I was experiencing during my medical situation in December and some months afterwards.

I’m deeply sorry for some of what came out of Camp Christopher Day. I have no problem being a “bad guy” if it’s justified. But I stand firmly against misinformation. To the extent that I gave my readers misinformation that caused them to believe NCRA or Dave Wenhold are not working for stenographers, it’s a problem I need to address. The claims I made about them were largely motivated by a broken mind coupled with some bad information. I should not have written things I did in December.

There are a lot of promising things coming out of Camp NCRA that members can get behind. The organization is calling for volunteers and has launched an advocacy center. The advocacy center’s first move seems to be focusing on the Training for Realtime Writers Act. If successful, we can expect an expansion of stenographic education, as more dollars will flow to schools. If that’s something you’re interested in supporting, head over to the advocacy center page and send a message of support to your elected representative. NCRA’s made it easy for you, just fill in your address and it will assist you in contacting your rep.

It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. We are finding our footing in a data economy. It may be worthwhile for NCRA to continue to collect and publish statistics on our field, but especially rate data. For over a decade, a myth has pervaded our field that associations can never discuss rates. I surveyed nearly 100 court reporters last year. Over 72% reported that they did not have a good grasp on antitrust law. Over 86% had heard that associations can never discuss rates.

Stenonymous Project Phoenix survey results.

Despite the ubiquity of the rumor, it is untrue that associations can never discuss rates. In fact, the FTC itself states that many trade associations share aggregated data with members. I’ve clipped out the relevant text from the FTC site for my audience.

FTC Spotlight on Trade Associations

This is important for a number of reasons. My survey results showed a dire need for antitrust education that NCRA or a private vendor could jump on to increase revenue. Aggregated rate data on our field would help attract investors, new blood, and entrepreneurs to our field. The data collection could be featured in the JCR and increase the value of membership and the publication. Imagine, in the not-so-distant future, mentors being able to concretely tell mentees average rates and earnings. It would be a monumental project for NCRA alone, but perhaps the National Congress of State Associations can be mobilized to train and organize the state associations to provide state data, which could then be fed up the pipeline to NCRA every quarter.

I pledge to do my part, remain in treatment, and continue to platform people and support this profession. If any of my readers need clarification on my work, please comment below or reach out to me at contact@stenonymous.com.

NCRA: “We must warn legal professionals…” about digital!

For a long time on Stenonymous I’ve covered digital recording and its encroachment on stenographic reporting business. From an economic perspective, I see digital reporting as a way for companies to drag more people into the industry, use them to increase labor supply in the industry under the falsehood that the technology is equivalent, and then use the increased labor supply to force reporters to accept less money or fewer pay increases without passing savings, if any, to the consumer. I’ve pointed to the fact that the stenographer shortage being used to justify the expansion of digital court reporting is exaggerated and the entities that pull from the Ducker Report conveniently ignore the age of the report and routinely fail to adjust for real-world events after the report. A lot of the news around the shortage has been based around convincing people that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved through recruitment, leading me to the conclusion that the shortage is being pushed in order to push the digital service against consumer choice.

From a social perspective, I’ve extrapolated from the Justice Served (2009), Testifying While Black (2019) and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) studies that on average digital is going to be less accurate than stenographers and not cheaper. While no methodology is perfect, recording and transcribing creates more room for errors because audio monitors are listening for problems — questions of spelling and audio overlap — that they anticipate the transcriber will have. Stenographers, on the other hand, are listening for problems the stenographer will personally have. It really puts us in a league of our own and is a good anecdotal reason for why stenographers and voice writers are not easily replaced by a Mechanical Turk transcription army.

I’m not alone. For months, stenographers have been attempting to educate attorneys on the differences. From Protect Your Record Project to NCRA Strong, there are lots of players helping to define and share what steno brings to the table. I am at a point where I occasionally get messages from people who are exploring the potential of a digital court reporting career. They want to know what they’re signing up for. In some cases they’re being asked to shell out a few thousand dollars in equipment and they want to know if it’s worth it. I generally explain why I believe stenography has more career options or opportunities.

I also explain to digital court reporters or prospective students that we are fighting against a world of inaccuracy. National Court Reporters Association President Debbie Dibble’s recent message about the article “Make sure your court reporter is really a court reporter” really drives this home. 55 missing pages of testimony in a single proceeding. The importance of having a live stenographic court reporter for proceedings is on full display, and NCRA is up to the challenge of letting the bench and bar know the truth.

Ultimately, stenographic reporting has the larger market share and the stronger lobby, something that digital proponents don’t seem honest about when it comes to introducing this work to jobseekers. As I see it, jobseekers left in the dark make excellent candidates for enlightenment. We may well be heading into a period where tons of resources are put down on attracting digital court reporters —

— and digital court reporters turn things around and pick up the stenotype.

Collectively, we have made sure there are numerous resources out there. NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno to name a few. The last frontier seems to be taking people who are being sold a career in digital and pointing them to the words of people like NCRA President Dibble and the ongoing shortage debate. Digitals will work out pretty quickly that they’re being sold on something less rewarding than promised, and stenographic market share will keep growing.

STTI Copies NCRA, Assumes Lawyers Can’t Tell the Difference

I have serious and ongoing concerns about STTI. It is an organization that claims the stenographer shortage cannot be solved through recruitment, yet has never actually tried to do just that. I view it as a weapon of demoralization against stenographers. Tell people the situation is hopeless and they will start acting like it regardless of the truth.

Anything that might threaten digital reporting is heresy to STTI. Naturally, when NCRA sought to let bar associations know about state procedural rules being violated, it had to act.

There’s an interesting dynamic to telling an uncomfortable truth. In the beginning, the truth teller is filled with fear and does not know how the truth will be received. Through the support of others, the fear can be replaced by courage. That is what I see unfolding here. I was afraid. I stood up. Court reporters supported me. In three months we went from “the court reporter shortage is nearly impossible to solve” to “some people want an unrealistic steno-only solution.” STTI’s lie will likely become untenable because people will start asking how a shortage that was impossible to solve is being solved. Simply put, if court reporters keep recruiting, stenographers stay on top.

NCRA Joins Battle, Calls Out Potentially Illegal Conduct

NCRA has not thrown its weight behind the allegations I made with regard to US Legal, Veritext, STTI, and an apparent scheme to exaggerate and exacerbate our stenographer / court reporter shortage in order to sell attorneys the inferior digital court reporting service. But the National Court Reporters Association has taken a very powerful step by admitting that some vendors in our industry are violating the procedural rules of some states.

Getting attorneys to stop stipulating away their consumer choice away is an outstanding move™️, and one that everyone can take part in by spreading this image. If we do not support our national association now, there may very well not be one to support in ten years. If you’re on the fence about renewing, this would be a reason to give it one more year and see what the president does.

Thank you, President Dibble and all the staff at the NCRA for not laying down on these important issues facing our field. If we can get jurisdictions to begin enforcing procedural rules, it is progress on the road of protecting consumers and the legal record.

NYSCRA Offering RPR WKT Test Prep September 2021

The National Court Reporters Association opened registration for written knowledge tests on September 1, 2021. In an effort to help reporters succeed, the New York State Court Reporters Association is holding several review sessions, each corresponding to a different part of the RPR WKT. On September 12, a technology and innovation review will be held. On September 19, an industry practices review will be held. On September 26, a professionalism and ethics review will be held. Registration links below!

  1. September 12 – Technology and Innovation.
  2. September 19 – Industry Practices
  3. September 26 – Professionalism and Ethics

Alternatively, a registration link has been provided for all three.

I am going to be working on a much larger article about certification and my journey from believing certification was worthless to believing that it is necessary. But this can’t wait. In brief, certification is necessary because it forces us to engage with each other in the form of classes and CEUs. That engagement creates a community. That community helps us keep each other informed and avoid being taken advantage of. If you have any doubts about whether you should sign up for your WKT, just remember that the more you know, the more you can share with your fellow reporter, and the better all of us become. I have a feeling that NYSCRA’s illustrious current President, Joshua Edwards, and its indefatigable incoming President, Dominick Tursi, would agree with me on that one.

You can also sign up for NYSCRA’s voluntary RCR test pioneered by the founder of DALCO reporting, Debra Levinson, CSR-RMR-CRR-CRI-RCR. Read more below and register here!