The New York State Court Reporters Association is promoting Project Steno’s June 6 outreach webinar, as told by NYSCRA’s Transcript Weekly, posted earlier today by NYSCRA Social Media Committee Chair Marina Dubson. Though stenographers have made great strides in recruitment and introducing people to this field through efforts like NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno, there remains a need to get word out to high school students and staff that court reporting is a viable and vibrant career that young people should give serious consideration. Resources will be provided, and it can all only be seen as a wonderful complement to the resources already published by the National Court Reporters Association. If you’ve got some time to attend at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time this Sunday, definitely consider registering today!
The National Court Reporters Association gave members notice of proposed bylaws amendments recently. If you haven’t given these proposals some thought recently, and you intend to vote during convention time, then please take the time to consider them now. I’ll give a summary of each and what I see myself doing, and why, come voting time.
Amendment 1 – Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters
What’s the deal?
The proposal amends the requirements to become part of the Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters. The new language mostly points to needing to have stronger ties to NCRA to be a part of FAPR.
I usually lean toward inclusion, but I also see validity in fellows having close NCRA ties. I believe I’m going to vote yes.
Amendment 2 – Stenographic Captioning and Stenographic Captioners
What’s the deal?
Stick the words “stenographic” captioning and “stenographic captioners” in areas where the bylaws say “stenographic reporting” or “stenographic reporter.” It’s making it a point to mention reporters AND captioners.
I have always found the need to differentiate ourselves as a bit silly and the term reporter inclusive of who we are and what we do (steno). As an example, if someone walks into a room and greets a group of colleagues, “hey ladies,” I have two choices, I can huff, puff, and yell “I AM A MAN,” demanding that everyone acknowledge the difference, or I can roll with it and say hello. That said, the differentiation and explicit mentioning of captioners makes some of them feel good. It makes them feel included. It makes them feel respected as having a distinct and important skill. I am voting yes on this one without hesitation!
Amendment 3 – Holding Elective Office
What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would make it so all participating members who are stenographic reporters can hold elective office in the NCRA. As of today, you can pay dues and vote on the future of the organization if you are not a certified reporter, but you cannot hold elective office. If this amendment passes, any stenographic reporter that has been a member for five years would be able to hold elective office.
I respect certification very much. I became an RPR shortly after proposing this amendment. But I feel it’s important for us to acknowledge that certifications do not necessarily make a person a leader. The bylaws committee has a little blurb against this stating anyone could claim to be a reporter, join, and run for office, and that much is true, but this idea that someone would join for a minimum of five years and then win an election without anyone else pointing out their complete lack of history is one I just can’t get behind. Take the leap, allow uncertified people to hold office, and open up this association to a pool of leaders it would otherwise not have. About forty percent of the association is not certified. It’s a reality that it’s time to address and tell all stenographic reporters that this association values them enough to give them a seat at the decision makers’ table if they win it fair and square. Any uncertified reporter that could win an election against a certified reporter has political savvy that we frankly need in leadership, so please vote yes.
Amendment 4 – Eligibility to Vote
What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. In 2019 there was a membership dues increase. People that were not at the annual business meeting physically were not allowed to vote on it. This amendment would allow everyone to vote via e-mail.
The dues increase was in line with inflation and completely warranted, but by limiting the pool of people that could vote for it, it made people really mad and gave the impression that leadership would do whatever it wanted and limit who had a say when it was convenient. In reality, it was done that way out of precedent. This amendment will force NCRA leadership to communicate more about dues increases, but I have a lot of confidence that members will vote for increases that keep the association healthy and strong. Please vote yes so that all voting members have a say on dues increases.
Amendment 5 – Conflict of Interest
What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would put the requirement for a conflict of interest policy in our bylaws and gives the board full authority to determine the scope of language and enforcement.
Some time ago, Jim Cuddahy was NCRA’s Executive Director. That’s when the Ducker report was commissioned and we had a study done on our court reporter shortage. Fast forward, Jim Cuddahy is a part of the Speech To Text Institute and, in my view, one of many digital reporting proponents using the shortage to say “there are not enough court reporters, we must record it.” It makes it look like NCRA was used to do something that was later weaponized against members. People are angry about that, and NCRA has taken social media flak for it despite there being nothing NCRA could really do. One of the questions that floated up on social media was “WHY ISN’T THERE A POLICY?” Only when this proposal was made was I made aware there was a COI policy, and that’s the point, letting members know in big, bold letters there is one.
There’s a blurb about how counsel interprets this amendment to be illegal, but the association already has a conflict of interest policy. Honestly, I’m stunned. We have a conflict of interest policy, but putting the requirement for a COI policy in our bylaws would be illegal? Baloney. In full fairness, to the extent a COI policy can be viewed as a non-compete agreement, it could be illegal, but that’s why this amendment gives the board power over the language and enforcement. Every single board member and the NCRA have a duty to follow the law and they are required to interpret this amendment in a way that follows the law. Again, it is stunning to me that for purposes of proposal, everyone seems to be assuming it must be interpreted in the most unfavorable possible light. I am hoping that you will all see this as I do and vote yes.
Amendment 6 – Virtual Annual Business Meetings
What’s the deal?
This amendment will allow NCRA to have virtual annual business meetings.
I think this modernizes our bylaws to help us operate even when force majeure would not apply. It’s an obvious yes.
Amendment 7 – Integration of CLVS as Participating Members
What’s the deal?
Certified Legal Video Specialists will be allowed to vote in the association, but will not be able to hold elective office.
It seems unfair to be a certification body for people that have zero input. NCRA advisory opinion 44 points to the verbatim reporter and video specialist roles not mixing, so there’s no reason to think this is some attempt to undermine the association’s goals or membership. This is a chance to show CLVS members that we value their certs without losing any steno board seats. I’ll vote yes.
Associations have a duty to follow their bylaws and the law. The votes we make here dictate to NCRA how it must conduct itself in the future. I’m not against anyone that votes against me here. These votes are unlikely to make or break the association, but they will shift perceptions. On amendment 3, we have a shot at telling reporters without certs we want them to be active in the association, not just collect their money and votes. On amendment 4, we have a shot at telling voting members they deserve a say in dues increases whether or not they can physically make it to the business meeting. On amendment 5, we have a shot at telling all members yes, we have a conflict of interest policy. We have a shot at adding value to membership. Value leads to growth. In the interest of growing our national association, I am voting yes, and I hope you do too.
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:
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:
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!
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.
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:
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 an advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
- We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
I usually do my job posts in the beginning of the month, but sometimes jobs come along and it’d be a tragedy not to share. I’m told that Eastern District will be hiring. That’s federal court in New York. I know a few past, current, and probably future district court reporters, and let’s just say they’re good people and it’s a good place to work. Especially in the future, when you’re there!
There’s a 1998 Merlin movie where Merlin (Sam Neill) is created by the Fairy Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) to bring the people back to the old ways of magic and religion. Merlin ends up turning against her because she’s ruthless. She goes on to make his life hell, getting him arrested, “permanently” scarring his lover, and sabotaging his plans to put a good king on the throne. This ends in a coalition of “good guys” storming Mab’s castle and Merlin and Mab clashing in a magic duel. Realizing that magic is her strength, Merlin turns his back on Mab and walks away, convincing the crowd to do the same. Forgotten by all, Mab and her magic fade away, she’s defeated.
Consider this my way of convincing the crowd to look away. Recently a letter was released by AAERT regarding the documents released by NCRA Strong. On the one hand, they accused NCRA of distributing misinformation. On the other hand, they invited NCRA to collaborate and help lead the market. My life experience tells me any time someone is playing good cop, bad cop, they want something out of you. Putting aside the fact that it’s hilarious to accuse anyone of distributing misinformation when you list yourself as a government organization on your Facebook page, let’s dive into what they want from NCRA and its members.
They want attention. Surprised? When you do the math, you see that NCRA is a far larger organization with far more reach than AAERT. Just look at social media presence alone. NCRA’s Facebook page has 11,000 likes, and NCRA has archers. AAERT has about 700 as of writing, no archers. The AAERT group has maybe 600 members. The NCRA group, just one of them out of several, has over 3,000. Maybe stenographers just like Facebook. But I’m betting the hard reality is that they’re trying to get NCRA members to react, force NCRA itself to react, and in doing so, give themselves credibility and a larger platform.
This is where all of you come in. Organizationally, we are stronger. I just showed you that. Even we as individuals have more reach and a wider platform. Look at Protect Your Record Project, which started as a California-based discussion; it was a video by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, and has evolved into a nationwide movement of over 2,000. This weekend, hundreds of stenographers are coming together in pop-up meetings in almost every state. Look at Encouraging Court Reporting Students and Breck Record, 10,000 members regularly helping each other. Even brand new endeavors, like Tricia Bidon’s Encouraging Steno Students group, have almost 500 members.
“But Chris, even if we have the numbers, XYZ Corporation has way more money than we do!” There are, at a bare minimum, 10,000 of us, but 20 or 30 in some estimates. If each person donates one hour of their time, guesstimating that hour to be worth a paltry $15, that’s 416 days or $150,000 an hour. Remember when I reported that Trint raised $168 million? They could afford to hire us for 160 workdays on that money. That’s it. There’s no equal to our numbers and our opponents know it. That’s why they’re trying desperately to convince us that we are alone and there’s nothing we can do.
We’re in this together. We have nothing to prove to any of our detractors. We have no reason to engage them on their terms. There’s a human desire to be fair, intelligent, and debate honestly. I empathize with anyone feeling the urge to “win.” I myself have time and time again let myself be baited into meaningless debates that take my attention off more valuable projects. Ultimately, the goal for them is to throw us off our game and get us responding to them. As many of you know, the way to win is to use our national presence. Get out there and educate the attorneys we work with every day. Educate people who don’t know that this is a viable, vibrant career. Educate your fellow reporter who maybe hasn’t heard that they can make a difference. You’ve got the story. You’ve got the numbers. Move forward confidently. Be the Merlin of your own personal story and know when to leave your opponent in the dust.
A question often received is “you became an official, why do you write about and focus on freelance so heavily?” It’s usually an honest question, and there’s an easy and honest answer. Hopefully this’ll put things into perspective and everybody can embrace this kind of thought.
It all starts from my freelance experience. I was working very hard at first and making not very much money. I started as many start out, young, zero life experience. I had my mentors, but mentors can only help with their wise advice and their own experiences. They can’t change the market. And at that point the market was just unpleasant to be in if you weren’t in the very upper echelons of real-time reporting. To keep this short, all the things I talked about in my last article came from things I was told, overheard, or saw myself. I had friends leave this field because it was not treating them well. I have a mentee now whose friends are leaving in droves because the field is not treating them well. This shortage likely exists, at least in New York, because stenographers are underpaid or not treated well, and complaints by newbies are not received well. We’re regarded as complainers. Meanwhile, we were given an impossible task of putting in 150 to 200 percent of what people put in in the 90s. I have seen a lot change in 10 years though. We are much more open to discussion. And now I am not dependent on agencies for work. I can’t be fired for blogging. How could I not contribute, like many of you, to being a voice for the voiceless? How could I kick away the ladder I just climbed?
This is the isolation of freelance. It’s not like the old days where everyone sat around and transcribed at an agency. There’s little opportunity for people to say “oh, what’re you making on that job?” Between the isolation and the antitrust laws quashing any discussion of rates in our trade associations, companies were pretty much free to dictate our worth to us. On empathy alone, the right thing to do is to break this cycle by any means necessary.
But the economics of caring are even more compelling. The almighty Ducker Report tells us that the field at large was over 70 percent freelance in 2013. Maybe most places, but especially New York, the entry level job is freelance, and reporters siphon into other positions from that. So the smaller that freelance chunk is, it follows that the smaller everything else will be. Imagine the industry as one giant paycheck. Every single reporter is a dollar in that paycheck. Maybe realtimers want to count themselves as 10 dollars for purposes of this exercise. What happens to a person if they lose 70 percent of their paycheck? What happens to your reputation if you delete 70 percent of a transcript? If we lose the non-real-time work or cede more of the freelance field to other methodologies, we can shrink to a point of novelty and insignificance. If I want my job to be here, I need all of you to have one too.
This is a future that does not have to happen. This is not some inevitable end. I have already shown, using vTestify’s numbers, that we are a robust field and could beat the shortage with some tweaks to efficiency. But we cannot win if we do not try. This blog stands as one avenue for discussion and sharing. So many others are standing up and speaking out today. It’s kind of like the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. In brief, the main character lives the same dark and terrifying day over and over, over a billion years. At the end of each day, he’s punching away at a solid wall. One day, the wall cracks, and the monster terrorizing him is vaporized. We are in a story with thousands of protagonists. On that fact alone, I know that change can be exponential. If it would take one a hundred years to effect change, it could take one hundred a year to effect change.
Next time your anxiety is telling you the situation is un-winnable, that you shouldn’t bother to mentor someone because it won’t make a difference, you shouldn’t share something, you shouldn’t write a JCR article, you shouldn’t go after a private client, or you shouldn’t negotiate better contract terms because whatever you’re up against seems bigger, stronger, or richer than you, just remember we live in a country where people who didn’t have the right to vote secured the right to vote. People who had no workers rights fought and died for workers rights. Victims of serious crime and oppression went systemically unheard for decades — but even they got the world to acknowledge them. What are we fighting for? A permanent place in an industry we own? An industry that takes care of its newbies so they’re not dreading every depo? Not to minimize its importance, but when you look at all the fights people have won in this country, this one will be easy. History has shown us that stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging means the next generation might not have to suffer the same way. So if you’re somebody on the sidelines, or you know somebody on the sidelines, it’s time to reach out, be involved, offer suggestions. When people say Superman isn’t coming, it’s a rallying cry. We are all Superman, and this is a profession we protect together.
As many know, there was a Virtual Town Hall presented by NCRA on Saturday morning. Uncharacteristically, I did not take detailed notes of the meeting. But I feel it is important for people to be informed, and so for those that could not attend, I wanted to pass along a few important points I got and remember from listening to Max Curry.
One major point was the dues increase. Why did it go up from 270 to 300? Max explained that it had not gone up in five years. He explained the hard work that NCRA is doing in terms of lobbying education and educating state leaders via programs like the Legislative Boot Camp. It follows that all of this work needs funding. More or less, NCRA is not a business, but there are business aspects to it. It has employees. It has expenses. In this way, a dues increase makes sense. I, myself, as he was speaking, quietly plugged our 270 membership into an inflation calculator for 2014, and the value of that membership today is about $296. Succinctly, the value of our membership is about the same even though the dollar cost went up. He didn’t word it this way or even mention inflation, but from my recent post, I realize a lot of people struggle with the concept of inflation like I did once, and I’d like to do my part to make it a more regular part of our business decisions. Every year, every dollar in America has a little less value. Prices must rise in order to have the same buying power. That’s true for me, you, your neighbor, your barber, and NCRA.
One very important thing he did address was the desire many members had to be allowed to vote on the membership increase. Only members at the business meeting got to vote, and they voted for the increase. He explained that there is a process by which such things could be changed, and encouraged members who feel strongly that all of the membership should’ve had a vote, or about any issue, to propose a bylaws change.
Secondly, and a simple clarification, people wanted to know what the difference was between A to Z and Project Steno. He explained that NCRA’s A to Z and Project Steno’s programs can be similar in that they both introduce the concept of steno, but A to Z is NCRA’s program and benefits from NCRA’s infrastructure. So if you are looking to support NCRA’s A to Z efforts, the only way to ensure the money goes there is to donate to NCRA. Donating to other sources, the NCRA doesn’t control what happens to it.
Third, there are many committees dedicated to many different topics and issues. Max encouraged people to get involved. I would also encourage people to get involved. Even if you don’t want to serve on a committee, definitely take the time to write out your thoughts and ask they be submitted to the appropriate committee. It just might make a difference. NCRA’s the largest organization dedicated to machine shorthand stenography, and we all have something to contribute.
I had to leave early. But I was impressed with the meeting. I was grateful that a Saturday morning was spent to update and educate members. I feel it important to dedicate some of my space to preserving these ideas, because for every stenographer educated, a future victory.