Turning Omissions Into Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

Stenonymous on VICE News Tonight

About four months ago, I sat down with Alzo Slade and talked with VICE about the study that showed court reporters had only 80 percent accuracy when taking down African American English dialect (AAE). It aired 6/18/20. There’s a Youtube mirror. This study was a shocker for many because people look at our general accuracy of 95 percent, and then they look to a number like 80 percent, and it worries them. It worried me at the time, and I continued to cover it on this blog as more information came out. I was at VICE HQ Brooklyn for two hours, but only a few seconds made it into the segment, so please be understanding when it comes to what “made the cut.”

I was identified as a stenographic reporter with a lot of knowledge about the study. We all have a choice to make when approached by the press or any individual. Stonewall or try to present the facts? I chose the latter this time. A few things I would love to see more widely talked about:

  • AAE is not spoken by all black people. It’s a specific English dialect. I learned it also has rules and structure. It’s not “slang.”
  • Despite most of us having no formal training, we get it right about twice as often as the average person and 1.5 more often than the average lawyer, if you look at the pilot studies. There’s also no good alternative. AI does worse on all speakers and even worse than that on AAE. We’re talking as low as 20 percent accuracy.
  • In actual court cases we have some context. We don’t just take down random lines. This doesn’t prevent all errors, but it helps court reporters a lot.
  • We don’t interpret. People concerned with our interpretations don’t always realize that. Interpreting only matters in terms of correctly interpreting what we’ve heard. Interpretation of jurors and lawyers matters much more, which is why it’s so important for us to get the words correctly for them. We can educate people on this topic and help them understand big time.
  • This issue is not necessarily a racial or racist one. Mr. Slade himself read the AAE sentence on paper during the segment “She don’t stay, been talking about when he done got it.” His response was something like “what the hell is this?” Anybody can have trouble with a new dialect. I know I have heard some AAE statements and done very well, and heard other AAE statements and done poorly. I’m big on the opinion that exposure is the only way to get better.
  • Studies like this only highlight the need for stenographic court reporters that truly care about the record. If you meet a young person interested in courtroom equality, it might be worth having the “become a court reporter” talk. We care, and we want every single person that fills our shortage to care too.

One thing I learned from this media appearance is always keep your cool. At one point during my two hours there I felt very defensive and even a little worried they’d edit the segment in a way that was not fair to me. I kept my cool and continued the interview. That fear comes out totally unfounded! I am sure if I had overreacted, that overreaction would’ve been the face of steno, and that’s not cool!

Each stenographer is like an ambassador for who we are and what we do. A big part of what I do is getting to the bottom of things and communicating the truth about them so that each of us can go forward and be knowledgeable when the people we work with, judges or lawyers, bring this stuff up. Many of them already know we’re the best there is. The rest are just waiting for you. Your actions and excellence change the future every day. I got my five seconds of fame. Go get yours!

Addendum:

Sometime after the publishing of this article, the VICE story that I linked was locked on their website. You must select your TV provider to gain access. Also, I later learned Alzo actually aced the quiz. The reason he had trouble was because the sentence was not AAE / proper grammatically.

Stenonymous Goes (Mostly) Ad Free!

We are happy to say we’ve upgraded the WordPress plan and you should see a lot less advertisement from random sources going forward. We were particularly annoyed by the ones that advertised stuff, namely all of them. Going forward, you should only see ads at the top or bottom of blog posts, instead of being inserted every five seconds at the whims of some magic algorithm.

The main page now has an e-mail subscription button. And now is a great time to subscribe, because the rate of postings will reduce while we work on site organization and article quality.

That said, if you’d like to support the free flow of information and site improvements, feel free to head over to the fundraising page and donate directly or buy a Sad Iron Stenographer mug!

On a more somber note, we’ve gotten an uptick of anonymous emails. We appreciate anything sent in, just know that on average we try to spin things into a positive message about moving forward. We appreciate all forms of humor, but won’t devolve into using this site to bully people or make accusations without evidence.

Last note: We promise every submission is read. Though we cannot create content for every single e-mail, we encourage the expression. One reader humorously challenged us to give instructions on how to like things on Facebook. We’re going to do it just to show some appreciation for the reader and celebrate fewer ads on the blog.

  1. First thing is first, you must watch this rendition of the Bear That Wasn’t.
  2. Take special note that it’s almost as good as the cartoon rerun that aired on Cartoon Network during the 90s.
  3. Then you get a cellphone or some other device with internet. Note that if you use a desktop computer, a mouse will make the whole ordeal way easier.
  4. Head over to Facebook and find a post you want to like, but probably something from Marc Greenberg or the Scire brothers.
  5. And then just click and/or tap like.

*EDIT 2/21/19

Notably the mobile view still seems to display ads smack in the middle of the page so serious consideration is going into turning them off entirely. You hate ads, I hate ads, we’re going to get them to behave or get the heck out.

Getting Involved: As Simple As A Like

Got an anonymous e-mail February 16. As best I can interpret it, it’s a little poke to introduce NCRA’s wide range of social media options. If there was supposed to be an attachment, it didn’t send, and I’m sorry. So, I’ll link it all and then we’ll talk about it a little more. NCRA keeps a page about its social media outreach here. They have a page for captioners. They have a page for CART providers. They’ve got a spot for freelance reporters. Legal videographers have a group. Official reporters get a warm welcome too. There’s a scopist and proofreader group. There’s a place devoted to reporting technology, AKA “the technology share.” Finally, there’s a Realtime TRAIN page. States it’s for nonmember and realtime users. Seems related to the TRAIN initiative to get people realtime and marketable.

Now I’ll come to a point about why all this matters. Support comes in different shapes and sizes. Ideas evolve in different ways. When we are all connected, sharing, and spreading information, it becomes easier to organize, learn, and engage in our respective markets. California reporters, as an example, are going to have a somewhat different experience and insight than New York reporters because we are on opposite ends of the country with different laws, licensing requirements, and professional organizations. That said, the NCRA can be a bonding place for all of us in the different areas of the field, and a way for us to get information out faster and with a lot more fanfare. While it is important for people to get involved in whatever way they can, whether that be volunteering, brainstorming, compiling information, or developing free resources for people to learn about steno, there’s a lot to be said about simply tuning in and staying a part of the network.

For example, imagine Reporter A and Reporter B. Reporter A is busy and has a hectic job, but liked NCRA’s facebook page, so NCRA’s stuff pops up in A’s feed. A sees they could use someone to write a JCR article about A’s busy and hectic job, and now A has the power to fill in that need. Reporter B has the same busy and hectic job, but B isn’t connected, never sees it, never hears about it, and never shares the tips and tricks to being good at B’s busy and hectic job.

If we’re linked in, we all have the ability to contribute. Whether or not we choose to contribute is our own business. Simply having the capability to join in a moment or movement is worthwhile and empowering. Tell everyone you know, getting involved can be as simple as a like.

WUNCRA, Knowledge Is Power, Spitballing Is Weak

Wake up, Wake Up NCRA?

It’s that time again to come out and talk about our friends at WUNCRA. Archived here. Though, begrudgingly, we’re going to have to bring out some harsh words. First the good stuff: We love information and we love rhetoric. We want an end to the secrecy that has damaged this field. We want the stenographic modality to be and remain the principal method of reporting nationally. There are legitimate things that Frank N Sense writes about, and we would like that to continue. We have made interesting connections and asked questions ourselves to specific people in the field, and we have had our concerns answered quickly. We want facts and knowledge whenever possible.

Our major problem with the way that Frank N Sense is doing business is that there is often nothing in the way of evidence. It devolves into mindless bullying and name-calling sometimes, as with the Lipstick on a Pig post. He or she denounces secrecy and wants there to be more open policies, but has a very closed gate when it comes to comments. Even in the post, which more or less accuses Stephen Zinone and his company of being an AAERT sellout, there’s a lot of words there, but there is not a single copy of this email. There’s not even proof that Stephen Zinone is a member of AAERT posted at WUNCRA, we had to find it ourselves. The author does not even offer Zinone’s full name, instead referring to him as Steve Z. The post fails to name the two or three past presidents allegedly going to the AAERT convention.

The site isn’t informing the reader what’s going on or what’s happened. This isn’t helpful to anyone who isn’t acutely aware of the immediate topic. It’s doing little more than leading its readers and followers down a dark road of negativity. We’ve hit this trap a time or two on Stenonymous where we expound on an issue that we haven’t explained for newcomers. Listen, none of us are perfect. But we need to face the truth: We have no idea where information is coming from post after post at WUNCRA. As a very astute reader told us about our own posts, without some facts and sources, it’s just words on the internet. We urge WUNCRA to put up this information every time instead of making us search for verification ourselves. This information-vacuum reporting is just a continuation of the old reporting zeitgeist of gatekeeping information. Worse still, there may be a troll at the gate. The writing is so one-sided and bleak that readers are left with hopelessness instead of solutions to move forward.

For the record, we reached out to Stephen Zinone. The response will be linked here. He rightly points out Frank’s trolling nature and explains a bit about what he’s doing. He uses steno reporters and QWERTY transcribers to provide for the consumer. He’s put out ideas about bringing down barriers to entry for steno. He makes an honest case for the fact that people who may have testing issues or inability to compete stenographically should still be able to make an income doing what they love. We believe stenography can remain the dominant method for taking the record, and should even be the only method, but there’s always likely to be at least some market share taken by the other ways. We on Stenonymous encourage stenographers to compete hard! We get the words in four or five times faster than the average typist, and have a rich history and institutional knowledge that goes unmatched by others. Even our most stinging articles against companies were not so much about the usage of recording itself, but the perceived pushing of recording over stenographers even when steno should be first. As best we can tell, Stephen Zinone isn’t doing that here.

I suppose we either will or won’t be convincing to Frank N Sense to release “more better” info in the future. Maybe we’ll convince some readers to think critically and ask questions. Maybe anyone feeling demoralized by Frank’s writings can look at this and feel ready to go out and make steno shine. We are sensitive to that writer’s position of being an anonymous person that may want to redact certain sources for any number of reasons. That admitted, we’ve had gripes in the past too. We are worried that this constant negative droning combined with the diminished effervescence of the status quo steno supporters are going to harm stenography more than help. In plain English: Offer up some real solutions or suggestions. We know you have that power to empower your audience. Give people ideas to fight and win.

In that vein, here is our own message to Zinone, Hunt, and any business owner who may be a steno ally but has decided to join AAERT to see how it might impact your business or shape the landscape: Pass us back some info. We’ll redact pretty much what you want. You can pass it through an email proxy, anonymous Imgur links, audio recordings, whatever makes you happy. But if you’re truly getting an understanding of these things and how they might impact the field, share that knowledge. Make us powerful. I’m sitting at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. We’ll get the message out.

And to the NCRA: While we have a very different take on your message than Frank, and we don’t agree in breaking down what’s left and distributing it to members, we do think there are things to learn in terms of communication, outreach, and transparency, but you are off to a powerful start in 2019. Keep up the transformation. Don’t be afraid to admit past mistakes. Don’t be afraid to say here is a roadmap and our ideas for fixing XYZ situation. Perhaps even consider coming up with a few major initiatives, creating a board’s recommendation, announcing you’re doing all of this so people buy a membership so that they can vote, and then letting the membership vote direct on those initiatives. Make membership feel powerful, and I have a very strong feeling that membership will empower the organization. It’s a symbiotic relationship dependent on leaders solving the age-old question of how to motivate people to act. Specifically, how to get people to open the wallet and fund the future of steno legislation, education, and awareness.

To the newcomer: Welcome to the family. Steno is a huge field with a lot of opportunities. We’ve had some issues in that past leaders of steno and NCRA have thrown their support behind recording technology. Note that the NCRA’s bylaws state it is a promoter only of the stenographic medium of record making. Frank’s message is about exposing the fact that we may have obstacles to overcome. Let mine be about what you can do about it:

    Join professional steno organizations. You matter.
    Identify issues in your market and community.
    Discuss these issues, propose solutions.
    If the association is not helpful after a proposal, identify why they’re not helping. Suggest ways they can improve or identify ways to improve the proposal.
    If no improvement is forthcoming, consider forming a new trade association or group for the purpose of education, representation, and leading the field. Consider having transparency, such as NCRA’s public posting of its bylaws

Look at Stenonymous. It started as a stopgap to answer student questions and preserve information and has built up a following of hundreds. Lots to improve upon, but the point stands: If we could do this, anyone can do this, and if a lot of us take a stand, we will see an incredible renaissance in this field. Be a part of that!