Shortage Solutions 10: Contract or Employment

Can you believe this blog has covered 10 ideas for addressing the shortage? Time flies. Having given the whole court reporting shortage issue some more brainstorming, it’s worth bringing up for discussion the solutions that will follow. As always, happy to have comment on this issue. First, contractual agreements. In the field today, many reporters work under a verbal agreement, or a very informal email or rate sheet agreement. Even in places where independent contractors are required to have contracts, much of the business is contracted verbally or less formally.

Anecdotally, there’s something respectable about putting things in writing. People are more likely to live up to their word when there are clear terms of engagement. Need a freelancer to be on call to cover? Get it in writing. Throw them a little consideration (money) for their availability. Create easy-to-understand terms and expectations on availability. Create fair and realistic penalties for breach of contract on either side, or remedial terms that both sides can live with.

That lets me move on to another thought process. There is nothing in US law, to my knowledge, that prohibits a company from hiring employees and paying them a per-page commission or per diem rate. Pretty much no reporter makes less than minimum wage, so compliance with minimum wage laws is trivial. What is stopping a company from shifting its workforce from 1099 reporters to employees? Nothing. Nothing but a different set of paperwork and some accounting changes. Compliance with workers compensation laws may need a little creative insuring to allow reporters to transcribe from home if they choose to give employees that option. But this does not seem like an impossibility, merely a challenge for the entrepreneurial to overcome.

Why these solutions? Frankly, one of the issues with shortage boils down to the inconsistency of freelance reporting. If reporting firms nail down some availability, via employment contract or independently-contracted agreement, they can have a more realistic idea of how many reporters they have versus how many they need. Businesses survive and thrive off of mastering their staffing needs. Reporting businesses will be no different, and in the end will rise and fall based on their ability to meet demand. In this case, the demand being the service that so many stenographic reporters are ready, willing, and able to provide.

Table of Contents

Here we have a table of contents of various concepts and the writing Stenonymous has done on them.

Anticontracting…

Explanation, what is AC?

Antitrust…

Why Not Discuss Rates, association liability.

Associations…

Value of Assoc, NYSCRA

NYSCRA Certs, waiving provisional test.

For Stenographers, NYSCRA and NCRA.

Why You Matter, math behind members.

How Organizations Work, including associations.

Billing…

Simplified, NY billing.

Branding…

Meet Stenographer, reporter got hijacked.

Copies…

Conundrum, copy value.

Digital Reporting…

To Digitals, urging them not to undercut.

US Legal, ads for digital.

Veritext, pushing digital.

Veritext March 2019, pushed digital.

Planet Depos, pushed digital.

Verbit, recording and transcription.

Educators…

Transcript Marker, free.

Todd Olivas’s Slasher, free.

Creating A School, new NY process.

Medical Terms Refresher, for tests.

Legal Terms Refresher, for tests.

WKT Randomizer, geared for NY.

Finger Drill Generator, free.

Guest Writers…

Stay Strong, Joshua Edwards, 2018.

Open Steno, Claire Williams, 2018.

LiveSteno4U Review, J. Edwards, 2018.

How To…

Judiciary FOIL, NY

CaseCAT, characters per line.

Make F Keys Work, when they’re not.

Make Writer Work, on new computer.

Kill Superfetch, with alacrity.

Run A Business, basics.

Understand Holding Companies, basics.

Write Persuasively, basics.

CaseCAT E-Signature, one method.

Think About AI, basics.

Timed Dictation, create timed dictation.

Independent Contracting…

Independent v Employee, differences.

Form SS8, IRS determines status.

Direction & Control, more distinctions.

Jobs…

Real Job – finding work NYC

Law…

Remote Swearing, New York.

Law For Stenographers, New York.

FRCP, USA.

Grand Jury Recording, New York.

Sexual Harassment, USA and NY.

Copyright, a brief overview as applied to us.

Leadership…

Rebel Alliance, how everyone contributes.

Savior Chimera, the numbers make steno a market leader.

Marketing…

Magic, selling a feeling.

Negotiation…

Art of Deal, who you know

Turnaround, considerations.

My Sister, know when to make demands.

Verbit, who’s helping who?

HRD: First Look, historic rate data from California.

Open Steno Project…

Open Steno, steno for all.

Aloft, project by Stanley Sakai.

Typey Type, for self-learners.

Outreach…

To Our Agency Owners, use steno.

To Our Litigators, use steno.

Political Action…

Writing Elected Officials, brief.

Price Fixing…(See Antitrust)

Rates…

Audio Transcription, costly.

Rate Sheet, what’s in them?

Case For Higher Rates, better accounting.

Inflation, higher rates.

What Rate, math tables for rates.

Cost of DB, cover your expenses.

Rate Data FL CA, first look at rate data.

Rate Data 2 NY, 1990s rates.

Org & What, about charging habits.

Pricing Yourself, thoughts on how the game is played.

Shortage Solutions…

Monster, doing nothing not viable.

SS1, remote proceedings.

SS2, coverage area.

SS3, private labeling.

SS4, direct market apps.

SS5, public perceptions.

SS6, pay the piper.

SS7, recruitment.

SS8, retirement.

SS9, listings.

SS10, contracts.

SS11, logistics.

SS12, Stenography

Shortage Stats, March 2020

Strategy…

Diplomacy, keeping our cool.

Public Records, seeking information.

We, why we need each other.

Freelance Loyalty, loyalty to yourself.

Tips on Tricks, be aware of users.

KISS, keeping things simple.

Enforcing Rights, instead of complacency.

Power of Contract, have one.

Allies, have many.

Constantinople, identifying decline.

When Agencies Won’t Collect, ideas.

Stop Gatekeeping, hurts us.

Limits of Institution, how you fit.

Good Reporter, urges resourcefulness.

Commitment, win by any means.

Competing, can’t win if you don’t try.

History, how it informs our future.

Power of No, can make you money.

Getting Involved, you make a difference.

Empty City, don’t buy competitors’ hype.

Big Box, don’t ostracize allies.

Them, emphasizes working together.

Pitchfork, the need for diverse ideas.

Cert Shaming, building each other up.

Sell, why grabbing clients is good.

Lie, the importance of identifying spin.

Guard, about not believing everything AAERT says.

Buying Hype, about promoting facts over a sales pitch.

Why & When, to stonewall.

Pricing In Fear, dealing with a bear market.

Beware Busywork, not letting planning defeat doing.

Students…

Real Job, finding work NYC.

Learn Steno, resources.

Beginner’s Trap, true freelance.

Strike That, do you take it out?

Forgot Caption, NY E-filing.

Off Record, disagreements on going.

Interrupting, when and how.

Take It Out, caution editing.

How Are We Paid, it varies.

Parentheticals, the basics.

Cultural Literacy, its importance.

Hardware 2017, computer basics.

Audio & You, tool or crutch?

Emails, clear communication.

Passive Learning, mastery takes time.

State v Federal, understanding captions.

Briefs, a caution.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, thoughts.

Tax Basics, forms I’ve filed.

Specifically Pacific, verbatim?

Speech & Years, verbatim?

Interpreted Jobs, parentheticals.

Mistakes, you will make them.

Rejection, it happens.

Third Person, messy interpreted testimony.

Stipulations, important.

Inadequacy, why didn’t school teach me?

Employability, truths to consider.

Perfection, sometimes good is good enough.

Tips, general student help.

Value Gradients, different upcharges.

Audio Revisited, more cautions.

Be Social Media Smart, cautions.

Let Go, learning not to backspace.

Errors, how many do you get?

C Bank, technique to short writing.

Log, spreadsheet for logging practice.

Retro, achieving goals by working backwards.

Mentoring, list of all mentoring programs.

Disappointment, importance of boundaries.

Pattern, using pattern writing.

Impostor, forgiving Impostor Syndrome.

Enemies, importance of not saying too much.

Loans, a short discussion of loans.

Workers Rights…

Unionization, freelance.

Workers Rights, cautions.

Gov v Gig Economy, about IC regulation.

– – – –

Writers wanted…

Write Stenonymously, on this blog.

Seriously, write on this blog.

Fundraising…

Fundraising page, support this blog.

Jobs Archive…

March, 2019.

May, 2019.

June, 2019.

July, 2019.

August, 2019.

September, 2019.

October, 2019.

November, 2019.

December, 2019.

January, 2020.

February, 2020.

March, 2020.

April, 2020.

May, 2020.

History…

NYSCRA Prep 2017, for court test.

NY Constitutional Convention, 2017.

Exam Prep, 2017.

Reporter Sharing, 2017.

Disclaimer, 2017.

Exam Prep 2, 2017

Sad Iron Stenographer, first appearance.

Dave Wenhold & Lobbying, 2018.

Typos, Stenonymous PSA.

NCRA Amendments, 2018.

Open Letter to NCRA, 2018.

NCRA Retention Fairness, 2018.

Learn to Caption by Anissa, 2018.

Veritext Buys Diamond, 2018.

License Plates History, 1993.

Positive Reporting, 2018.

New Year, New Rates, 2018.

Wenhold Reaffirms Steno Support, 2018.

Release of Diamond’s Old Renewal, 2010.

Language Study, 2019.

NYSCRA Social, Feb 2019.

Learn About Steno, Plaza, 2019.

Steno v Digital, 2019.

Stenofest, 2019.

Mistaken For The Reporter, 2019.

Stenotrain, 2019.

Wake Up, WUNCRA, 2019.

MA Payonk: Steno First, 2019.

Stenonymous Goes Ad Free, 2019.

NYSCRA Bagels and Lox, 2019.

NCRA: Stenographers, 2019.

NY Courts Want You, 2019.

Language Study Revisited, 2019.

NYSCRA Opens Prep, 2019.

Veritext Scholarships, 2019.

NCRA Survey, May 2019.

NCRA Amendments, 2019.

Burngirl CaseCAT Tips, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite Concept, 2019.

RJR, June 2019.

Leadership Book Review, 2019.

Stenovate, 2019.

Steno Speed, 2019.

Global Alliance, 2019.

Library of Congress, 2019.

Resurgence, 2019.

NCRA Virtual Town Hall 9/21/19, 2019.

Outfluence, 2019.

Raise Your Rates, 2019.

MAPEC 2019, 2019.

Stenonymous Suite EV, 2019.

Impossible Institute, 2019.

Economics of Caring, 2019.

NYSCRA Survey January 2020, 2020.

A Night In Brooklyn, January PYRP, 2020.

Stenonymous on Facebook, 2020.

Eastern District Hiring, 2020.

Trust Issues & Veritext, 2020.

Stenopalooza, 2020.

NYSCRA Student Webinar, 2020.

The Audio Sink

We’ll try not to pontificate too much beyond the title, but it’s time to jump right into discussion on Audio Sync technology. For a quick overview to newbies, the aptly acronym’d AS is basically an audio recording contemporaneously taken with your stenographic notes that allows you to jump to that place in the audio where your notes were taken.

It’s a wonderful tool that’s revered by newbies and seasoned reporters alike. It’s a great thing. It was impressive when it came out and remains an impressive feat of technology today. All that acknowledged, it’s time to put out some caution for the newbie or seasoned writer that utilizes it. Many will have seen these ideas or perhaps assume everyone already knows these things. We’ll assume the weakest link doesn’t and strengthen the chain.

First thing is first, if you’re going to use it, it’s not good to rely on it. Computers are funny. Sometimes they appear to be recording but aren’t. Sometimes they’re recording so much background noise it makes the audio useless. Sometimes you, the operator, forget to turn on the mic. It can be beneficial to pretend you do not have it. As saying goes, if you didn’t hear that answer, don’t assume the microphone did.

It can be beneficial to take jobs without it for three reasons. Firstly, it gives you an accurate idea of where you’re at. If you need a repeat every few seconds it feels awful, but it gives you an honest understanding that when you find some time, you need to work on that speed, or work on that particular accent, or improve whatever is going wrong within your control. There are resourceful tricks we often only come up with if we are forced to get it and do not allow ourselves to “let the audio catch it.”

Then there is also a boon to your wallet. If you rely on audio, then you listen to the entire deposition over, and it can literally double or triple your transcription time to listen to something more than once. Time is money, and very few of us have time to spend listening to every job over. Learning to read misstrokes and getting to glide from word to word will save you time and money in the long run. In the short run, you can also listen to music while transcribing.

If you’re planning on taking an employment test, the ability to walk into a job without audio is priceless. Your transcription skills and on-the-spot resourcefulness will be as sharp as it gets. You will have the ability to cope with getting it under pressure.

In the view of many, AS has done wonders for the field, but also hurt us badly. We graduate at 95 percent accuracy. Many of us go on to let the audio catch it, resulting in lower accuracy, longer transcription times, and tougher times passing examinations for certification or employment. This isn’t to ostracize those among us that use it or even rely on it, but to encourage that occasional job where you shut it off and let yourself develop skills in polite interruption and writing resourcefulness that this generation of reporter just hasn’t had to develop.

Value Gradients for the Stenographer in Training (180+ WPM)

In this article we’ll get down to the different kinds of services offered by freelancers and some officials. This’ll be for the benefit of the relatively new and uninitiated. If you’ve already obtained some mastery over the basics of steno industry or if you’re brand new, this really won’t be for you because you already know about it or are just too new to be worrying about it. I say if you’ve completed 80 percent of a 225 words-per-minute program, 180 WPM, this is probably a worthwhile read.

So there are different things in this field that add value to your work as a stenographer. While we can’t necessarily get behind the subjectivity theory, value is, to a great degree, subjective. This means that simple things like writing a professional cover letter, resume, or contract pitch can make you, at 180 WPM, more valuable than a person who can get 225 WPM but can’t really nail the grammar on anything. Consider the first gradient in your whole career to be learning to write professionally, and always look to improve that writing.

Then we get to the simple things offered by stenographers that pull in more money, typically called upcharges. Often markets are different, and “employers” may even tell you that “they don’t pay for that.” This is a tactic to get you more comfortable with doing the work for less. If there are more stenographers willing to do the work for less, the “employer” has leverage over the stenographers that know about these upcharges, and can bypass them and have you do it for less money. Work smarter, not harder, and consider asking several reporters in your market about the types of upcharges they get. Here are some common ones: Medical testimony, expert testimony, video testimony. Some charge up to 5 percent more for late night work. Some even add an interpreted testimony fee to make up for the time lost to interpreted depositions, which are often fewer pages per hour.

Related to what we just went into is confidence. There is a level of unease that comes with being new. You will probably be pressured to take jobs for less than they are worth. Immediately out of training, it’s agreeable to take all you can get. That said, after a couple of months, after you’re used to getting the transcripts out and doing the work, have the confidence to talk to some other reporters in your market and learn more about what’s expected locally. Don’t talk to one or two — talk to as many as you can. One reporter may say don’t get out of bed for less than a thousand. Another reporter may say hey, if you can rack up 6 busts in a day, it’s okay money for zero work. Have the confidence to take all the different types of jobs just mentioned. In my “class” of reporters there was a very strong fear about taking medical testimony. It had been hyped up as this impossible thing. To be clear, medical words can be unique or difficult, but having the confidence to go out there and do it makes you a better writer with the marketable trait of being able to take any kind of job. There is value in a person that can be sent to any type of job.

Let’s touch on some more common upcharges. Expedite. What is an expedite? That depends. When I started, a “regular” was 2 weeks. Anything quicker was some kind of expedite. Of course the rule follows: The faster they want it, the more they should pay. Nowadays, agencies are pushing people to make 7 or 5 days the regular. In my mind, this is much too short, and it devalues the worth of an expedite. It’s what people who play strategy games would call “a stupid move.” That said, if you can get your work out faster than “regular”, that adds value.

Daily. What’s a daily? You take the job, go home, transcribe, and the job is done by the next day. If you can do a daily, again, there’s value there. Not every single stenographer or transcriber can fulfill a daily. Indeed, to fulfill a daily, multiple transcriptionists have to be put on the same job sometimes. If you can do a daily, you can probably make a thousand or more dollars in a day without being realtime because daily jobs can be worth double a regular in freelance.

Immediate. Immediate is basically you finish the deposition and within 30 minutes to an hour it is ready to go out. The bottom line is the client is getting the transcript pretty quick after the deposition ends. Only the best reporters with 99.9 percent accuracy or a phenomenal scopist behind them can achieve these kinds of levels.

Rough. Rough is basically you go through the untranslates and fix up the transcript before sending it out with the understanding the finished transcript comes later. A rough can be a dollar or more per page in upcharges because it’s basically like an easier immediate. Proceed with caution: Many reporters go out there and produce roughs that are basically unusable. Some of my own roughs have been pretty bad. Always seek to improve and get out the best roughs so that lawyers are encouraged to use this service.

Realtime. Maybe you’ve heard of realtime reporting. It’s among the largest upcharges because these reporters have their words coming out on a laptop or tablet screen for the client. I haven’t personally done realtime, but I know that these reporters can command a dollar or more per realtime hookup on top of their daily, medical, or other upcharges. Why are these upcharges important? More money per page equals fewer pages to make the annual income you want to make. We’ve got over 900 mathematical calculations to show this off.

Now that we’ve been through these different levels of skill, let’s look at how it’ll apply in the real world. Certifications exist, and they are important. That said, in many states and municipalities you can offer these services without the certification. What does this mean? It means that the limiting factor is you. It’s your skill and comfort level. It’s your willingness to go out there and say yes, I will take a medical. It’s the desire to get your skill level to a place where you can realistically offer these things. Your value, to a great degree, is dictated by you.

You will go out there and have bad jobs. There will be hard days. There will be times you feel shaky about the service you’re providing. There will be “employers” who make you feel replaceable. Just keep improving. Know where you are at. Be open to feedback, but don’t live by it. Learn from every mistake. If you are in training and know you are able to produce a daily transcript already — great! Don’t let anybody take that away from you. Don’t accept, as fact, that anybody can do it or that nobody charges for that. The freelance world — the business world — is a tough one. There are buyers and sellers, and the buyers will always be looking for a way to knock you down on the price. Remember these gradients in value, and remember that the more of them you achieve, the more you have something to sell.

There Is No Rebel Alliance

We’ve got a natural leader on the field. There are a lot of leadership styles, but two very prominent ones are those who want to lead, my way or the highway, and those who do not want to lead but know that speaking out is the right thing to do. We think we’ve got the latter! We came across a California blog, SoCalReporters, that does pretty much what we do and brings forward important issues related to steno. And we’d go so far as to say the author(s) behind SoCalReporters are needed natural leaders! The post zeroes in on Veritext, but we all know they’re not the only ones. Sounds like a Sam Smith song.

In the blog post There Is No Evil Empire, the author explores how many Veritext-owned companies there are. The post goes on to say: Have you worked with those companies? That’s okay — we have too! And this is a fine example of what we often try to impress upon people, it doesn’t matter where you work, but the deal you make for yourself and the impressions you give potential clients matter a lot. The post moves into suggestions for what to do with regard to the shortage. Notably:

  • Stop destroying each other over where we work and start building each other up.
  • Talk to each other about the issues.
  • Create alternatives. The writer notes video depos and remote steno appearances in California may not be legally possible for the reporter. In New York, they are possible under specific circumstances. If I could’ve taken depos via video from a satellite office in Brooklyn or Staten instead of White Plains or Long Island, I would’ve saved dozens of hours of my life from the commute. These are possibilities worth exploring.
  • Picking up clients. The blogger eloquently sets forth that it might be time to reconsider how we market ourselves and that this is a great time to market ourselves. Make people feel good, and the money’ll be rolling in.

Believe it or not, No Evil Empire is very much the kind of thing we need a this point. Whether or not you believe these big box companies to be the Evil Empire or not, you have to admit that the salient theme of working together to propose solutions is paramount.

We are proud each and every time a reporter breaks the silence and seeks to introduce their ideas. It happens on Facebook. It happens on blogs. It happens through associations and submissions to the JCR. It’s happening all over the place. And it happened on February 9, 2019. All that is left is for us to organize these efforts and ideas into a coherent strategy. And let’s face it, whether or not you believe there is a rebel alliance, you surely see the merits of working together to solve perceived problems in the field.

Keep writing, keep leading, keep reading, keep learning.

Creating a Degree-Granting Institution in New York

Over two years ago I had written New York State to learn about how to legally establish a degree-granting college in New York. At that time there was not a process to do so in New York State. Now an application process has opened up and the application may be found here.

Succinctly, we will benefit from New York Stenographers being aware that they can apply to create degree-granting institutions. While I am a staunch supporter of all forms of stenographic learning, I made my way through a brick and mortar, degree-granting college, and received my Associate’s Degree in Occupational Studies, Court Reporting.

We will benefit from entrepreneurs getting together and reinventing how we teach this thing. We will benefit from schools offering financial aid to students that need it. Though this information is only a small piece of a complicated puzzle of how to open a successful school, I do hope it reaches people who have interest in perhaps designing programs of their own and building a better environment for students. At the very least, we’ll have more colleges reaching out to high school students and informing them this is a career option.

For-profit colleges are a tough market, often dependent on the employees they hire to remain in compliance with federal aid requirements and subject to scrutiny from the public. Perhaps now that New York State has opened up this application process we can see more dedicated professionals work on this issue and secure funding for schools that make programs as great as Plaza or New York School of Court Reporting. Perhaps institutions that are currently operating will take steps to grant degrees if they do not already.

For better or worse, in my experience, parents and students consider degree-granting institutions more legitimate and are more likely to put time and money into career-building if an institution or school provides a degree. Though New York currently has no educational or professional bar to becoming a stenographer, there is definitely a social stigma attached to having no degree that we cannot ignore if we hope to attract more students to this wonderful profession.

NYSCRA Certs Waive Provisional Assessment for NY Courts

NYSCRA President Nancy Silberger announced on December 13, 2018 that holders of the NYSCRA (New York State Court Reporters Association) certs ACR (Association Certified Reporter) and RCR (Realtime Certified Reporter) will be able to skip the provisional assessment for the state court test. This happened thanks to the work of Debra Levinson. I had written in the past about the value of associations, and today I can honestly say that the value of a NYSCRA membership has increased.

To put it in plain language: Every one to four years there is a civil service examination for the court reporter title and a statewide civil service examination for the senior court reporter title in New York State Unified Court System. Senior court reporters work in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, which is the “highest” trial court in the state. Court reporters work for the other “lower” trial courts, criminal, civil, or family courts. Passing the civil service examination is what gets you a permanent position with the New York State Unified Court System. Sometimes, and as a matter of fact right now, there are provisional postings for titles where people may apply for and take an assessment test to work provisionally in a title. Working provisionally allows people to begin accruing vacation time, sick time, comp time, and I believe it also leads to time in the title and pension. Basically if you are waiting for a permanent position to open up, the provisional posting is your way in. What NYSCRA has done is made it possible for you to get the provisional position in the court reporter title without the assessment test. You already passed a test, so why take it again? So if you can pass NYSCRA’s NYACR or NYRCR, you don’t have to pass the provisional examination to get a job with the NYSUCS right now. What’s better than that?Join NYSCRA. Propose great ideas like this one, and watch the association work to make NY reporting better year after year.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Inspired today to write a little about the pitfalls of poor practice habits. It is no secret that it takes practice, and a lot of it, to become a stenographer. Dedication, time management, and perseverance when faced with crushing failure or frustration are all things that come to mind when we think about practice. 
But we who have done it can tell you that practice does not make perfect. Others have tried to describe this truth by saying perfect practice makes perfect. The concept is simple: When you have set a goal, ensure you are doing the things that lead to that goal. Analyze and know yourself, your habits, and decide what must be worked on the most. 

Imagine that you are a beginning student whose goal is to hit various combinations of keys quicker and more accurately. In such a case, finger drills may be an appropriate use of your time because they are allowing you to familiarize yourself with the keys and combinations, and be more effective at hitting strokes on your early test. Now imagine you are a court reporter applying for a position in a court where there is a high volume of cases and the judges talk very fast. Finger drills are less helpful in such an instance because you do not need to be better at your stroke combinations, you need more speed and endurance. Only fast takes for moderate lengths of time can really help. Finally, imagine you are looking to be a captioner. Writing ultra fast or writing for long periods of time may be helpful, but ultimately it may be that your goal is to hear the words, take down the words, and have them come out on screen perfectly. For such practice, the answer may not be speed takes, but literally listening to the television, taking it down, and building your dictionary word by word.

Then there is another important factor for all of us to consider. Even if you have come up with a great method of practice: Despite some similarities,!our brains are all very different, and we all have different learning styles. Though court reporting/stenography clearly favors auditory and tactile learners over visual ones, you should consider what learning style you truly are and how you might work that into your practice. Are you a visual learner? Flash cards might be your thing. Are you an auditory learner? Listening to dictations over and over might be your path to victory. Are you a tactile learner? Maybe you just need to spend more time stroking the keys, with or without dictation, to get your fingers to glide without hesitation from one word to the next during the actual job or test.

This is all to say: Practice will not make you a great writer. You must know yourself. You must be willing to look at what everybody else does, incorporate what works for you, and discard all else. We have seen brilliant writers come out who focused primarily on finger drills, and we have seen writers just as brilliant that despised finger drills and never ever practiced one if they had a choice. You must be willing to learn who you are and how your mind makes connections. We can only urge each other and ourselves to choose a goal, and work backwards from that goal to figure out how to get there. If you want to make good transcripts, your writing is not required to be 100% accurate but you will need to practice transcribing time. If you want to caption for a large national event, you will need to be pretty close to 100% accurate and will need to focus on practice that forces you to stroke things out and build your dictionary.

There is a place for every dedicated reporter in the Reliable But Unremarkable Stenographic Legion. Practice won’t make you perfect, but with the right practice, you will achieve your goals and find success in this field.

Audio Transcription, Pricing, And You

First and foremost, happy Thanksgiving. As with most great writers, I’m going to take the time away from preparing to the holiday to write about something I know everybody will want to read about: Audio transcription and pricing. As stenographers, we tend to get very focused on a per-page pricing structure. This often leaves us trying to measure our time by pages, and is not always the most ineffective way of being paid.

For purposes of this post, let’s talk a little about CART, audio transcription, and pricing generally. CART and audio transcription are not the same thing, but they have similarities. One key similarity is that they tend to charge by the hour. For CART it’s per hour of writing, usually with a set minimum, and for audio transcription it’s money per hour of audio, sometimes prorated for audio that doesn’t last a whole hour or end exactly on an hour.

Succinctly, for CART, captioning, and audio transcription, despite having different prerequisite skills, the pricing for all of them must take into account the amount of work we’re doing, the quality of the work we’re doing, and ultimately the time it will take us to do the work. So speaking strictly for transcription: I’ve guesstimated that it takes me approximately one to two hours for every hour on the machine to transcribe with pretty close to 100% accuracy. That means for every hour of audio, there are about three hours of actual work involved. So, for me, honestly, working for less than $30/hr becomes painful, so the transcription deal isn’t sweet until maybe the $100-something range. The bottom line of this story? We must examine our time and really decide what it’s worth.

In examining our time, we can also consider other factors. For example, what are other people charging for the same work? As we can see from this Google¬†search here, there are companies that boast a $1/minute transcription fee. So if we do an independent assessment of our time, and we come to the conclusion our time is worth $2/minute, that’s perfect, but just bear in mind that we may lose a couple of customers to the person who is half our price. A potential solution? Split the difference and charge $1.50 per minute.

There’s a lot that goes into economics, buying, selling, demand, supply, and no one blog post could ever impart all of that knowledge on anyone. Even top economists who have devoted their lives to understanding value and money disagree with each other. The best we can do is urge every reporter, where applicable, to look at what they charge, whether charging an agency, lawyer, or outside consumer, and consider how our pricing practices affect all different areas of the field. There’s tons of literature and articles¬†on price matching and how it can help consumers, hurt consumers, help businesses, and hurt businesses, and the cold truth is that it’s up to us to take the time out and learn about these things, because many of us are our own business, and our business rises or falls on our willingness to learn beyond the machine.

E-mails and Communication

The Lazarus Horse.

Heard of beating a dead horse? That’s probably how most feel about my endless advice on seemingly mundane topics. But some horses come back to life, and so, the time comes to address an issue once again. We must stress the importance of writing coherently and clearly. We all fall into the pit of typos and/or iPhone touch disease, and it’s not the biggest deal in the world to make a mistake. That said, when you are composing an e-mail or sending any kind of information to anyone, especially a potential employer, mentor, or someone in the same line of work as you, it makes good sense to proofread the missive and make sure that it accurately conveys what you want it to say.

As an example: Couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was having some kind of exchange about testing in his line of work. The person writing my friend wrote something along the lines of “bus the ny test.” Simply put, we have no way of knowing why that message went out or what it meant, but we do know that it looks really silly. And in the eyes of people that are looking at potentially employing you for a job that has to do exclusively with typing words correctly, such mistakes can be fatal to any prospective employment.

So, a few common tips for getting through the day without e-mail blunders:

  1. Take a pause and reread things prior to sending.
  2. Consider whether any terms you use in the correspondence are ambiguous or likely to be misread.
  3. Consider the connotation of your words. It is generally a bad idea to offend someone you plan to work for or with. As an extreme example, telling someone they are fat and should join your new gym is basically the same message as telling someone that you have just started working out at this amazing new gym and that they should give it a try. If a message must be sent, consider how the other person will read it.
  4. Spellcheck your communications. Google Docs offers a spellcheck if your e-mail service and/or browser does not.

The best way to get good at something is to practice it. Many say that they needn’t worry about proofreading personal e-mails and that they are professional and careful when it comes to business e-mails. Unfortunately, if you spend 90% of your time writing like garbage, and 10% of it writing beautifully, that 90% of your muscle memory and bad habits will always be trying to creep into your 10% of beautiful writing. Try the alternative. Build good habits and write with purpose. Practice consistently and you will see improvement on and off the job.