Magnificent March 2020

Every month on Stenonymous, we bring you job opportunities. This month we’re going to do something different and take all the job opportunities away. Just kidding. Before I start giving boring sermons about the importance of mentoring, let’s start with an announcement I saw from court reporter and Vice President of Local 1070, Renee Belmar. I reached out to her, and she had one message she wanted me to add, “Let them know we need reporters.” If you ever had doubts about signing up for the next civil service test, it’s time to cast them aside! We need you.

Moving along, an anonymous source reported the following in early February: Kings County grand jury tested on February 4, 2020. The participants were made to write the test on the Kings County DA’s equipment and struggled with it. Queens GJ will be seeking reporters soon or is currently. Special Narcotics may be doing testing later this year. Keep going, jobseekers! If you don’t get it one time, you’ve got it the next. Progress is slow. Success is cumulative. On the flip side, I get what you’re going for, KCDA, but maybe having people write on their own writers for the test would lead to slightly better results. It can be really hard to take down stuff on a machine that’s new to you or in a different position than usual. For example, I did an interview recently where they had my machine propped up on boxes, and it was a bit different to write that way.

Please note that NCRA keeps a job board. It’s far better than my monthlies and might just give you a gateway to your dream job. If you want a break from steno life and want to jump into advocating for sten, check out career opportunities at NCRA.

With that, and more in line with our regularly scheduled programming, DANY, KCDA, Richmond, and Special Narcotics have no official postings. Bronx’s District Attorney has still got a posting up for a grand jury reporter. Queens DA’s website is still under construction, so jobseekers might want to call into the grand jury bureau or HR and see if any openings are expected soon. To my knowledge, there is no citywide DCAS test before April 2020.

The statewide provisional posting for court reporter is still active. If you are somebody who is preparing for the civil service test, the provisional opening is a great way to start your career with the state system. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re talking about opening testing or filing in Fall 2020, whether it’s posted to the exams page 2020 or 2021, it’s coming, and you can get ahead of the game by practicing now.

Please know there are openings for federal court in the Eastern District of New York and Southern District of New York, including a whole bunch of other states. This is a great time to be a stenographer seeking work. You’ve got the skill, now you’ve just got to reach out and grab the work.

As always, feel free to like, comment with more jobs, or even promote your agency below. Keep posting jobs to social media. Helping people find the work is one of the ways to beat shortage. We can only do that together.

Addendum:

The Eastern District posting closed on February 28th. I write many posts a few days ahead of time and use an automated scheduler to post them. Great example of why it’s best for people looking for work to keep these links and check often.

Fantastic February 2020

I do my monthly job posts to try to help connect people with their dream steno job and give them ideas on where to look. As always, we’ve got a pretty healthy selection of places to jump to from here. That said, if you’re a newbie or student concerned with finding work, it makes good sense to reach out and get yourself a mentor today. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing this five hours or five years, you can find someone out there to help. Mentors can also help you locate many Facebook groups dedicated to official and freelance job openings in addition to your state association groups. Do not suffer in a place where you’re unhappy. Reach out to people and try to find out the opportunities available to you with this wonderful skill.

Bronx DA is still looking for a grand jury stenographer according to their postings. Remember, it’s a City of New York job with good union representation.  There have been rumors that Kings County will hold a test, but nothing solid has been posted. Note that the Queens DA site is under construction, so I have no idea if they’re looking for reporters. The Citywide DCAS test for Reporter/Stenographer is still listed as postponed.

NYSUCS has a statewide court reporter posting still up. My understanding is that the number of passing marks for the civil service exam were not high, so if you want to serve the public as a state employee, this application just might be your shot. Remember that the state court system has two main job titles for stenographers, court reporter and senior court reporter. If you are a permanent court reporter when you apply to become a senior court reporter, you go to the front of the line and pass members of the public who are also applying, a huge competitive edge. So apply today and start accumulating leave time and all sorts of other perquisites.

I count about 20 federal judiciary positions still open across the country. There are openings in West Virginia, North Dakota, Idaho, Massachusetts, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, Missouri, D.C., and North Carolina.

Jersey neighbors, the New Jersey Courts have an official court reporter position open. My understanding is they require at least one CRR.

At this time I do not see any postings for US Senate or US House reporters, but that’s probably because the people doing that work are just too good.

Even if none of these are for you, take the time to share. You just might make somebody’s day!

 

The Savior Chimera

Some will have seen the recent article in Legal Tech News where Max Curry, NCRA’s president, told the press straight up that electronic recording by itself is too risky compared to steno in taking the spoken word. Reading the article got me pretty concerned. I felt, as a member, that NCRA’s views weren’t represented well. I didn’t know if that was because of a lack of articulation or because the cards were stacked against Max. I didn’t know if the full breadth of what he was explaining was captured accurately. The words printed just don’t come off as pro-steno as his September 2019 Virtual Town Hall. So I did what anybody familiar with the issues at hand would do, and I wrote the author something super polite. I didn’t get a response, and something tells me I’m not getting a response. Something tells me the cards were stacked against our NCRA when that interview was taken. Hopefully, time proves me wrong, or journalists do a little more digging into this important issue. Just in case they don’t, here we go.

I’ve already gone on at length why I think stenography is the only solution to the court reporter shortage. Let me double down on this because I have the benefit of being self-published. Stenography’s the only solution. There are more stenographic schools than transcriber schools. We are two to four times more efficient than the record-and-transcribe method. AI is going to burn through investors’ money like the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). When you get down to it, you are dealing with two very different organizations. I have been through several years of tax returns of both NCRA and AAERT. You know what jumps out at me? In NCRA’s weakest year that I reviewed, 2016, AAERT made about 13% of NCRA’s revenue. Let me say that another way. We stenographers fund an organization easily ten times more than the recording-is-the-future crowd funds “the future.” Even with a membership that is about one third the cost, it appears from my review of these returns that AAERT cannot attract even a third of our membership. Be proud that your money is going to funding conventions, a professional journal, and a dedicated staff who are all about what we do and a thousand percent in support of all grassroots stenography efforts.

There’s got to be alarm bells going off in people’s minds. In one corner, we have stenography, NCRA, an education culture of over 10,000 members, with strong support for anyone that wants to promote the profession or recruit. In the other corner, we have a Best Practices Guide that maybe a couple thousand people have read and maybe four schools.  If you’re someone who doesn’t know jack about court reporting in America, and you read this, which would you entrust the future to? Which corner would you be in if your goal was to solve the court reporter shortage of America? Stanley Sakai said it way better than I did, but there’s a reason that so many courts, attorneys, and classrooms pick steno over digital recording every day. There’s a reason that the “court reporting” companies didn’t just swap over to the technology that has been available since 1995. There’s a reason AAERT is not our shortage savior today.

Does all this mean we cannot do better? Does this mean shut up and have no opinion about this organization? Does this mean never dissent? No. The Journal of Court Reporting says in its mission statement that they are seeking out diverse views. Max Curry said himself in the town hall that if you are a member who has ideas, he wants you to bring forward those proposals. This is the time for people to step up and make submissions. This is a time of activism, research, and effort in the field. It’s time for people to submit all of the hard work they are doing and share it with your fellow colleagues so that they are inspired to go out and build on that work. I have one caution. Don’t get suckered into being divided and conquered. That’s frankly the only way for us to lose, and our dear friends in the recording businesses of “the future” are counting on it.

In several places on this site, I made a joke. I called us the Unremarkable But Reliable Stenographic Legion. Joke’s on me, because in the last three years you have all proven me very wrong. Whether you’re Open Steno, Protect Your Record, helping our heroes in their time of need, a superhero at the ACRA conference, or someone I haven’t even gotten to discuss on this blog yet, you are remarkable. We are out there every day proving that the human element means something. There is no existential crisis. It’s settled that we are the best method to capturing the spoken word. We need only continue doing what we do every day, promoting ourselves, promoting each other, improving, and providing excellent service.

Addendum. Special thanks to a reader who corrected my usage of “went” to “gone.”

Copyright and Stenography

I created a masterpiece about a week ago. On the left, a very horrifying creature that took about three minutes to create and was instantly copyrighted upon creation. If you took my creation and slapped it on a mug and started selling it, I could probably successfully sue you. On the right, a file snapshot of years worth of transcript work, which could be freely copied by anyone any time, at least ostensibly, as any court that decides this issue seems to decide that transcripts are not expressive work protected under copyright. Sam Glover also wrote about this years ago, but seems to have purged it from his blog. Some courts, like the one in Urban Pacific Equities et al v The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (59 Cal. App. 4th 688, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 635), have taken the step of ruling that the transcript does not have to be turned over under a business record subpoena because it is a product of business and not a business record, but this does not necessarily prevent it from being copied if counsel obtains it another way.

Here in New York, we do have guaranteed payment of an original via our General Business Law 399-cc (Transcripts and stenographic services). In that way, I feel the state and legislature has already partially acknowledged the hard work that we do. But it’s no secret that court reporter businesses, for whatever reason, have chosen to make originals cheap, and make their businesses more or less dependent on these copy sales. It’s often reported in social media circles that attorneys at a deposition will openly and in front of the stenographic reporter offer to copy and give the transcript to counsel that would otherwise have to order the transcript from the reporter. Why not? As best anyone can tell, it’s legal! There’s also a darker side to this. If you do not have a clear agreement with your agency stating otherwise, they can probably also legally copy your work and not tell you about it. Again, why not? It’s legal!

The question arises, what do we do about this? Many ideas have been floated over the years. Some say we should change our model to reflect the lost copy sales and consider charging in a different way, like hourly, per diem, or a higher original. Personally, I believe it would not be unfair to create a body of law protecting stenographers’ rights to their work. Transcribers would probably be equally in favor, and it would certainly slow the rate of copying if it were explicitly not legal.

Many ideas have been floated in this regard, including putting it under theft of services. I don’t think anyone supports throwing attorneys in jail over this. That’s unreasonable to me. But I do think it’s fair to create a civil penalty for the copying of transcribed work. Virtually everything else is protected via patents, copyright, or intellectual property laws, and it seems weirdly unfair to have a class of people whose work is wholly unprotected.

I would propose language to the effect of “No person or business entity shall copy, reproduce, publish, or dispose of to another a copy of the transcript of any matter transcribed or stenographically reported. A person or business entity that violates this must pay a copy sale to the stenographer or transcriber that created the original transcript. Such copy sale price shall not exceed the mean average of the stenographer or transcriber’s copy sales for the twelve months preceding the copying, reproduction, publishing, or disposal.”

Now, if we were to propose such law, there’s a strong possibility we would have to make some concessions. Let’s be fair, many of these matters are matters of public domain and importance. I would propose a few important carve outs, such as, “nothing in this law shall be construed to abridge the right of any person to critique, cite, discuss, parody, or utilize a transcript’s content in any expressive matter.” This punches a bit of a hole in the law, but look at fair use in copyright law, and you’ll get what I’m trying to do. Also, “nothing in this law shall prohibit any person from preparing or having prepared by another their own transcript of the same proceeding or matter.”

There are some bigger issues we’d have to deal with. Would this law exclusively cover private transcribers / stenographers and not public employees? That’s a fantastic question. As a stenographer, I’m sure everyone knows where I stand, but as someone who reads a good amount of law, I understand that government work simply works out that way sometimes. I think if we’re serious about a New York City, New York State, or even someday federal law on this, it’s entirely doable. I think the important thing is prohibiting copying while allowing “fair use” type cases that don’t prohibit freedom of speech and expression. Notably, we could always go the way of this proposed Florida rule, which states plainly, “subdivision (g) requires a party to obtain a copy of the deposition from the court reporter unless the court orders otherwise…”

As always, discuss away or email me! It’s always fascinating to see what others have researched. Hopefully, if ever it becomes a serious discussion by our lawmakers, they’ll also get a chance to consult with authorities in our field like NYSCRA, NCRA, or even ASSCR.

Shortage Solutions 12: Stenography

If you haven’t had the time to use my site’s search box for all the shortage solutions available, I recommend giving it a try. Over the last year we’ve covered some phenomenal ideas. Many stenographers across social media have internalized these ideas, talked about them, made them better than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Well, this one’s for all the non-stenographers and a look into why our shortage mathematically requires us and not other methods of capturing the spoken word. May it help some of you educate non-reporters and maybe even reporting companies on who we are, what we really do, and why we are irreplaceable. Really quickly, machine shorthand reporting gets a bad RAP because it’s “old.” The stenotype style we use today originally was invented in 1906 by Ward Stone Ireland. With over a century of usage, it’s easy for other methods to say that the technology is outdated and point to something like digital recording, originally invented in 1970 by James Russell, as a newer, “better” technology.

Objectively, when you look at both methods, they have seen vast improvements. Back in “the day,” stenographers had to painstakingly transcribe paper tape notes or even dictate their notes back to a typist using Dictaphone-type technology, who would transcribe for them while they continued to take other proceedings stenographically. Modern stenography uses advanced word processing techniques to take the input from a stenographic writer and output text. The more skillful someone is at operating a stenography machine or stenotype, the cleaner the output text is. Some reporters, reaching a 99.9% untranslate or accuracy level, can practically hit print at the end of a job and have a ready transcript.

Even those of us without such a level of skill are more efficient than the record and transcribe methodology. The average person types about 50 words per minute (WPM). The average transcriber reaches about 80 WPM. The average stenographer? 225 WPM. So while it may seem paradoxical that this century-old technology is the fastest and most efficient method available to the consumer today, it’s true.

So when we talk about shortage, numbers, and the “impossible” gap stenographers must fill to meet rising demand and replace retiring reporters, let’s talk some real numbers. There are somewhere between 11,000 and 30,000 working reporters in this country depending on whose numbers you want to use. Let’s say a healthy 15,000. If we’re inputting words 2 to 4 times faster, on average, you need 2 to 4 people to replace every stenographer. If you need another person to operate the recording equipment, that means 5 people per stenographer today. It gets tougher. Hard-working transcribers have reported it takes up to six hours for them to transcribe a one-hour depo. I’m a pretty average stenographer. I know from timing my own work that a one-hour depo is about 40 pages, and I can transcribe 40 pages in 1 to 2 hours. On a great day where my input is good, I could even do it in 30 to 45 minutes dependent on page density and subject matter. But let’s stick to average, one hour transcription for one hour of testimony for one stenographer. Now compare that to the record and transcribe method, up to six hours for one hour of testimony. That could be six to seven people to do the work of one stenographer, or it could take six to seven times as long.

What do all these numbers mean? It means whoever’s numbers you want to use, if you want to say the gap is 10,000 people by 2030, or 1,000 people, or 5 people, it means you’re talking about filling a stenographic reporter gap. Companies who are pushing digital as a solution are saying there’s no way to get stenographers, but somehow they can find, organize, train, and utilize teams 4 to 6 times larger than their current stenographic reporting assets. We complain about the lack of stenography schools. How many digital reporting or transcribing schools exist? How long have those existed? AAERT lists four. NCRA lists almost four steno schools in New York alone. Tell us again how that is the future? Seems to me that if you’re scared about filling a gap of 1,000, a gap of 4,000 is pretty terrifying. If we’re talking replacement of 15,000 stenographers, we’re looking at 50,000 people plus the gap. Even with the abominable success rates of the past, pre A to Z, pre NCRA 2.0, 10 to 20 percent, it follows that if you’re introducing tens of thousands of hardworking people to the field of reporting, and you introduce them to stenography, you can overcome any shortage you would otherwise have. Smart transcribers and digital reporters have a head start on this. They’ve switched to steno because it’s better for them, their wallet, and the consumer.

Let’s just touch on AI as it relates to taking down the spoken word. Computer programming is not magic. Despite the claims of some that technology is advancing every day, an objective look at technology shows it hasn’t advanced much at all. How much better has your bank’s voice recognition gotten in the last ten years? It was hit or miss then, and it’s hit or miss now. Look at it in big picture terms instead of the daily claims of “tech news” sources. Improvements have been made, to be sure. Open source programming projects allow virtually anyone with a little time and technical knowhow to integrate voice recognition into their product or website. Promises of a $25 billion market draw new investors every day.

But the fact remains that a lot of the buzz surrounding automatic speech recognition is just that, buzz, smoke, promises of a better tomorrow that no one can guarantee. It’s a new spin on old news. To understand this, it is important to understand what computers really are. Computers are math-solving machines. Anything you can break down into numbers can be represented by a classical computer. Video games? Math. Word processing? Math. Internet search? Math. We are spoiled. We live in a world where you click buttons and have windows. Far gone are the days when programmers had to use punch cards to operate computers. But consider that everything your computer is doing is broken down into two signals, 1 and 0, on and off. How smart do you think someone has to be to figure out an equation to account for every accent, English dialect, or circumstance? Try differentiating four different speakers using math! I’ve said it before. There’s a very real possibility that it can be solved and that perfect voice recognition can be programmed. Could be tomorrow. Could be 100 years away. Might not even happen. We don’t know. But any claim that AI is the future must be met with serious and sustained skepticism, as AI-related companies can burn through half a billion dollars in a year and still have no major profitable product. There’s a reason the public trusts stenographers and not Siri, and that’s why smart investors stick with stenographer platforms.

Companies and organizations should really re-examine their own views on this. Stenography needs all hands on deck, and they’ll have a much easier time building on our education culture and matured technology than trying to switch over the industry to something untried, untested, and less consumer friendly than the personal and proper touch of a qualified stenographic reporter. The years of training and experience we have collectively, as well as the infrastructure of our large associations and institutions, are second to none. Ultimately, it will be up to the buyers in our market to examine that and decide: Do they want to ride the wave, improve the field as it stands today? Do they want to pay the great cost of reinventing the wheel in the hopes that things will someday be better? I suspect the smartest leaders have already crunched some of these numbers and weighed these factors. They know there’s a very real truth that replacing stenography is unlikely to work. It certainly doesn’t make sense mathematically, and that is why they hedge their investments and keep all avenues open.

Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to companies on the fence. Do not go the way of US Legal, who apparently acquired Stenotrain just to scrub its Internet presence a couple of years later. These numbers are real. The challenges faced in finding coverage are real. These challenges are far from insurmountable. But it will be about four times harder to use non-stenographic transcribers than it would be to address the stenographer shortage. Follow the recent example of companies like Lexitas. Reach out to stenographers and ask them about schools that need your support to keep supplying you with quality reporters. Your investors will thank you. Your customers will have the best service for the lowest cost. You will not be subject to the inconsistency of professional flip-floppers. Your business won’t be broken by people who have no plan for when a transcript is needed for appellate review. Your companies will thrive. You will have a better outcome than you would losing money and clients up against a superior modality like stenography. Shortage solutions? Without a doubt, the resourceful entrepreneur picks steno.

Shortage Solutions 11: Logistics

One of the highlights of the January 2020 PYRP popup in Brooklyn was talking about the local shortage. One solution mentioned on the freelance side was how stenographers and stenographic reporters can advocate for attorneys to set depositions at different times. It was explained that it can be very difficult to accommodate every deposition at 10 a.m., and how a small change in attorneys’ ordering habits might make it simpler to cover work.

This is a small thing to talk about, but would be no small feat to accomplish. It would be a serious cooperative effort for the buyers and sellers of stenographic services to come together and do something to alleviate the coverage issues faced by all companies.

This also brings to light a truism we don’t talk about often. The winners of this market will be the logisticians. Companies and entrepreneurs that master matching reporters with work are necessary. If a reporter can only work in the afternoons, or close to home, or has some other need, an agency that can satisfy those needs is going to get coverage over an agency that just doesn’t care. This is a time for companies that truly support the stenographic reporter to really shine.

Reporters nationwide are advocating for stenography. I see no reason why scheduling habits can’t be a small part of our efforts at consumer education. If it’s the difference between covered and uncovered work, it’s worth mentioning, and it’s worth getting a stenographer into every proceeding possible. There is a digital reporting proponent named Steven Townsend. He has described an idea he calls the long tail, stating that digital recording can cover matters where transcript demand is not high. So when we talk about matters of coverage and jobs that are “not good enough” for a stenographer, remember that long tail. Remember that’s a core strategy of the companies gunning to replace you. Take enough of the “easy” work, become what lawyers regard as “the reporter” and then muscle in on the so-called valuable work under the idea that stenographers are obsolete. They even tell digital reporters we’re obsolete so that they don’t realize we’re a growing and vibrant career choice. There has already been talk in Veritext-owned companies in New York about digital reporters taking over EUOs, which are insurance jobs that many reporters are hesitant to take or refuse to take. Don’t let that happen. Those jobs fuel new stenographers and stenographers with a lower skill ceiling.

Nobody becomes a USPS or UPS-type master of logistics overnight. There is a lot that goes into getting a stenographer on every job. So let’s make it a part of the discussion and grow it together. Existing companies can adapt these ideas, or stenographers can form new companies that do it better. Either way, stenography and the consumer win.

A Night In Brooklyn, PYRP 78

This past weekend 78 pop-up events across the country launched for stenographers, almost all of which were at the same time on January 18, 2020. For Sabbath observers and those who couldn’t make the January 18 pop up, Devora Hackner organized and hosted one on the night of January 19 in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic night and a good indicator of what just a little solidarity can achieve. Protect Your Record Project, started in California by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, has swelled to a national movement where stenographers are saying loud and clear to the consumer that we are the fastest and most efficient method of capturing the spoken word.

The Brooklyn event was a real showing of stenographic society in NY. Every attendee’s presence was important and brought something special to the table. Nancy Silberger, immediate past president of NYSCRA and host of New York’s Saturday PYRP event was there. Howie Gresh and Reid Goldsmith, both longtime working reporters and educators were there. Ellen Sandles, a reporter who has done extensive research into the Federation of Shorthand Reporters was present. Representatives and owners of Little, Lex, and Diamond were also present. NYSCRA’s President, Joshua Edwards, also made an appearance some time after the event’s start. There were over thirty decades of collective reporting experience in the room and nearly two dozen attendees.

Everyone came together to talk about how to advocate for stenography. Ms. Silberger mentioned her ability to host some meetings. Ms. Sandles talked about having potential press contacts. Jane Sackheim of Diamond mentioned that space could be offered by Diamond to teach A to Z courses, something NCRA and Project Steno advocates should definitely ask about. Mr. Gresh reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s involvement in offering free test prep classes. Rivka Teich, a masterful reporter working at the Eastern District Brooklyn Courthouse talked about doing a career night and introducing more people to what we do and different jobs in the field. Mr. Edwards reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s mentoring program and urged people to sign up as mentors or to be mentored. He also brought up that attendees were still being accepted for the NYSCRA Court Reporting & Captioning Week Real-Time events.

Many, many ideas were covered. From high school outreach and following NYS legislation to PYRP’s available resources and files, all the way to potential legislative ideas, like copy protection for reporters’ work. The importance of starting discussions on stenography was noted. We talked about the potential of changing covers, parentheticals, and cert pages to say stenographer instead of court reporter. The importance of communicating with the videographer and injecting oneself into the record when necessary to make a better record was talked about.

There is one theme recurrent in all of this. The power of the individual is undeniable. That’s everyone who was present. That’s you. Reporters are getting together and great things are happening. Maybe there’s a skill you have, or some kind of connection you’ve made that can help educate a consumer or empower another reporter. You don’t have to wait for a giant winged creature to invite you, you just have to be brave enough to jump on the wagon.

Why & When Leaders Stay Silent

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.

January 2020, Just Apply!

Courtesy of the links I’ve got up at Get A Real Job, here’s what we’ve got posted around the Internet at the start of the new year. Freelancers can check the bottom for some ideas. Just before we roll into that, remember that NYSCRA has a free mentoring program, and people can use NCRA’s Sourcebook for unconventional moves like finding a mentor. If you’re a student or a new reporter feeling kind of lost, you don’t have to go it alone, reach out. Even people five years on the job have said “wow, sometimes I feel like I need a mentor!”

But you’re not here for that. You’re here for the jobs, dammit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this month we have the Bronx grand jury job still posted. That’s a Reporter / Stenographer title as a City of New York employee. Side note, the Queens DA site is down so I have no idea if they’re hiring. I guess I’ll have to snail mail them. More side notes, the DCAS Reporter Stenographer application scheduled in November has been postponed, and there does not seem to be a date for it on this DCAS schedule, up to April 2020.

There’s no civil service exam out for NYSUCS Court Reporters because they just had the last test in Summer 2019. They generally hold the test every 1 to 4 years though, so keep an eye out. Even though the civil service exam is probably a little way off, Court Reporter provisional applications are being accepted continuously statewide according to the website.

In the least predictable move ever made, we move on to federal jobs. There are three Southern District postings in New York, including part time and full time work. Whether that means they need three people or one really good one, go for it! There are also a number of federal positions all around the country. Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Remember what happens when they can’t get good stenographers in those positions. They settle for less. Spread these jobs around, don’t be shy.

From the freelance angle it is troubling to me that for years I rarely saw agencies advertise looking for steno reporters and yet I see many postings continue to pop up for digital reporters now. It is not inappropriate for stenographers to take this for what it is, a sign that securing private clients may be a way forward to secure future work, especially if our trade and methodology is not going to be front and center of these old businesses. Take the leap, file with NYS, get yourself on the vendor list of NYC VENDEX or NYS procurement, get on the insurance companies’ procurement lists. Navigating the business world is not an easy thing, but it is entirely possible for anyone that sits down and starts familiarizing themselves with how people buy and sell services and where to find people that buy what we do. Pricing is another monster to tackle. Depending on the contract, people might bid super low original prices just to get copies locked in. Some contracts don’t really have many copies so a high original is necessary. There’s no manual I know of, it’s all straight experience and getting yourself situated as a player in this game, not a pawn.

Let’s win it together in 2020!

Stenographers, Planet Depos Is Not Your Friend

Previously on Not Your Friend, we had our very good friends Veritext and US Legal. Today we make an entry for Planet Depos. There’s really not much to say about them specifically. They’ve been using digitals a while, and it seemed superfluous to write about. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated on social media to watching out for this kind of stuff. Where it might take one person a year and a day to find the information and get it out to a large audience, in these groups news travels fast. So if you’re not connected to something like a Protect Your Record group or a DR Watchdogs group, get connected today, or friend someone who is connected. There have been discussions of agencies that are doing this sort of thing, and discussions of how to advocate for our field and stenography.

What can we say? Veritext is still busy seeking digitals in New York City, which is about as close to stenographic fortress as you’ll ever get. PD is doing it in their markets. There are a whole bunch of companies that we were relying on to stay steno, or that were relying on us to do the good work we do every day. That’s changing. What happened? We can blame ourselves, as we often do, and say it’s something to do with our skills or habits. We can blame them, throw our hands up and say this is the end. Or we can take control of the situation. We can embrace that victory is cumulative. We can understand that there won’t be one single defining moment where someone wins or loses. What happens in a year or ten is settled on what we do every day up to that point.

I know my plan. The first step is to really get the news out that this is what’s happening. Next up, information dispersal. As we start revealing how the market works and what’s being charged, the information will be out there for everyone, and consequently, more people will compete directly. Keep in mind recruitment ideas so that the shortage doesn’t beat us via attrition.

I’ll be publishing rate sheets, client lists, whatever I find and wherever it’s leaked. Many others have taken up advocating for us on a larger stage at attorney, paralegal, and “big law” events. These are not new ideas, but the strategies at play are clear winners. Look how Veritext crumpled at the first sign of stenographers rejecting their new direction and subsequently tried dumping some money on steno to make things better. Imagine a world where there’s any sustained effort to expose shoddy business practices and compete. They just might start their own school program!

We can’t guarantee victory. The catch there is they can’t guarantee it either. And if these companies have stiff competition, there’s a good chance they’ll fall in line and use stenography in every market where it’s viable to use stenography. There’s also a good chance that if those companies don’t fall in line, they’ll go under. With websites like Owler saying Veritext has an annual revenue of 300 million, or Planet Depos an annual revenue of 4 million, and with the cold hard truth that large companies with annual revenue in the billions, like Sears, can cascade into ruin, the truth is out there. Competitors are a market force. Labor is a market force. No matter which you view us as, we have real power. Use that power, and a big box can find itself in the recycling bin.

1/13/2020 Edit.

I am made aware of Planet Institute, a mentorship program ostensibly owned and operated by Planet Depos LLC and registered by Planet Depos under the WHOIS lookup. Notably, its registration predates this article by nearly a thousand days. As always, I encourage agencies taking the jump into advocating for court reporting, specifically stenography. Every dollar spent on steno is valuable and important. In my view, every company can easily turn the ship around, get off the digital craze, and grow some value for shareholders by making stenography training and mentorship their focus. That said, I mention this out of commitment to intellectual honesty more than actual belief that PD will come out as a pro-steno player. As always, happy to be proven wrong and watch them come out as a consistent pro-steno advocate.