Language Study and Service

Some may have read one of several articles from various outlets such as the New York Times, Philly, or Trib that, in summary, basically stated there’s a study that will be published in the Language journal. This study took a couple dozen volunteers and had them transcribe recorded statements that the news articles described as black dialect, but which I have also heard referred to described as urban English or street talk. The volunteers did not do well, and there was a high percentage of inaccuracy.

NCRA and PCRA responded to these articles openly. They basically called the title of the article(s) provocative, and pointed out that this involved volunteers taking down recorded statements as opposed to a live courtroom setting. They seem to believe as I do, that this study shows the desperate need for highly trained stenographers in courts.

Succinctly, there are two things the news often gets wrong: Law and science. We are talking about both at the same time, so I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that there are probably some inaccuracies or misconceptions about the actual study. Anecdotally, I look back to correspondence I’ve had with a researcher of a concept coined benevolent sexism. I actually wrote Jin Goh, a researcher in that study, and Jin Goh basically said we need more studies for the study to be conclusive, and the media misrepresented the study. The results were interesting and honest, but they did not mean that being nice to people was sexist as some news reported.

So of course the first step in understanding a study would be to read it and decide if reaching out to its authors is necessary. So I reached out to the group that publishes the Language journal only to learn that the study itself isn’t going to be published until June 2019.

So what can we say at this juncture? The study had a fairly small sample size, as best I can tell, of 27 volunteers. I am not entirely sure if those volunteers were stenographic reporters as of writing. This isn’t uncommon. We are in a world with finite resources and funding, so studies often don’t have the kind of money you’d need to reach conclusive results on any one topic over the course of one study. We can also note that this is, as best as I can tell, one of the first studies of its kind, so while it has interesting results, we need to remind ourselves these results are not, to our knowledge, representative of multiple studies over years. We need to remind ourselves that some researchers showed us months ago that studies and the news stories about them can be worded in a way that gets clicks, but not in a way that informs the reader. For example, a study was recently conducted that showed jumping out of a plane without a parachute does not increase your chance of injury. The catch? They jumped out of a parked plane. They did this intentionally to remind us all that news on studies can be slanted or cause misconceptions.

So what should we do? In my opinion, there’s only one thing to do. Open our eyes to the fact that a scientific study was conducted, and it’s apparent that humans mishear things a lot! Continue to adapt to different accents in our training and work. Continue to push to provide the best service possible to all lawyers, litigants, and caption consumers. I do think there’s a lot to be said for our performance in real courtroom settings. We ask for repeats all the time to make sure that what people say is honestly and accurately reflected, and that’s something they probably couldn’t get into a lab or study as easily. Perhaps with time we could even conduct our own study, and maybe it would find that the stenographer mishears less than the average person. Perhaps we’d find our hearing is average. We don’t know. That’s the point of studies.

Bottom line: Don’t let this thing ruffle your feathers. I saw a lot of reporters spew a lot of vitriol over the articles, and in the end, the theme of the articles were not “stenographers are bad,” but more “humans mishear things and we should be mindful of this in the administration of our courts because if the transcribers aren’t hearing it then it is likely the lawyers and judges aren’t either.” We’re good at what we do, and we’re better off proving that than attacking linguists on Twitter. We are better off making sure our service is the best service lawyers and litigants can find, period. Truthfully, researchers give us valuable insight into what we do, but it is we who perform every day who know what’s at stake for the lawyers, litigants, and judges we serve.

As an aside, I understand the verbiage of the headlines upset some readers and I agree that this all could’ve been written more artfully. I myself have used descriptors to try to explain the issue as it is and make it more clear for anyone that cares to read.


I am very excited to say another article was released which published the linguist’s name, Taylor Jones. Taylor Jones’s site has a lot of very specific examples that I think are eye opening and important for everyone to read and understand, including examples like, “when you tryna go to the store?” I am delighted to have come across Jones’s website and work, and will be reaching out for comment and clarification on this study to understand exactly what it is about and how reporters might improve training. Previously, I believed I’d have to wait until June to see the study. At a glance, according to a January 2019 blog post by Jones, it does appear that they utilized and/or surveyed Philadelphia court reporters that were actually working in the courts. It is stated that evaluated sentence-by-sentence, accuracy was just under 60%, and when evaluated word-by-word, accuracy was about 82%. Without having yet received comment from Jones, I can say I am incredibly impressed by the blog, and anyone with interest in this study and developing better verbatim records should definitely swing by it and read some of the stuff there. At first glance, this really may be more of an issue than I had believed, and I’d encourage every reader to keep an open mind. Notably, Jones states he has worked with Culture Point to come up with a training suite to address this issue.

April 2, 2019:

In order to be subscriber-friendly I have attached all future updates on this to a new a blog post.

Contracting with Public Entities: Diamond’s 2010 Renewal With City

I had written a recent article about competing for contracts, and in that article, I got into a pretty detailed description about how to access public records. Succinctly, I believe that the more we talk about how to compete, and the more we facilitate an environment where people feel they can compete, the more competition we will see. This competition has a decent chance at spilling over into the most important competition of all: Attracting talent.

Ultimately, market share allows companies to have more power in negotiations with their reporters. If reporters feel empowered to seek work elsewhere, or even grab some market share for themselves, there’ll be more of a push to treat people well and attract reporters who are in it for the long haul. So if you have not read my article on inflation or accessing public records, I suggest you do just for the knowledge and experience.

That all said, I’m going to get into why I’m writing today. This has become a place for information to be given out. This has become a place for people to spread ideas. This has become a place for me to post a little piece of history. In or around 2010, Diamond had renewed its contract with the City of New York, the Law Department, or Corporation Counsel, and sometime later, I got a copy of that renewal. I also, at around the same point in history, was doing research on other companies’ public contracts, though I do not have them to post today.

To be blunt, per my interpretation, in 2010: The appearance fee was set at $26, the regular Law Department delivery was $3.65 per page, $5.20 per page for a rush, $5.75 per page for an overnight, $78 for a bust fee, $5.20 for a disk or CD ROM of the transcript, $5.20 for a compressed transcript, $5.20 for an electronic transcript, $5.75 per page for realtime and regular delivery, $7.30 per page for realtime and rush delivery, $7.80 per page for realtime and overnight delivery, $1.60 per page of rough draft, $78 for obtaining clearance to a prison, $130 fee for appearing at a prison, $21 for a multi-file disk.

Plugged into an inflation calculator, these 2010 dollars would be worth the following in November 2018: Appearance fee, $30. Regular Law Department delivery $4.21 per page, $6.00 per page for a rush, $6.63 per page for an overnight, $90 bust fee, $6 for a disk or CD ROM, $6 for a compressed transcript, $6 for an electronic transcript. $6.63 per page for realtime and regular delivery, $8.42 per page for realtime and rush delivery, $9 per page for realtime and overnight delivery, $1.85 per page of rough draft, $90 for obtaining clearance to a prison, $150 fee for appearing at a prison, $24.33 for a multi-file disk.

To be clear: This is ostensibly a contract for a large amount of work. This says nothing of what could be charged in copy sales to private plaintiff attorneys. Remember that there is no limit on what may be charged by a company on copy sale. Some reporters that get sent on contracts lose companies money, and that’s compensated for from the reporters that do not know to ask for more. Take an interest in your business, getting clients, and staying stable.

Recently I was informed that Diamond may have increased its rates to attract talent. This is an important development, and if true, wonderful news, a great move, and definitely something that reporters should consider in their negotiations and in how they coach student reporters.

If you like this sort of public information spread, feel free to donate today, or donate copies of public information. Helps cover simple costs related to domain hosting and potentially upgrading this blog, and creates incentive to write similar articles.


The Limitations of Institution

If only a reader could experience that same sour feeling I have having to write this. Recently, I spotted a non-steno recording job on one of the court reporting groups. We have a deep disdain for that stuff because digital recording is making its way into pretty much any market it can and our strongest potential defenders, the big box agencies, can be pretty much fine with whatever happens because they can switch direction or become a recording firm. They’re only going to spend money on reporting for as long as they’re making money on reporting. We, as individuals, couldn’t make so easy a switch. The jobs would, in all likelihood, pay a lot less and force a lot of us out. We don’t have anybody fighting for us. We don’t have, individually, a great deal of money. And, for some reason, we refuse to support state and national organizations that could, given a better budget and a more robust membership, fight for us. So before I jump into the limitations of institution, let me just say, join one today! There’s a heck of a lot of power in a collective, and it is one avenue we must not ignore in bringing more people into the field.

But now it’s time to talk about the restrictions imposed on institutions. They can’t discuss prices for fear of being branded as price fixers and slapped with antitrust litigation. They can’t, on a whim, make posts or statements. Everything is controlled by a board, or bylaw, or some legal standard. In the end, this is good, because it ensures that members that join a reporting association can pretty much join and be comfortable that the board is going to do the right thing, or everyone will be able to see detrimental changes to the organization from a mile away and be allowed to yell, “stop! Stop!” In the end, this is also bad, because it makes some tactics or solutions unimaginable or unimaginably slow for an institution.

That’s where we, mostly free people, can come into play. I’ve been quite troubled in recent times. We have a great presence of reporters on Facebook. There are innumerable groups meant to support reporters and we’re doing fine there. But the internet is large, and we are losing ground in a lot of places. On Reddit and Quora the digital reporting folks and the resurgence of stenography in India have started to block us out. YouTube’s got a lot of Indian steno too. If you’re searching court reporting, you’re getting recorders. If you’re searching stenography, you’re getting at least some Indian content.

So the other day I saw a job for exactly one position for a digital recorder on Staten, and I posted it on Facebook on my own page and in a very large NYC jobs page with over 150,000 members. But I did that with an objective. Along with this one position, I made sure the words court reporting, stenography, and machine shorthand reporter hit that page. I made sure to say if you like legal proceedings, come do what I do, there are jobs open for real court reporters today. I accept that I’ll be told I’m wrong. I accept that I’ll be talked about behind my back. But I brought the words machine shorthand reporter in front of a potential 150,000 jobseekers in one post. Jobseekers with friends, and family, and all sorts of people who know people. Frankly, why do you think digital reporters are sitting on our Reddit? To draw people and say come, do what we do. I say to any of you, they have these recording jobs already, and they’re going to fill them, so it’s probably time for we who are not limited by institution to fight exactly the way they fight. Be where they are. Grab the attention of people they’re marketing to. Yeah, you can do that, but you can also become a machine shorthand reporter and do better! You can do better! You can be one of us! And as for why I didn’t just mention straight court reporting? The gates of that group of 150,000 jobseekers are high. They have strict rules about what can be posted and how it can be posted. I had to fit their mold, and I used the recorders to do it.

If you want reporting to be a viable option for a child, friend, or family member, it has to stay robust and attract students. We all know how hard it is to make it through school. A small percentage of people that see court reporting will try it. A small percentage of the people that try it will like it. A small percentage of the people that like it will be good at it. And finally, a percentage of the people who are good at it will make a career of it. If we don’t get a whole heck of a lot of people to see court reporting, we’re looking at a situation where we’re replaced with recorders out of necessity.

So if you see me out there doing something you don’t like, feel free to ask, feel free to denigrate, feel free to do whatever it is you do, but remember that most of that energy can be used to come up with bigger and better ideas than I ever had. Remember that this field needs you.

Public Records

Knowledge Can Be Power.

Agency owner talking about a sweet new deal they got with the City of New York? How exciting! But wouldn’t it help your negotiation position if you knew what they were pulling in on that contract? Yes! But how could you do that? Check it out: You can go to the Mayor’s Office of Contracts Public Access Center at 253 Broadway, on the 9th Floor, in New York, New York, and you can print out data on their contracts with the city. You’ll need the proper business name, which you may obtain from the New York Business database.  Once you get a printout of the general contract information, such as the city agency the company does business with and the amount of the contract/contract number, you can make a FOIL request to the city agency they do business with for a copy of the contract. Knowledge is power if you do something with it. Use information to negotiate for yourself, bid on contracts, or share it with others so that they might negotiate more effectively.

FOIL Requests.

FOIL requests are easy. You find the FOIL law that applies. If it’s a New York Executive Agency, it’s covered under the Executive Law. The State provides tons of free resources for learning about FOIL requests. If the agency you are looking to find information from is a court, then it is likely covered under the Judiciary Law.

Writing your request is even easier than reading the law. Locate the address of the FOIL officer of the agency you are seeking to find information from. Often this information is available online. For example, as of writing, the FOIL Officer of the New York City Law Department is Andrea Fastenberg, 100 Church Street, Room 6-244, New York, New York 10007; which is information easily accessible through the Law Department directory.

Now sit down to write your FOIL request. Simply write hello, my name is so and so, and under such and such section of law, I make the following Freedom of Information Law requests for the following records. You list the records you want information about. You should ask for a full copy the record or contract, and any and all documents/records related to that record or contract. You should name the record or contract, and describe it as fully as possible so that the agency can locate it for you. Ensure that the agency has good contact information for you, and offer to accept the information by e-mail, because it may reduce your FOIL request costs. Succinctly, the government is entitled to a small fee for production of records. Often, receiving the information by e-mail eliminates this cost.

If you are seeking information generally from a state or city agency, you may also consider adding a time period to your FOIL request. For example: I request a copy of any and all contracts for stenographic reporting services, court reporting services, recording services, or electronic recording services from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017. This will help the agency with your request, because then they would only be looking for records in that year, as opposed to records going back a decade or more.

Always be professional and polite. If you do not receive a response within a month, you should consider following up with another FOIL request!