MAXScribe and the Digital Court Reporting Academy were both brought to my attention. Before I launch into my usual full defense of stenography, I’ll put it out there that I think I understand Stenograph from a business perspective. My assumption is that they see the retirement cliff combined with big money’s interest in expanding digital, and they are doing what they see as the most profitable move, diversifying into a product line that they expect will be growing (digital) rather than shrinking (ostensibly stenography). From a purely business mindset, I think all of us get it. But I’ve been down on Stenograph these last few months and remain so.
My criticism comes from a place of circumstance. We let Stenograph into our schools and gave them access to our students. We encouraged each other to get and keep support contracts over the years, though admittedly I was never in with that crowd. The bottom line is that we built Stenograph with our wallets and brand dedication. We need to grapple with the obvious truth, Stenograph does not have the same dedication to its customers, the stenographic trainers, or anyone else. It’s going to sell to whoever will buy.
By itself, that might be annoying, but there is another reason I find fault with what they’re doing. We have some data that suggests stenography is better for equality. If we look back at the Testifying While Black study, stenographers scored something like 80% on African American Vernacular English — a shock at the time it happened. The pilot studies of that study tested laypeople and lawyers, and those people scored around 40% and 60%. The hard truth is that stenographers may, on average, be understanding more of what’s said by speakers of that dialect in the courtroom or deposition than anybody else. Couple that with the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, where automatic speech recognition by major companies scored as low as 25% on the same dialect. Simply put, stenographers are better for accuracy on the dialect studied. I’d bet results would be similar for a number of dialects and accents, though funding for further studies seems elusive. By taking this hard push towards digital, companies, including Stenograph, are basically saying “we do not care about people.” Anir Dutta and others have used the words “democratization of technology.” Perhaps this really is the democratization of technology and we have simply “voted” that AAVE speakers and anyone else that would be better served by stenography or voice writing does not deserve that service. Good thing nobody’s told the press. Seems like the kind of thing the public might object to. “Court case? Congratulations, if you don’t speak in the way the powers that be deem appropriate, your transcript’s accuracy may be lower.”
Even putting aside all that science stuff, Stenograph’s claims are questionable. Take a look.
It states the number of pages produced per hour can be boosted up to 50%. If there was such a product, wouldn’t it have been marketable to stenographers? If it’s not marketable to stenographers, then that likely means stenographers already produce pages faster. If stenographers already produce pages faster, why is Stenograph not trying to improve our methods and processes? It doesn’t make much sense unless one locks oneself into the bubble of “big money wants digital, and we want big money.”
Maybe it’s time for us to get into the business of helping out digital court reporters. Dear DCRs, anyone that says they can double your earnings without giving you a real good idea of how that happens is lying to you. Ask questions.
Then there’s the Digital Court Reporting Academy.
The effort put into enticing digital court reporters is obvious. But I suspect that Stenograph has missed the mark here. Digital court reporters are likely to face the same income disparities stenographers are currently facing, and they’ll make cuts largely the same way stenographers have because they’re people too. The problem remains this wage or income issue. Cash-strapped “contractors” cut corners and court reporting and transcription companies are forcing as many expenses onto the contractor as possible. That means Stenograph is trying to run from a world where stenographers are avoiding purchases because the money isn’t there to a world where digitals will avoid purchases because the money isn’t there.
Though perhaps I have a naive view of the world. I have assumed that the working reporter is the customer. But perhaps they are all really after the “potential working reporters” or students. If you sell 80 student stenotypes for $1,500, it’s a lot more money than selling 5 professional stenotypes to graduates at $5,000. That same logic likely carries to digital. I expect there will be incredibly high turnover based on communications I’ve gotten from past and present digital reporters about their treatment. Stenograph may be financially incentivized to support that turnover because every person that tries digital and doesn’t like it would be a potential customer.
Big money wants digital. It wants digital so bad that lies about the NCRA were plastered to the internet before NCRA apparently got them taken down, students were being misled into digital, questionable claims have been made to get attorneys onto digital reporting, and a piece to discredit me was apparently commissioned and poorly executed. These are just some of the things we look at in horror and wonder how we could find ourselves in such a lopsided competition where actors on the digital side of the equation get to lie and obfuscate while we get cudgeled by our licensing authorities and consumers are left to fend for themselves. Stenograph’s not responsible for any of that, but by continuing to alienate existing customers and continuing to chase big money over morals, Stenograph has set itself up to hemorrhage stenographic customers, and if growth of digital is stunted by stenographers spreading the word that there’s a better career in stenography, the company may well end up the sten-tech industry’s biggest loser.