Silence is Deafening

There was a great deal of mirth when we started this blog in the summer of 2017. Perhaps we suffered from pain or fear, but we knew that there was a need to begin preserving and sharing knowledge. We did not expect an audience. We were told, perhaps rightly, that there was no reason for readers to find us credible. There were no delusions of grandiosity. There was only a single belief and overriding directive: It was the right thing to do. We had inspiration and experience in the field. We saw the many questions our contemporaries had. We could begin to document these questions, issues, and answers or simply continue the impossible game of answering each one individually on Facebook.

Imagine ourselves in a plain white room with no windows or doors. There is only a voice every 12 hours that tells us the time. It is now 6 a.m., says the voice. We do not know if it is really 6 a.m. Nor do we know if the last time was really 6 p.m. We do know that the time in between, we are left to our thoughts, as dark or optimistic as they may be.

We saw this in the interactions across the field. One often only gets to talk about the field when one is brave enough to put their face on a question or statement. Is the time 6 a.m.? Groups dedicated to answering questions could also devolve into mocking questions and creating an environment that even the most zealous stenographers did not wish to take part in. Of course it is not 6 a.m., mocks the voice, never bothering to say what we really want to know.

Without input, our newbies and students may stumble blindly into the same pitfalls we did. Without guiding voices, they may lose the ability to tell the time. We have grown in readership not because the things we say are particularly profound, but because we say them. We do not back down from hard truths. We try to give credit when it is due. We are always open to changing our minds when a situation warrants it. We inform whenever we can, and do not assume everyone knows what we know. We feel the field would benefit from these principles, and so we share them freely, hoping to see more discussion and camaraderie grow in New York and across the country for stenographers.

We encourage more voices to join us in guiding those who need guidance. One need not any special qualification to lead. One need only disregard the voice that tells them not to speak out. Continue blogging, talking, encouraging, and answering questions. Our greatest achievement will not be the hours spent dictating the time, but the day we have built a foundation of knowledge so strong that our learners can escape the room and teach others to see the morning.

To Our Agency Owners

My first message has to be to our big box, non-steno owners, nationwide, or electronic reporter owners. This blog can come off a little anti-corporate at times, and I often encourage stenographers to ask for more money because, let’s face it, some of them are getting a bad deal. That said, I do see the value in corporations, even very large ones. They can be a great marketing tool and power for the stenographic reporter.

I’ll even point out something good. Allegedly, when the court workers struck in California recently, Veritext reportedly said it would not cross that picket line and would not fill those jobs. Assuming true, that’s a damn good move and absolutely socially responsible. Love news like that, because it gives me some hope that we who are skeptical of your intentions can be wrong.

All that said, we are seeing some very troubling trends. We’re seeing US Legal pushing electronic recording. We’re seeing a lot of apathy when it comes to keeping steno strong. I get that in many ways we are seen as one service or labor, but we can type four or five times faster than your average typist. We can pump the work out faster, and there’s more infrastructure behind steno today. There are support networks and groups of thousands of stenographers, and rarely does any question go unanswered. We take care of each other to make sure the work goes out looking good.Per stenographic “employee,” the price for training is basically zero. Maybe you let some stenographers shadow every year. Maybe you spend a few days a year visiting our schools. The only imaginable reason to get into the record and transcribe business is the illusion that those people will be cheaper. In the long run, it will cost you business. It’ll make things less efficient. The turnover will be higher. The turnaround will be slower. And worse yet, you will incur the pushback of stenographers. We are mobilizing, we are sharing information faster than ever before, and we will shout you out, your work will go uncovered, and we will teach your new employees that they are being taken advantage of so that they unionize and ask for more, and when we’re done with all that, maybe the illusion that there is profit in pushing us out will be gone.

But there is another way! You can join the reliable but unremarkable stenographic legion! You can invest in advertisements to bring people to our steno schools. You can invest in a future where every single transcriber you’ve got is a stenographic reporter capable of printing out the work five times faster than the average typist. You can prove to all your competitors that the business strategy of treating workers well works. If your company released a single practice dictation a month publicly on YouTube or some other medium labeled practice dictation for stenographers, it would only be a couple of years before there were two dozen videos out in public saying that one little word we want everyone in the country to read: Stenographer. We want you to make money. We want your companies to succeed. But we also want this to remain a sustainable career, and this is just going to be a turning point where if you aren’t with us, you won’t succeed. Make a positive impact on the community, help us thrive.

Now I’ll address my stenographic owner, the person who’s trying to make it work, or steno allies in general. You’ve got to push for more market share. If you’re getting ready to leave the business, mentor someone to replace you, push for more people to be an entrepreneur like you are. Push for people to be informed. If the big boxes don’t hear me, then it’s down to you to make an impact and ensure a stenographic reporter is sitting at every dep. Perception matters. If lawyers start seeing a recorder at every job, then that’s what they’ll start using, if they see a stenographer and it’s always been a stenographer, then it’ll stay a stenographer. No matter your persuasion or philosophy, I understand how hard it is to run a business. I started a corporation myself years ago, and for many reasons, it flopped. We face a lot of unique challenges in reporting, and there’s really a lot to be said for the successful business. But the time has come that we addressed the elephant in the room: You’ve got to use the stenographic reporter. We’ve got to be the bronze, silver, gold standard, and if we aren’t, then we’ll build companies where we are.

Knowledge Preserved Is Power

Connecting Dots.

To some degree, we all enjoy researching pieces of history.¬†Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes we learn things that nobody else knows. Sometimes we get to use our knowledge to help those close to us, and that’s a wonderful thing.

But I had quite the experience exiting steno school years ago, I found that knowledge was hard to come by. I wanted to know all about the old Federation for Shorthand Reporters. I wanted to know why it failed, and I wanted to know what people’s rates used to be so I could compare them for inflation. Some stenographers were kind, and gave anecdotes, like they made $2.85 in 1989, which was interesting, because I was offered $2.85 when I began my professional steno career in June 2010. $2.85 in 1989 had about the same buying power as $5.20 in 2018. Sincerely, I’m told some have worked for less than $2.85 a page today. I’m basically saying freelancers should be making $5.20 on a regular easy. Laugh all you want, it’s the math. And that’s the point. How is this not common knowledge? How are we not talking about this? How are we not discussing the best ways to negotiate and pull up whatever we’re making today?

Finding real concrete information was hard, and often, even when I became an established professional,¬†people who had some experience in the field were done with the field and didn’t want to take the time out to share their experiences.

It’s imperative that I write a little bit today about why I started to preserve some of these ideas about the market, competition, and steno in general. Some of it is a modern look at how we might make things better, but also it’s about catching up, preserving knowledge, and putting it out there so that stenographers everywhere might benefit.

Let’s be very honest. How easy is it for an agency to tell a kid out of school that they’re only worth $2.85? The kid doesn’t know! The kid doesn’t have anybody to tell them what was or what may be. The kid only knows they’re in the moment and they’re being offered XYZ. It’s not like agencies can’t afford stenographers, they just have an interest in paying the minimum that’ll get the job done. That’s the reality.

We have probably 100 years of stenography. If we assume there was an average of only 20,000 stenographers in those years, that’s 2,000,000 years of life and steno experiences. The industry has survived and thrived. Our biggest weakness is that nearly all of the information today is locked up behind paywalls, private practice sessions, quiet conversations. This constant limiting of the spread of knowledge has hamstrung us like no enemy ever could. As Ariel Durant said, a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. Connect the dots, lift people out of ignorance, and the civilization will take care of itself.

Winning.

It’s about training people not to be afraid anymore. It’s about reaching out to students and telling them where you’ve won, where you’ve lost, and how they can be successful. Give them real numbers. Ask how they’re doing. Tell them what people were making in the 80s, 90s, and now. Tell them how people outside of New York City make a dollar on copies. Tell them New York officials make at least dollar on copies. We cannot teach resourcefulness, but we can facilitate an attitude and environment where people understand the market and push for private clients and create stenographic-only firms. We can get to a point where companies like US Legal stop pushing their electronic recorders and start contributing to training more stenographers.

The bottom line is that without a healthy field in multiple disciplines, eventually the train runs off the tracks. I hear a lot of people echo “come to court”, “come to CART”, “come do what I do because it works for me.” But the bottom line is to continue to thrive, stenography needs to continue to grow its market share, and it needs to push to retake where it has lost. A lot of victory has to do with perception. If stenography is perceived as failing, then it is less likely that people will want to get into it, and less likely that people will start schools dedicated to it. Such a perception would be a deathblow for this field.

On the other hand, if it is seen as something new, exciting, and with growth potential, it will encourage people with money, entrepreneurs, and innovators to invest in it. We’ll encourage the building of more free steno materials. It will cause a boom for us, and if we’re smart about it, we may not see that boom end in our lifetime. So I’d say yes, absolutely encourage people to join your particular discipline, but also listen to their problems, and suggest how they might do better where they are too. It’ll make a world of difference for them on an individual level, and save all of us as a whole.