Inside Stenonymous’s Strategy

My behavior, to some, may come off as strange. I started the digital court reporter helpline on Facebook. Some people, even my own readers, take issue with the fact that I refer to them as reporters. I’d like to level with people, I know that what I do is different from mainstream stenography. There are ideas and strategies behind many things that I do. I’d like to share some so that people can understand and make their own judgments. I’ll also memorialize some steno history as I see it.

First, on the issue of shortage, I envision possibilities and then document events until I know a probable truth. For example, certainly at the start of my journey, I wrote about shortage and I viewed the shortage as our main problem. As I started to see the Speech-to-Text Institute inundate our side of the field with claims that the shortage was impossible to solve, this belief was replaced, I came to believe that STTI was simply digital court reporter marketing, and that by emphasizing the shortage, they were trying to fool reporters into going digital, fool agencies into using digital, and ultimately fool our associations into embracing the “new” court reporting. It’s called framing. How you frame an issue dramatically changes the response you get. If they framed the shortage as insurmountable, we would come to the conclusion they wanted: You must go digital. To wrap up my thoughts here, I formed two possibilities in my mind. 1) The shortage is impossible to solve. 2) The shortage is possible to solve.

Eventually, after much documentation and research of their claims, I concluded 2 was most likely. I’ll spare everybody the explanation. But that’s where I jumped into a number of activities, writing about digital reporting, the pitfalls, the deception of jobseekers. Here’s the strategy part: This all creates a record. It populates searches with Stenonymous blog posts. It begins to shape digital court reporting’s online presence and frames the issue in the way STTI was doing to all of you. So when people look up digital, they might see it’s a kind of “soft scam” and go elsewhere. This makes the economic cost of filling digital positions higher, and therefore disincentivizes digital use in businesses. Even now, search engines may start pairing digital court reporter with scam just because I wrote them together. So for those of you that want me to call them recorders, this is why I won’t. The people in power now have to live with the toxic title they stole from us.

I also scare off people that have an agenda, but no conviction. I was connected with Jim Cudahy (then STTI), on LinkedIn for a short time. At that time a lot of shortage media was going out, and I realized the man had a connection with an association for journalists. While I can’t prove it, I believe at least some shortage articles were engineered because I have been trying to get an article run on corporate fraud for over a year (on and off) with little success. Why in the world is every journalist DYING to talk about the end of stenographers, a field for which they previously had no interest? It might be big business interfering in our industry media. One analyst, Victoria Hudgins, ignored me when I wrote to her with corrections and kept publishing stuff that put stenographers in a negative light. I finally ran an attack ad on her, and we haven’t heard from her since. I called Jim Cudahy a fraud and he ran away to the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies. Now I’ve been watching Steven Lerner’s articles at Law360. He’s a senior reporter at Law360. I feel his articles put too much emphasis on calling things equal, mostly because the idiot called STTI a stenography association, and he has outright ignored many things I’ve sent him. So quite frankly he may be next. Say what you want about me. In medieval warfare getting the enemy to rout was a win. At the point where its enemies flee, the stenographic legion is winning.

There is also a strategy to being solo. I’m a bit of a loner and you can’t really ostracize a loner. I separated from my volunteer roles in associations. This has many benefits as far as lawsuits against me for my publishing. A potential plaintiff would have to target me as an individual. The amount they could collect is limited because I just don’t have very much. The economic cost of a lawsuit would also be phenomenal for a plaintiff. Imagine for a moment the 400 or so blog posts I’ve made over the years becoming exhibits, the depositions, the interrogatories, the emails, the trial! This is on top of the fact that a lawsuit against me would not be meritorious, and therefore plaintiff would risk losing against a pro se stenographer.

I tried contacting law enforcement, but I don’t have any details on where those reports go. This leaves us in a kind of twilight where we need the media to cover this and ask the hard questions, like “hey, multimillion dollar corporation Veritext, why would you let a respected member of the profession say these things about you without trying to convince him he’s wrong?” Remember, they don’t have to sue, they just have to convince me I’m wrong. They haven’t tried. Because it’s a fraud. I even wrote them a letter. We also need the media to ask government questions, because that would probably get government to act. Until it does, we are a nation of unenforced laws.

Again, possibilities. 1) An event will occur which triggers a viral moment, calling attention to us in a way that changes the trajectory of digital recruitment and definitively ends shortage, such as attracting investors. 2) Such an event will not occur. So what is digital court reporter helpline? An assumption that I will lose. I will assume that court reporters will not increase their funding of Stenonymous over the next decade, that no journalist or lawyer will come to our rescue in a way that makes a difference, and that the number of stenographers falls to the point where we won’t bounce back (unlikely). So then the goal, for me, at least, becomes improving the lives and working conditions of working reporters. That means organizing people. That means communicating with them. That means thinking well outside the box. And if you see the description for the helpline, you’ll see what I mean. Again, as I grow this movement, it will hopefully decrease the steno-digital pay gap, leading to incentivized stenographer use because we are more efficient on average. And if the corporations decide to discontinue their aggressive pursuit of digital before we have a viral moment, so be it. But that’s what the helpline is about, taking control of digital court reporter spaces in a way that associations could never do.

But until I’m fairly sure I’ve lost, I’ll be trying to reach that viral moment. I’ve done this in a lot of different ways, even some ways people wouldn’t think about, like being a little more rude or aggressive. This is because journalists are lazy and about ten thousand times more likely to publish an article about me saying something a little off key than the math showing shortage is exaggerated. Seriously, somebody lie and tell a journalist I made a racial slur and I’ll be in the news tomorrow. But corporate fraud affecting thousands of people isn’t important. In that same vein, I was hoping someone would start media antithetical to mine and start an ideology war with me. Power’s about eyeballs, and nothing would get eyeballs like an open market media war. The most I got was Mary Ann Payonk blocking me and badmouthing me to others.

You see, for years court reporters predictably went in the same direction and were stuck in a kind of “group think.” By injecting the market with a new and growing viewpoint, we create an environment that is uncertain. In a “certain” environment, status quo reigns supreme, and right now the aggressive expansion of digital is the status quo. In an uncertain environment, the largest players have the most to lose and are the slowest to act. By taking our predictability off the table, we can force the largest players on the field to react to us. If your opponent is reacting to you, it means you have a shot at controlling the game.

Some miscellaneous points. As for why I allow uncomfortable conversations in the Stenonymous Facebook group, my business is information. It’s a cop tactic. Let the suspect talk themselves into a corner. Let the people that make us uncomfortable speak, we might learn something or we might not, but we certainly will not if we silence dissent. And learning new information can only help us because we are the more-established workforce.

Before I conclude, I would just like to say I’m imperfect. My execution of things isn’t always great. So I am open to criticism. I don’t discard it when you send it. I do not censor contrary viewpoints. That’s why I’m writing this. Being open minded is also part of my strategy. Evidence will change my views, particularly over time and with reflection. Building truth seeking into my worldview allows me to re-evaluate things and avoid confirmation bias trapping me in an endless loop of “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

I guess the bottom line is my life as a court reporter has taught me that a lot of “bad people” go through life with a simple moral code. “Screw you, stop me.” I’m experimenting with what happens when a “good person” has had enough and takes on the same moral code. What happens when a “good person” is willing to be the “bad guy?”

Stenonymous.

Does Anyone Feel Bad For Stenograph?

Picture this. You are among the leaders of “sten-tech.” Widely acclaimed. Admired in many circles. Supported by hundreds or thousands of stenographers by way of support contracts for the hardware and software you make.

Some of the largest companies in the court reporting industry decide digital is the future. They ostensibly create a shell organization to propagandize the field, claim the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve, and highlight digital reporting as the solution. Anticipating the direction of the market, you join. Unknown whether you joined with or without knowledge of the fraud, but whatever.

Some guy with a blog is writing some stuff about inequality and the shortage stats being misleading. Who really knows? Digital is the future. Ahead to the future!

Ah, but wait, that guy with the blog was onto something and other respectable members of the profession are now starting to say the Ducker Report really isn’t reliable in modern times.

Oh, crap. Well, if people figure out the guy with the blog was right about that, they might start to wonder what else he was right about. They might even realize you’re on the board of the organization that was trying to get rid of them. Time to make a blog about how much you support people!

Stenograph’s message to stenographers in a December 2022 post.

There are a few ways to view Stenograph’s message. You can either see it as the markup is way above 1000% and therefore they were making way more money off of us than a lot of us ever really cared to think about, you can see it as they sacrificed or maybe even took a loss for customers, or you can just assume they’re lying. I won’t tell readers what to believe this time. I honestly don’t know.

I do know that if Stenograph wants to make it right with stenographers, there’s an easy way. Break rank with the companies trying to strangle the market, disavow STTI’s ludicrous claims that the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve, and detach from the STTI Bloc. NCRA Strong left the door wide open. If Stenograph can’t do that, then can it really say that Stenograph remains committed to the future of stenography? It’s literally intermingled with an organization that tried to bury stenography under a wave of shortage media. We may have big hearts and short memories, but anybody that was paying attention 2020 to 2021 is just going to feel insulted or gaslighted.

Stenograph could make history in our field by withdrawing its support from the STTI Bloc and denouncing the lies STTI told about our profession. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s arguably the smart thing to do. Despite the media blackout, the illegal collusion of big box companies to manipulate a market, and the complete collapse of support from what I thought was our largest manufacturer, we’re winning. With minimal funding and relatively little institutional support, we’re winning. Even though most of us have to advocate in addition to and after our full-time jobs, we’re winning. We know we’re winning because if our numbers were so catastrophic that we could not bounce back, Stenograph wouldn’t spend any time trying to appease or impress stenographers. If Stenograph was suckered in by the bad stats and misinformation, a lot of us were, stenographers will forgive it. If it continues to dance around the issues and pretend we are stupid, don’t feel too bad about what happens next.

NCRA Net Assets Dwarf Competitors, Digital Court Reporting Bad for Business

I’ve raised questions about the Speech-to-Text Institute’s data and some companies’ blind reliance on that data. Today I’ve got to raise the fact that, if we compare net assets on 2020 tax returns and information found on ProPublica for NCRA, STTI, AAERT, and NVRA, it seems like NCRA is the clear leader at over $6 million, and its nearest “competitor,” AAERT, had about $217k. STTI came in dead last, more than $100,000 in the red. This doesn’t even account for the myriad court reporting associations and nonprofits across the country and the money that goes into them.

It still remains a serious question why the public and court administrators would rely on the word of an organization that doesn’t seem to have the monetary support needed to address the court reporter shortage in California, let alone America. Think about it. If you want to raise a workforce of possibly 20,000 professionals, who do you turn to, the organization with $6 million or the organization that’s in the red and being kept afloat by some undiscovered means?

There also remains a question about the severity of the shortage. As told by the document linked above, it states that over 50% of California courts have reported they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types. California’s shortage was forecasted to be the worst in the country, about 20x worse than many other states. If around 50% of California courts are having trouble, it would follow that somewhere around 2.5% would be the average across the country. Devising relocation incentives could pull more people to California and solve the problem.

This has implications for the big business bosses and the small businesses they bully. They’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to match stenographic initiatives. Eventually shareholders are going to ask why these businesses are swimming against the direction of the market. Why would you spend time and attention trying to cultivate a professional community in digital court reporting when one clearly exists in the stenographic community? Why would you aggravate the talent/labor until it starts discussing things like misclassification, pay, and working conditions?

Stenonymous reporting live from the dead internet.

NCRA 2020: $6,293,223 net assets.

AAERT 2020: $217,609 net assets.

NVRA 2020: $122,098 net assets.

STTI 2020: -$119,169 net assets.

The Irreversible Institute

Speech-to-Text Institute is an association that claims it wants to define, modernize, and lead the court reporting industry. About three years ago, in the Impossible Institute post, I wrote about how it appeared that the STTI had already concluded our shortage was impossible to solve. My position was simple: “There have been no updates since Ducker. How can anyone make that claim?

The Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously claims the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve.

Several readers sent me the STTI’s newest production, a series of slides that make more claims about our industry and profession.

The Speech-to-Text Institute states there is a steady and irreversible decline in the number of stenographic court reporters even though there is no good, current data on which that claim can be made.

This is one of those times that it’s difficult to choose how to respond. Spreading their materials gives them free publicity. Being silent gives them free rein over the discussion. I think it makes the most sense to analyze the materials publicly and see what discussion springs from that.

  • STTI submits there is a steady and irreversible decline of stenographers. My feelings here are similar to the “impossible” argument. It’s a future prediction that’s not predicated on anything other than a forecast that’s been around the better part of a decade and a survey that could not possibly capture all the factors at play in our industry.
  • STTI submits digital reporting technology is “more than capable…” Arguendo, let’s say that digital IS more than capable. This is an imperfect world. Transcripts are going to be imperfect. And we’ve seen this when it’s studied. Stenographers were only about 80% accurate in the Testifying While Black (2019) study. But a pilot study from TWB revealed laypeople transcribed statements with about 40% accuracy. Half the accuracy! Not utilizing stenographers likely has a significant cost to accuracy.
  • STTI mentions the current or future capabilities of automatic speech recognition (ASR). There is a patent from around 2000 that shows 90% accuracy was thought to be possible. More recently, in the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) study, ASR from major players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and IBM were tested. Their tech was about 80% accurate for white speakers, 65% accurate for black speakers, and as low as 25% accurate for African American Vernacular English speakers. Succinctly, the current capabilities of ASR are not very good when studied objectively. Future capabilities are another unknown, and a case of wishful thinking. Dragon remains the best ASR, and that’s the domain of another established method, voice writing.

STTI then mentions that this is an era of alternative facts in order to disparage dissenting views. But this is a clever deflection, as STTI itself is guilty of pushing alternative facts. Just look at this old STTI graphic.

Speech-to-Text Institute erroneously pushes a narrative of an irresolvable stenographer shortage so that business owners and practitioners come to its conclusion, that digital reporting expansion is necessary.

If we assume these numbers are correct and that there were 27,700 stenographers in 2018 and a supply gap of 5,500, that means that as of 2018, nearly 1/5 of every single job would be going uncovered, and it would get worse every year. It’s 2022. Agency owners may be having some trouble finding coverage, but not one has expressed that 20% of their work is going uncovered.

STTI points to how difficult it would be to recruit a large number of stenography students to make up for the historically lower graduation numbers. But a little comparative analysis is in order. Stenography has 26 NCRA-approved schools, tons of schools that are not yet approved (>100), and three separate nationwide initiatives to introduce people to stenography (A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno). Digital has BlueLedge and the few schools that can be convinced to teach stenography and digital side by side. Digital is less efficient than stenography and it’s likely that multiple transcribers will be needed in addition to each digital reporter in order to make up for the efficiency loss. When turnover of audio monitors and transcribers is factored in, we are likely talking about recruiting similar numbers of people. The difference is that stenography has more infrastructure to introduce people to it. So companies turning to digital doesn’t appear to be a legitimate shortage concern, it appears to be about making money on the “labor churn.”

BlueLedge charging over $1,500 to forget to tell students there’s a better career path with more options in steno.

STTI’s next slide continues to paint a stark picture of the situation.

Misleading claims by Speech-to-Text Institute lead readers to believe that digital court reporting is the future of the industry.
  • The slide is misleading in that it makes tactical use of the word “some.” A large percentage of firms having “some” level of struggle isn’t surprising. Firms were having “some” level of struggle to cover things before the shortage too.
  • STTI claims the majority of court reporting firms use digital. But STTI only surveyed 156 firm owners. According to the Kentley Insights Court Reporting & Stenotype Services 2019 market research report, there were over 3,000 firms in the industry. A population of 3,000 would need a sample size of 341, assuming a confidence interval of 5, according to this sample size calculator. If we wanted to be more certain, with a confidence interval of 2, the sample size jumps to 1,334. And again, there is tactical use of the word “some.” “Some” digital use could be one digital reporter sent out on one job. I can’t blame STTI for trying to collect data, but the data is not reliable for making definitive, sweeping, or predictive statements.
  • STTI mentions the widespread use of remote reporting, but fails to mention that this has increased stenographers’ coverage abilities. Many of us are no longer sitting in traffic and are able to jump job, to job, to job.

The technology slide points to how technology suppliers want us to embrace what they’re selling. It’s self-serving. “Trying to change stuff is futile, now buy my new software.” It is laughable to me that they think ASR is a future supplement for this field when they have not even worked out good and consistent cross-compatibility among softwares. Who would believe that these companies are going to succeed where the tech giants have failed?

We actually see this play out in a later slide where the technology suppliers outright admit they’re aiming for the business of digital court reporters, court reporting firms, and courts. It’s not about selling what’s efficient or best for your business, it’s about selling.

Speech-to-Text Institute survey finds massive shift in audience products are aimed at.

This is about making business owners afraid that if they do not jump on the digital/tech train, they will be left behind. We can all appreciate the importance of technology. But there is, to some extent, a practice among tech suppliers to make consumers afraid so that consumers open their wallets. Nobody wants to be Kodak, so everybody piles blindly into what they are told is the future.

Satire: Have you heard of the court reporter shortage? You have to use digital court reporters now! Many agencies report some digital reporter use!

I operate under the belief that most people seek truth. By summing up how and why these claims are questionable, I hopefully enable others to educate. If you feel there is some merit to these arguments, feel free to share, and enable more reporters and business owners to understand what’s out there, what’s being said, and why it may not be accurate.

Shortage Explained

I am beset by claims that I do not believe there is a shortage. Then, in a recent social media post, a court reporter came on stating that she felt hopeless and that she felt the companies are gaining ground. Below is what I wrote. It is a summary of all my research as of today.

“There is a shortage. It’s being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext, US Legal, and the Speech-to-Text Institute. Digital is not cost effective. The companies are picking up speed because they literally have no choice. We blew open their deception of student consumers and started reporting it to the FTC.

We are solidly more powerful today. The reason we feel smaller is because we are fragmented and operating on incomplete information. What do I mean by that? Well, we are by best estimates about 28,000 strong. All told, by 2033, we probably need to be about 30 to 33,000 strong. When you multiply that 28,000 by the median stenographer salary of 61,000 you get about 1.7 billion. We represent $1.7 billion of an industry that is approaching $3 billion. The goal of the companies is to encroach on that $1.7 billion.

There is hope. The companies may be operating at a loss on the premise that they can jack up the rates when we are defeated. The concept of a company operating at a loss is called a zombie company. A lot of big names you know are zombies or have made massive blunders. Uber’s a zombie. Zillow burned billions in market capitalization believing it could trust its algorithms to buy homes. These big companies don’t sound scary when you realize they can make simple mistakes that cost them large percentages of their value, do they?

But this requires our continuous recruitment and training of stenographers. We should band together as a field and start talking about things like relocation funds where necessary. There are many creative things we can do with the power that we have. But it requires talking to each other and keeping hope.

We know from Richter’s rats that hope likely makes people superhuman. I suspect that’s why we get stories like the mom who fought the mountain lion off with her bare hands. Physically impossible, but apparently happened? And compared to things like that, our problems are easy to solve.

We’ll win if we try. The dirty tactics being used against us wouldn’t be necessary if our fate was inevitable.”

This is also why I revamped the payment system on the Stenonymous.com home page. The fact remains that if each reporter made the suggested monthly $5 donation or annual $60 donation, by best estimates, this blog would have a larger annual budget than Veritext and US Legal combined. That’s enough money to end the shortage (assuming $1 to $2 per engagement) and advertise what’s happening to about half the lawyers in the country. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and the people that have spent well over the suggested donations.

I still have cards up my sleeve. So, even assuming the blog receives not a single penny more, thank you all for your trust in me. Stay tuned for big news expected the weeks of January 24th and January 31st.