Some time ago I wrote about how a quote was falsely attributed to the National Court Reporters Association, stating there’s a need for 33,000digital court reporters by 2033. That misquote was still up in the first quarter of 2022, and I brought it up in a discussion with President Dibble. Upon checking again today, I found the quote removed. This is a win for the profession. Student consumers across the country looking into court reporting don’t deserve to be misled.
In other news, the Illinois Court Reporter Association published a document on their recent lobbying victory.
This shows the importance of reporters coming together and working for things that collectively benefit us. State and national association membership is one of simplest ways to organize and act. A big thank you to both associations for showing us that.
I have more to write on NCRA, but I need time to collect my thoughts in light of this new information. Enjoy the victory, stenographers!
There are two prevailing schools of thought when it comes to the gold standard of machine shorthand stenography in United States legal proceedings. There are those that truly believe in the standard. There are those that give it lip service, only ever talking about stenography when pressed or pressured. Of course, there’s a third school of thought in the people that can’t or won’t spend much time thinking about why we still use our chorded stenotype keyboard design over a century after its development. For the third schoolers, we use QWERTY layouts despite that design being over a hundred years old too. It’s easy to imagine why: 1. There’s a market for it. 2. No technology has come along that is more intuitive and better.
I recently had an experience where I had to pick something off of an audio recording painstakingly in transcription mode. It gave me a lot of insight into where stenography’s superiority comes from. It’s in the room control. Some people are always going to be able to speak faster than we can “write” or type. You throw a stenographer into a situation where they have no room control and the participants are speaking above the stenographer’s skill level, and what do you get? You basically get digital court reporting / recording. The stenographic notes are a useless game of fill in the blank.
For the last twelve years that I’ve been in the industry, companies have been pushing reporters to interrupt less. I get it. Just like anybody else, lawyers don’t like to be interrupted. The loudest complaints were probably from the ones that are most self-important. The companies likely sought to end complaints by telling stenographers to let the audio catch it. But every time we do that, we risk record degradation “Didn’t understand that when they said it, don’t understand it no matter how many times I replay it.” It also increases the amount of time we have to spend on the matter due to re-listening to testimony rather than having it clearly in our notes. Since many depositions go unread until there’s a motion to be filed or trial’s coming up, the number of complaints related to poor transcript quality will likely always be lower than the number of “your reporter interrupted me” complaints. This skews the world the non-reporter owned agency lives in. Make the customer happy and things will work out. Just hope they don’t need whatever was inaudible or unintelligible to make their case.
That’s a major problem for digital, and I am not the first one to write something like this thanks to Jean Whalen. You have audio monitors that may or may not know anything about legal transcription listening for issues that they anticipate the transcriber will have. By removing the ability of the person responsible for the transcript to interrupt, you increase the chance of serious errors. Throw away all my prior calculations. The answer is really that simple.
From a productivity standpoint, room control makes a big difference. I’ve timed myself no audio versus heavy audio use, and I personally can be an astounding 12x slower putting together a transcript when heavy audio use is involved. This is why collectives like Ana Fatima Costa’s Speak Up For The Record group are so vital. In some jurisdictions, there is no mandatory license. There is no legal standard. Our newbies and veterans alike are connected to best practices through the stories and experiences we share amongst ourselves and the encouragement we give each other to be better. Let that be my share: We will not be attracting anyone to this field if they’re peeling things off audio in the name of “our client doesn’t like to be interrupted.”
The Lip Service School
More mainstream legal news has been picking up on the fact that there’s an ongoing debate. I’d like to share some highlights from the article “Glitches Still Persist In Digital Court Reporting Tech” by Steven Lerner, Law360 Pulse.
“…90 hours of testimony digitally recorded in a trial in the Northern Mariana Islands in 2008 resulted in poor audio quality and transcripts that were deemed unreliable and inaccurate.” It’s worth mentioning, but since it was so many years ago, it’s a minor point.
Planet Depos told Law360 Pulse that the problem with a 285-page transcript in Maryland was not the technology, but rather the setting of a public hearing where they were unable to control audio quality, overlapping speakers, and random unidentified speakers scattered across a large room. This goes directly to my points about room control. If we are not serious about speaking up when the record is in danger, we are not serious about record accuracy. Customer education is going to be this decade’s biggest challenge.
Brian Jasper, an attorney at Thomas Law Offices PLLC told Law360 Pulse “the technology was a problem, and it interrupted the deposition. I don’t scrutinize the depositions for perfection, but as an attorney, I have much more confidence in a stenographer because they are taking it down in real time.” This speaks to my point on room control. We generally know when we’re not getting it.
The article talks about the Stanford study where voice recognition by Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon was tested. Error rates for black men were over 40%. I’m happy that this is getting more attention, because the adoption of automatic speech recognition (ASR) into legal transcription can really hurt equality and quality in general.
Stenograph, through Anir Dutta, claimed the average wait times for customers is seven minutes. This conflicts with reports at the end of last year that wait times for some were over a half an hour. Anir Dutta is quoted as saying “if that means that that customer is going to go on Facebook and make it so that everybody thinks that our average hold times are tremendously high, I think it’s unfair and frankly malicious.”
Lisa Migliore Black is quoted. “After 25 or more years of always keeping my Stenograph support contract up to date so that I would have the most current software advances, I let my support contract expire in January of 2022 due to long hold times with technical support and their failure to resolve the problems I was experiencing over the course of several months.” “My perception as a customer is that Stenograph is pulling too many available resources to develop the ASR side of their business.” I have to say I’m with Lisa. after over a decade of using CaseCAT, I’m very slowly teaching myself Eclipse, because being married to Stenograph just comes off as risky to me. The company seems obsessed with being at the helm of an evolution in court reporting that may never actually happen.
Dutta stated 80% of the company’s investment is still in stenography and that it is a “false narrative” that going into digital court reporting is shifting its focus. He’s quoted saying “If Apple started making iPhones, does it mean that they make substandard laptops?” Again, this goes against what has been documented prior, a drop in customer service.
Asked about the Stanford study, Dutta stated “People can quote studies from three years ago….” “…technology moves a million miles every three months.” This is demonstrably false. There’s a patent from 2000 showing 90% automatic speech recognition (ASR) accuracy was thought to be possible. The 2020 Stanford study showed accuracy lower than 80%. Is there anyone on Earth that believes 90% to 80% over the course of two decades is technology moving a million miles every thee months? ASR has improved. But it largely depends on who’s speaking and how good the audio is. I also find it humorous that Dutta takes exception to a 2020 study being cited when the entire basis for digital court reporting infiltration is Jim Cudahy, Speech-to-Text Institute, and a 2013-2014 Court Reporting Industry Outlook. Odd that an entire industry should shift focus for something that was done almost a decade ago and never adjusted for but should pay no mind to current events because “tEcHnOloGy.”
It’s a very interesting time to be in court reporting because nobody knows what happens next. Do the shot callers realize they’re wasting a lot of money trying to create a market for digital court reporting and start investing in the training of stenographers that will make them consistent profits? Will there be a breakthrough technology that renders stenography obsolete? Will our shortage get worse? Will our adoption of remote technologies compensate for the uneven distribution of court reporters across the country?
The data we’ve got doesn’t point to replacement. Until there’s a magic box that does everything, humans will be required to control the room, and it never gets more efficient than someone turning the speech into text right then and there with 95% or more accuracy. I’ll speculate that technology like CoverCrow will become more polished, mainstream, and accepted in helping with stenographer shortage woes. Agencies say they’re having coverage issues, and from what I understand, CoverCrow aims to work collaboratively with companies rather than cutting them from the equation.
As it stands, stenographers have a huge say in what happens next. Why?
There’s a market for it. 2. No technology has come along that’s more intuitive and better.
Last week word spread that a ruling had been made that the Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC) in Texas should investigate StoryCloud. From my outsider point of view StoryCloud was or is one of those companies obsessed with cutting corners and/or cutting the stenographer/court reporter out of the deal. That business model is flawed not only because stenography is the most technologically advanced method of taking and transcribing the spoken word, but also from a legal standpoint. In some states, pretending to be a court reporter is simply illegal.
A great big thank you to Jo Ann Byles Holmgren, who initiated the lawsuit that led to this moment. She tells it better than I ever could. In short, the JBCC refused to investigate alleged violations of law. A writ of mandamus was filed to make the government do its job. A judge ruled the JBCC should investigate. StoryCloud more or less deleted its website. Perhaps this will be a roadmap for California, where the California licensing board refuses to protect court reporting consumers and regulate digital court reporting.
I’ll be adding a transcript of the hearing as soon as it’s available.
Following the ruling, most of the StoryCloud site was trashed in favor of a little blurb.
StoryCloud’s demise is not the only good news out of Texas. Mark Kislingbury claimed the new world record at Shaunise Day’s Fearless Stenographers Conference with 370 words per minute (WPM) for one minute at 95.4% accuracy.
I am always saying that if stenographers fight, they will win. Look no further than Jo Ann Byles Holmgren telling the government they’re wrong and winning. Look no further than Shaunise Day’s masterfully done and widely-acclaimed conference — a feat rarely pulled off by an individual unless it’s an industry veteran like Marc Greenberg (StenoFest) or MaryAnn Payonk (Empowerment). Look no further than Mark Kislingbury’s own personal triumph, defeating his former world record of 360 WPM. True failure is making no attempt to meet your goals. Until one is a true failure, one has a real shot at success.
One of the core issues we face together in our industry is the reach of our media. For years, we allowed the big players to dominate the paid-for press release space. When journalists go to find information on our field, the mergers and announcements of those players would be just about all that was available. Our professional journal and association newsletters are very important, but communicating who we are and what we provide to the world is also important.
To this end, I’ve gotten very familiar with the EIN Presswire service. The service takes a press release in a standard format and republishes it to many sites across the internet, resulting in more potential exposure for your business, nonprofit, or event. The $100 price tag of EIN per release is pricy. I buy press releases in bulk, so I’m able to help reduce that cost to our community of stenographers and related services.
For $50, I can use my press releases to get your news out there. High expectations for the next quarter? Announce it. Congratulating one of your favorite independent contractors on an achievement? Let the world know. We have so much news in this industry that we could easily fill a newswire with our own media. If you would like to submit a press release to me, just write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How To Do It:
The EIN system is simple. Give me a press release title and a subtitle or summary along with the city, state, and country of your release. Give me the date you want the release to go out as well.
Next, I need the body of the press release. You may also add three links to the press release by telling me the keywords in the body text and where they should link.
Next up, I need the contact information for the press release submitter. This is who you want journalists to contact if they’re interested in learning more about your announcement. I will also need the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media link you want in your press release. If you don’t want social media links, that’s fine too.
As for stock symbol, if you have one, let me know the exchange that your company is traded on. Most stenographic corporations are privately owned, so there would not be a stock symbol.
Also, pick a quote from your press release that you would like to stand out. Short and powerful quotes are very effective at grabbing readers’ attention.
Finally, you can give me up to five images you would like in your press release, one video, and one website embed. This can draw more traffic to your content and site, and should not be overlooked.
At that point, I can send a press release preview to you for approval. I’ll also select the industry channels that make the most sense for your content.
If you want me to do the work:
I understand that some feel uncomfortable creating their own content, and I’m happy to do the work for a fee, but in order to create content, we need to set a realistic budget. If you expect me to write your press release for you, expect to spend $300. If you want to create a video together, expect the cost to be more within the $500 range. Time and effort goes into my work, and while I can’t guarantee a journalist will pick up your story, I can guarantee that the story will be reprinted across many outlets and that you will get a full report of all the reprints.
I have worked on or helped distribute several press releases for Stenonymous, as well as various businesses and nonprofits. Here are some highlights:
I’ve been through lots of market research in the last year. Just to connect a few dots, we know two of the largest companies in our industry, Veritext and US Legal, are merely investments in the portfolios of larger holding companies, Leonard Green and Abry Partners. Those larger companies are invested in the private equity game, a game of buying, holding, and flipping (BHF) companies for profit in the same way someone might BHF houses, stocks, or bonds.
Approximately one out of every four court reporting companies are unprofitable. Combine that with the knowledge that in order to BHF companies, holding companies often load up the investment company with debt in what’s called a leveraged buyout. Veritext and US Legal may be servicing huge debts that the smaller shops don’t have. Their seemingly endless cash flow and price warfare over the last decade may have been at a loss. They wouldn’t be the first. VIQ Solutions has a bunch of transcription subsidiaries and operates with losses in the millions.
Anecdotally, multiple sources have reported lawyers are unhappy with both Veritext and US Legal, and it appears both corporations are increasing their rates faster than smaller court reporting companies, something they wouldn’t be doing if they were not feeling some financial strain.
This is probably the decade and the next golden age for court reporting. The behemoths are likely weighed down by debt and a management structure that cannot be supported without ridiculous prices. Smaller, more efficient firms will be able to rise up and take back all of the business that was gobbled up. I don’t need an anecdote for that one. The latest from MAGNA, Veritext, and the Big Bully Brigade was “waaah we’re bigger and can provide things little people can’t. Just believe us! Because bigness!” A lie so unconvincing that I think a six year old could’ve figured it out as long as that six year old was not Victoria Hudgins.
Stenographers need a pat on the back. The increased competition over the last few months alone has the larger corporations showing signs of strain. US Legal, still terrified to mention court reporting’s biggest commercial blog, has appointed Sara Giammanco as the Director of Reporter Engagement.
I wonder why they needed one of those. Could it be because Peter Giammanco supports digital court reporting? Does anyone really believe they’ll stop acting passive aggressively toward court reporters until court reporters put the company down a la some increased competition and bankruptcy? It’s very simple. People say what they’re paid to say. We’ve seen it with Stenograph. We’ll see it here too.
Maybe I can help the big boxes. Here’s some free consulting for them: Cudahy lied. The stenographer shortage can be solved by recruitment. The science and data available today, namely the Testifying While Black 2019 and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition 2020 studies, show that alternatives to stenography aren’t as accurate. They aren’t cheaper. The market preference is stenographers. So basically you morons threw out the fundamentals of business by ignoring consumer preference, service quality, and cost of revenue, a blunder from which I doubt you’ll be able to recover, given the only thing you’ve ever been good at is wrongfully convincing stenographers they’re overpaid. People are prone to confirmation bias, and the business types have allowed their belief in technology™️ to rob them of all common sense. It would’ve been a lot smarter to turn stenographers into salespeople and train them to sell upcharges like expedites, roughs, and realtime instead of beating us down on price and constantly putting us in a state of feeling unworthy. You know, maybe I’ll start a company here in New York City and do just that.
Knowing that the big boxes are probably servicing big debts and seeing how they’re now scrambling to appease the profession that months ago they were claiming was dying no matter what™️, I think it is incumbent on every reporter to realize a single truth: If you fight, you will win.
There are a slew of New York State Court Reporters Association webinars coming up that you can register for here. I’d like to point out two of them in particular:
How to Stay Relevant in an Industry at Risk of Disruption by Dr. Erika Jacobi. I want to hone in on one line from the flyer, “empower reporters, captioners, and individual business owners to thrive despite adversity.” The more of us that learn to do this, the more of us that can then turn around and share that knowledge or even sell the knowledge through educational events. By attending, you’re basically becoming a part of the first wave of stenographers that will teach the next waves ways to think which will culminate in an ocean of us all armed with the knowledge not just to survive, but to prosper.
Speech Perception, from Spoken Word to Written Text by Culture Point. The data available today says that stenographers are the best there is, but that there is room for improvement. This is part of that improvement. Through academic understanding of linguistics, we can improve how we hear. I’ve spoken to a stenographer with linguistics training about this, and her thoughts were that these types of classes are very important. Again, the first wave of us that learns these concepts can teach the next waves and increase our own personal value and our skills. I know this because I was a ripple sharing what I learned and it landed me on TV. I was on NYSCRA’s board when the first discussions about this workshop were had, and I have a firm belief that the education will help stenographers, both newbies and masters.
NYSCRA has put a lot into this. A press release was drafted and republished to various sites across the web like Daily Ledger, American Tech Today, and The Business Gazette Online. We all have an individual choice to make. Do we take that effort and toss it away, and allow these opportunities to pass unnoticed, or do we take charge of our profession and turn the first wave of stenographers to learn these concepts into a mile-high tsunami?
Recent events have made it very clear that you, reader, are in charge of what happens next in our profession. I hope that you will join me on those webinars and that we will march into the future ready to help others thrive and close the narrow gap in our stenographic linguistics training. I know that together we can make our gold standard shine brighter.
One of the many ways we can market our profession is through props. It’s something nonprofits and for-profit businesses are very aware of. I’ve done it with my sad iron stenographer mug. But today I’ve got some news to cheer everybody up: We’ve got a fun and easy way to communicate our importance on our Zepos.
Consider this mug a conversation starter and get yours today. Purchases will also help me keep Stenonymous running strong!
You can now purchase StenoKeyboards products through my affiliate link. If you do, send me a picture with your product(s), a receipt, and your preferred rebate method, and I will give you 2% of your sale price back by PayPal, Zelle, or Venmo. This rebate is being offered by me as an incentive to use my affiliate link and is not backed by StenoKeyboards.
*Offer is only good for as long as my affiliate link is active.
In a bid to help unify the field, Shaunise Day is holding the Fearless Stenographers Conference in Texas. It’ll be at the Omni Houston Hotel, 4 Riverway, in Houston, Texas, from March 24 to March 26. Stacey E. Raikes, Mark Kislingbury, Allie Hall, Lillian Freiler, Jessie Gorry, and so many others are scheduled to speak. It’s a lineup that’s hard to miss. Texas CEUs are available. NCRA CEUs are pending.
In recognition of Shaunise’s accomplishments with the Confessions of a Stenographer podcast, and with full confidence in her organizational abilities, I have donated $1,000 of my own money to help with the associated costs. She’s got a media talent & personality that cannot go unsung. I hope that if you are able to make it, you’ll buy a ticket today.
Yesterday, many professional stenographers came together with hobbyist stenographers from the Open Steno Project. Open Steno proponents presented how they have brought the cost of trying and using steno from the thousands of dollars it used to cost down to about $100. One example of this is the Uni, which is now, according to members from the community, in mass production mode. Please get involved in the various Open Steno communities, but especially the Discord chat. For anyone that missed the meeting, you can watch it here. The entire event was put together over the course of one week by Dineen Squillante, and without her, the event would not have happened. Captioning was provided by Open Steno founder Mirabai Knight. Moderation was performed by Quaverly Rothenberg. Check out my timeline of events below:
After that lineup, the Open Steno Community members spoke and shared with us several important things.
28:30 Software Engineer (140 WPM) Sammi De Guzman gave us a great introduction. Sammi spoke about the financial barriers of getting into stenography and talked about how the Open Steno Project has eliminated or substantially reduced those barriers through cheaper hardware and free software (Plover). She also mentioned how this barrier reduction allows everyone to use stenography and not just those in court reporting and captioning. Sammi also mentioned the large ecosystem of plugins/tools available.
44:00 Peter Park from Stenokeyboards.com spoke next. Peter is currently a law student, and he designed the Uni keyboard mentioned at the top. Peter spoke about his background and how he got into stenography.
51:26 Crides, a keyboard designer, spoke about embedded steno and a custom-made steno engine that can run on keyboards, as well as its pros and cons.
54:10 Ted Morin, a software engineer and Lead Developer of Plover, was up next. Ted created Art of Chording, just one way for people to learn stenographic theory for free. Ted spoke about the challenges of people learning stenography on their own. Ted also talked about Steno Arcade!
1:00:15 Joshua Grams, hobby programmer and the creator of Steno Jig was our next speaker. The exercises create pseudo-sentences that keep users on their toes and vary what they hear.
1:03:34 Diana MacDonald (Di), creator of Typey Type, spoke about the history of tools that existed to learn when she started and her creation of Typey Type for accessibility.
1:28:13 Sammi gave us more information about decentralizing stenography and creating accessibility to more people in more places. The work of various creators was mentioned at 1:34:17, including SanSan by Sammi, Hachidori by Kaoffie, and Thai Steno by Parnikkapore.
1:41:16 Elizabeth Tremmel, an official court reporter in Ramsey County, Minnesota was the next presenter. She spoke about the Plover demographics survey. She spoke about schools and community, and how Plover helped her achieve working speed. One very important point made by Elizabeth was that NCRA’s testing policy is ambiguous.
I need to hijack the point Elizabeth made. Because of the nature of the Open Steno Community’s work, they need clarification on “special accommodations” and “stenographic writer” in NCRA testing. “Stenographic writer” is incredibly important because of the wide variety of writers that Open Steno has produced. Thanks to modern technology, people can swap out square keys for steno keys on an NKRO keyboard and perform stenography. When I took board training, I learned that associations don’t exclude vendors because that might cause antitrust complaints. If OSP has to crowdfund a lawyer to engage with NCRA to get these answers or represent people lost in the shuffle, it will be a dark day in the history of our profession. I have to ask my colleagues to help legitimize this community rather than illegally exclude it. I believe that’s where we are headed, but I must insist we be proactive: Let’s not be shy about pushing for a better, more-inclusive organization.
1:51:54 Matt “Sooty” Morgan spoke about his quest to teach himself stenography and how scarce stenographic writers are in Australia. Without Plover, Matt would not have made the professional milestones he’s made. He has hope for the future of shorthand in his country thanks to Open Steno. Knowing the
1:54:12, Stanley Sakai joined us from outer space. He talked about teaching himself stenography, the infancy of Plover, and how that evolved into work with coding an app for accessibility and captioning at Coachella with Isaiah Roberts. In Stanley’s words, any way someone can appreciate our craft is a beautiful thing.
2:07:30 Aerick came back and showed off the Discord chat, which professionals are encouraged to join.
After the conclusion of the Open Steno presentation, professional stenographers got a chance to speak.
2:13:16 Yvette Heinze spoke about Team Turtle and the importance of community. Main takeaway? Working together and surrounding ourselves with people that challenge us to learn and grow is vital to the profession’s survival.
2:19:21Rich Germosen spoke about the court reporting practice community that he runs and how they support each other and keep the drama and politics low.
2:22:18 Christopher Day got to speak about how there’s a tech buzzword going around, the democratization of technology. He pledged to use Stenonymous to boost the community. He also mentioned how dummy pages were put up to lure students away from stenography with lies published about NCRA projections.
2:26:28 Traci Mertens, a stenographer of 34 years in nearly every area of the field that works as an Official Legislative Reporter for the United States House of Representatives. We need voice writers, Plover people, and everybody on board was the core of Traci’s message.
2:30:33 Mirabai Knight was the official close to the meeting, noting how she was blown away by all of the contributions made and how she loves being able to use Plover for captioning, as she has for almost a decade.
2:32:10 Dan Glassman got to come in and explain his experiences and knowledge from the last four decades in the history of stenography. From there, the meeting floated to general discussion and Q&A.
In only one week, Open Steno pulled together this monumental presentation. That, by itself, makes it worthy of our support.
Notably, I failed to mention StenoMasters, a speech club open to everyone and run by my best friend, Joshua Edwards. For those that want to sharpen their skills in speaking, it’s worth the $146 first-year cost. StenoMasters is very much like Open Steno in its quest to be accessible and open. Most of the fee goes to Toastmasters, the umbrella organization over StenoMasters, and the rest goes to club expenses.
I also failed to mention Glen Warner’s Cheap & Sleazy blog. My blog, is the biggest blog in the industry commercially. Glen’s is arguably the best blog in the industry, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s time to take a look. His work inspired my work. I hope to inspire others the way he inspired me. His work in the Open Steno Community and promoting the Facebook page cannot go unnoticed.