Why Stenographic Court Reporting Is Superior to Digital

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.

  1. “…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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

  1. There’s a market for it. 2. No technology has come along that’s more intuitive and better.

Stenograph’s Disrespect of Stenographers Continues with Texas

Stenograph has been in hot water because of its degradation of quality and service. This led to a boycott of the company by stenographers across the country, a boycott which continues to this day. As stated in my Oh My update, Stenograph’s push into automatic speech recognition is not being done properly. It’s being sold as a productivity boost, but available science says AI/ASR is a productivity killer. Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s embattled president, doesn’t care. He ignored a personal letter from me alerting him to these issues.

As if these issues were not enough, Stenograph promised to meet with Texas Court Reporters Association members and address their concerns. The company then retracted its agreement and set up its own meeting, likely to confuse consumers and attempt to manipulate us. TCRA addressed Stenograph’s behavior as follows:

Stenograph claims its plan is to meet with TCRA members.
Stenograph apparently pulls out because one member they don’t like might be in attendance.
Sonia G. Trevino, TCRA President.

Then, perhaps under the delusion that stenographers are stupid, Stenograph decided to hold its own meeting:

Stenograph attempts to create its own meeting in place of the Texas Court Reporters Association town hall.

This is a bait and switch. This behavior is disgusting and in my opinion we shouldn’t condone it as a field. It’s very clear what’s happening. Stenograph does not have an answer for why it is requiring stenographers to get releases for data it wants to steal from us or the liability it wants to be put on us, as per its licensing agreement:

“You understand you are responsible for obtaining consents and authorizations for data we may or may not be using.” – Stenograph (parody)
“We may be using your data to build our digital reporting products, but you’re not entitled to anything from it, which we’ve just unilaterally decided.” – Stenograph (parody)

Since Stenograph doesn’t have an answer, it doesn’t want to be in a position where that’s revealed. Again, I know factually that there are great people that work for the company and great software trainers for the software. That does not excuse what they’re doing. They’re barreling into automatic speech recognition in a haphazard, might-makes-right, and manipulative way that should give us all pause. We are the profession of blatant honesty. You say it, we write it. Can we not agree that this is not a direction we want a company, one that is practically our namesake, to take?

I have a message for Anir Dutta and Stenograph: We may not be computer programmers or $10 million companies, but human intelligence is not linear, it’s on a bell curve. We are not “stupid scribes” for you to play word games with. Words are all we know. We listen to people for a living, and we know when we’re hearing lies. If you have deluded yourselves into believing that you are so far ahead of all of us on the curve that you can lie to us with impunity, then I offer you the same stenographic proverb I offered Naegeli. TKPWHRUBG.

Pre-Launch: Stenonymous’s Project Phoenix

By my estimates there are 20,000 freelancers and 28,000 court reporters total in this country. We do not receive much formal legal education beyond the terminology we might hear. This has left many of us confused on our legal rights. Even the agencies that hire us, schools that train us, and the members of the bench and bar we work with every day lack basic information about important concepts we are dealing with. This puts court reporters at a serious competitive disadvantage against anyone with the funds to hire a lawyer.

It’s time for change. If you are ready for that change, please take some time to answer this 8-question survey. I encourage you to share it with anyone you feel might answer it honestly. Every single honest answer will pave the way for taking this from concept to execution. This survey allows me to gauge interest and expand the project. I will release more information as soon as it is appropriate and safe to do so.

We must keep recruiting and sharing information. But I would like to remind everyone to take care of yourself this holiday season. If the stenographic newswire or some other issue is causing you to feel down, take care of yourself. Try to reach out to a support system. Humans are communal. You are not bad, wrong, or alone. You are human. You will be okay because all feelings change over time.

A very special thank you to every single one of my readers. Your readership has made this moment possible. Let me just note that Sound Professionals’ Chris Carfagno has let me know about their latest product announcement. I have always heard good things about SP; I have a great impression of Chris and have no problem recommending them. I will state that I do not believe I’ve personally used their products. When I used to use audio, I think I was using a mic sold by Stenograph at the time, which probably explains why I don’t use audio anymore. I have also started transitioning to Eclipse in honor of the Stenograph boycott. It feels great to be learning new skills and technology in my field and I would encourage every single reporter in the industry to give it a try. Eclipse provides robust training resources on top of its Anytime Support. I even had to call them recently (weekday, business hours), and they returned my call in under three minutes. Switching isn’t easy, but Eclipse has done all it can to make my transition pleasant. I have a feeling that once I am done, I will be able to honestly tell readers which software I prefer from a performance standpoint. Stay tuned.

PS. Stenograph reached out to the Texas Court Reporters Association board. My understanding is that there will be a future meeting in 2022 where members will be allowed to ask questions. This is why I called for the boycott. The more pressure we apply, the more urgent it is for them to curry favor with our associations and make us happy. It would make me personally happy if Stenograph acknowledged that digital court reporting will likely hurt minority speakers’ transcript accuracy. I give my word that if Stenograph makes such an acknowledgment, I will call off the boycott. Until then, let’s see how far those revenues can fall for 2022 and 2023 renewals as people continue canceling support. This profession will endure. Stenograph’s endurance relies upon its service to this profession.

Day 1 of Stenograph Boycott, Company Releases Pro-Steno Teaser

My Facebook page has become the steno channel. If it’s good for the working reporter, it’s on my page.

And though it may be difficult to read, I do try to keep it entertaining.

Christopher Day calls for Stenograph boycott, November 2021

For anyone that doubts calling out the bad customer service and horrible PR blunders is having an impact, you can stop doubting now. For the first time since March, Stenograph threw up a pro-stenographer image on its Instagram.

Stenograph Instagram, 11/17/21

Truth be told, I still view this sort of thing as corporate appeasement. They hope you will forget that they are screwing the students you mentor and continue to purchase their products and services. It’s a great sign that the Stenograph company wants to appease stenographers, because it means that we represent a large enough part of their customer base that pulling out would hurt. Withdrawing our support would matter. If more reporters heed my words and pull out fast and hard, we’ll be able to end this a lot sooner.

But seeing that image got me curious. I rolled through the Instagram to see the last time a comparable image was posted. There are some nice pictures advertising Q&A by Cyndi Lynch (who is awesome) and some marketing stuff, but nothing nice like this. While that’s a somewhat subjective measure, you can go through all the images yourself and see that the company hasn’t featured a person paired with a stenotype since about March.

The top left is November 2021, the bottom right is March 2021, Stenograph’s Instagram.

I will be covering the STTI podcast with Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s president, soon. In the meantime, if you’re completely confused, just see what I wrote to a student asking about my shenanigans on Reddit.

Follow me and our field gets results. Stenograph is eager to jump into a technology that will disproportionately hurt minority speakers. We are in a unique position to stop that.

Is Stenograph Sabotaging Stenographer Software Support?

It was reported to me that a call to Stenograph’s support yesterday took an entire 30 minutes of wait time. At the end of that 30 minutes, the call disconnected. The stenographer called back and was then forced to sit on the phone waiting about another 15 minutes. 45 minutes from call to resolution for someone that paid $139 for help with upgrading their software, on top of the support contract, which cost about $700 a year! I was just kidding about it being reported to me, I was physically present when it happened.

And this is not an isolated incident. It’s been an ongoing problem for months — Stenograph’s shoddy service, that is.

This is on top of reports that Luminex II is cracking in the same spot on the shell for multiple reporters. Maybe we should all start comparing notes and seeing if we are being sold defective products.

The problem is so bad that it simply cannot be hidden.

“I haven’t called today, but the last few weeks I had to call several times, and I have to wait a long time. Twice I just hung up and figured it out for myself.” -Stenograph Customer*
“Happened to me last week. It was actually worse than the IRS, and that’s saying something.” – Stenograph Customer*
“They’ve always been that way. Eclipse blows them away.” – Stenograph Customer*
“Switch to Eclipse and it won’t be a problem lol” – Stenograph Customer*

It wasn’t all bad news though. They pull through for some of the people some of the time.

But they don’t fool all of the people all of the time. Stenograph is taking our money for support and then keeping us waiting on queues like we’re an inconvenience. They’re relying on our politeness and silence. Let me be the one to break the silence: This is wrong. We were propagandized for years to tell us that we needed support, and now the quality of that support is declining while Stenograph tries to build and sell its ASR business off our backs and with our money.

I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter if Stenograph is sabotaging us. It leaves us to seek solutions to the problems we’re perceiving. Stenograph owners, the science shows ASR is a snake oil market. Make me a fair offer on the company, see if I can crowdfund the purchase. Much better than a boycott — we can get those trainers raking in the dough and make your employees happy too! Mr. Dutta can move on to some industry that doesn’t have a man with a blog. We all win. ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

The alternative is to boycott Stenograph and buy it when it’s up for bankruptcy. It’s just business.

*There is no evidence that any of the comments were from Stenograph customers.

BlueLedge Connected with Veritext and Stenograph

BlueLedge is the digital reporting training company that apparently dissolved two years ago in Florida that I suspect is behind CourtReporterEDU. BlueLedge, as far as I can tell, continued to operate after its voluntary dissolution in 2019, because in August 2020, it entered a strategic partnership with Ed 2 Go.

Many reporters reached out to let me know that Veritext used or uses BlueLedge, but I didn’t have time to look into it. Finally, someone sent me the Google search. Step A, if you want to complete Veritext’s digital court reporter partner program, is to register with and complete the BlueLedge program.

This, by itself, isn’t much of a problem. But it strengthens the argument that the court reporting shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext. If the company was genuinely interested in recruiting stenographers, it might have constructed such a detailed pipeline for the education of stenographers. Instead, the company routinely tells stenographers what they want to hear and pours its resources into expanding its digital business despite the potential harm to minority speakers. One reporter brought up to me that Veritext has some involvement with a school in Maryland. I have even reported on its scholarship activities. I’m happy about those pro-steno activities. But at a time when 50% of our field, according to Ducker, is in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York, and while Veritext is working with BlueLedge, a company that has hooked its claws into national recruitment using Ed 2 Go, it remains clear where Veritext’s priorities are — expanding digital recruitment not as a supplement to our shortage, but at the direct expense of stenographic court reporters.

Telling consumers/attorneys that no stenographer is available while taking steps to alienate practicing reporters and undermining our industry’s intense recruitment efforts is just wrong. It’s like Burger King lighting cattle fields on fire and yelling about a beef patty shortage. The only difference is we would all immediately identify the arson as criminal, whereas here, if you hide the dishonest, anticompetitive, and potentially criminal behavior behind layers of dissolved companies and corporate paperwork, you get people defending the bad behavior. What would we do without Veritext? Probably be a lot better off!

Less importantly, Stenograph was getting cozy with BlueLedge as early as August 2021.

So let me add that to Stenograph’s PR problem. We need to boycott the company until it sells for stenography and voice writing only. We want no more expansion of digital court reporting. Keep hard on that line and it will happen. Consider Stenograph an arms dealer. It thinks it will sit there and sell to both sides. Except, in this very particular case, our field of stenographers has far more customers and most of our money is earned as opposed to being “borrowed” from investors. We are in a much stronger position financially even if we believe digital reporting has more actual dollars down on it. A lot of people in our field became CaseCAT trainers. They’re killing your industry and income to build digital. I want to grow stenography so you have more business. So even the CaseCAT trainers have a reason to stand up in defiance here, let alone the rest of us.

Succinctly, the money being sunk into digital reporting is money that investors will be expecting back. When it does not make the returns promised, and we have good reason to suspect it won’t because of companies like VIQ Solutions giving us a window into digital reporting financials ($10 million in losses June 2021), the faucet will turn off. All the companies relying on investor cash flow instead of company profit will start to decline. It is in our best interest as a profession to take the power of our good money away from it. The digital money will dry up on its own. If Stenograph is smart, it will cave to our demands. If it is not smart, we can crowdfund, buy it when it goes bankrupt, and put its employees back to work for us like I’m sure many of them want to be. We can even divvy up what Dutta’s salary would’ve been and give them a raise.

Stenograph, at this point, is relying on our nostalgia of it being “our company” and assuming we will not turn our backs on it. I’ve got some nostalgia of my own. There’s a scene in the original StarCraft that sums up my feelings well. Acting predictably is our enemy. We predictably divide and conquer ourselves time and again. Stand together on this one and watch things roll our way. It’s really that simple.

“An illusion? Are you afraid to face me, Templar?”
“So long as you continue to be so predictable, O Queen, I need not face you at all. You are your own worst enemy.”

This continues to be a profound moment in our field where we must choose between loyalty to each other and loyalty to companies whispering “trust us, trust us” while they systematically work to reduce our numbers and undermine our judicial system for profit. Not the hardest decision in history.

US Legal Terrified of Stenonymous, Donates $50k to Project Steno

In an effort to obfuscate its fraud and deceit, US Legal donated $50,000 to Project Steno on Friday.

Much like with Stenograph, I applaud donations to pro steno causes. But let me just say that it is an incredible coincidence that all of the entities undermining stenographers have ditched NCRF and NCRA for Project Steno. The only people that might benefit from NCRA being weaker? Digital reporting CEOs.

At this juncture, I don’t have any information that Project Steno is doing anything bad. It’s my assumption that it’s being used. The appeasement of stenographers has been a corporate tactic for a while. Given how US Legal and Stenograph both donate to Project Steno whenever there’s any modicum of political pressure applied to them, I think it’s safe to say that that’s what these “big ticket” donations are.

Just to put into perspective what stenographers are generally asked to give, NCRF asks its angels to donate about $1,000. If you make $100,000 that’s 1% of your income. If you make $200,000 that’s 0.5% of your income. US Legal is estimated by Owler to make about $100 million. 50,000 is about 0.05% of its income if Owler is accurate. To put this into better perspective, this would be like celebrating me donating $50.

So unless we are ready to celebrate me donating $50 on the same level as that $50,000 donation, we shouldn’t be celebrating US Legal. Remember that US Legal is the company that bought and destroyed StenoTrain and has advertised for a digital reporter on LinkedIn every day since I accused it of fraud, including the day of its donation. This is the company that, on multiple occasions, attempted to frame the stenographer shortage as impossible to solve despite clear evidence and math saying that it could be solved. The donation is a hedge or hedging strategy. When they fail to eradicate stenography, they hope they will get to turn around and point to their Project Steno donations to “prove” their good will towards the profession. They’re probably even relying on me doing what I usually do, backing off, and saying “wait, let’s see.”

Let me surprise everybody. Keep the pressure on hard! I repeat my words yesterday. If your profession was going extinct, they wouldn’t give a damn about you. You hold all the cards. Keep pointing out to attorneys that they are being defrauded. You can use materials by NCRA STRONG and Protect Your Record Project to do it. Digital proponents really whine when we use the STRONG stuff.

“Waaah, the stenographers we were trying to lie out of existence didn’t lie down and die like we told them to.”

Keep starving the company pushing so hard to starve you and your families. The company does not deserve your mercy or the benefit of your doubt. The company’s Chief Strategy Officer had no problem bullying the women in our field or others. The company had no problem underpaying stenographers. The company had no problem charging unreasonable rates for services. We need to have no problem burying the company under the weight of its own dishonest, incompetent, and arguably illegal behavior.

I must urge colleagues not to relent. Every time you share my video or research and every conversation you have about it leads to a world where US Legal can no longer ignore its bad behavior. From potential collusion to operating in a state where it has been inactive for two decades, US Legal has a lot to answer for.

Seriously, it’s been inactive in New York for 20 years. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s even allowed to do business here while in inactive status.

Screenshot taken 11/5/21

Stenograph’s Public Relations Problem

Some will have seen the scathing post I made on Friday about Stenograph’s survey. They wanted to know if court reporters cared about tall or short keys, and I pointed out that such a concern was a waste of time and effort. This is on the heels of news months ago from Stenograph customers that they were unable to log into their software. But the question remains, how do you get me, a stenographer that has exclusively used Stenograph products for 11 years, to write something like this?

Simple. Stenograph has been making moves to cuddle up with digital court reporting and ASR. We know this from who they’re hiring.

We know this from who they’re talking to. Stenograph cuddled up with anti-stenographer writer Victoria Hudgins after the customer base complained about the logo change. How do I know she’s anti-stenographer? I wrote her over a year ago to point out that Stenograph apparently gave Legal Tech a stock photo and that there were several inconsistencies with the companies, news reporting, and technologies at play. Was any of that addressed? No. So Hudgins writes as an “analyst” but does not actually appear to do any analyzing beyond the chosen narrative — very much like STTI. This is in stark contrast to other organizations like NCRA, NVRA, and Global Alliance, all of whom are far more fair and balanced in the way they present ASR and digital reporting than how stenography is treated by Hudgins, Cudahy, STTI, or even the AAERT.

We also know that Anir Dutta, President of Stenograph —

— is on the board of STTI.

[sic]

And we know that STTI is a digital reporting propaganda outfit. So it’s undeniable that Stenograph is diversifying. Under normal circumstances, we could maybe call that smart. But these are not normal circumstances. This is a world where we know ASR and digital reporting will hurt minority speakers. We know digital reporting outfits like VIQ Solutions are not turning a profit. We know that the shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext and US Legal. Stenograph is diversifying under the belief that there will be a drop in supply of stenographers and a rise in demand. The data we have today says the demand may not be rising as quickly as anticipated and the supply is not falling as quickly as anticipated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data may also be wrong. In short, Stenograph is diversifying out of a market where its stenographer customers will likely reign supreme. We also know that they’re in such a rush to diversify that they branded over Phoenix theory with Phoenix ASR. Not too subtle about paving over us there.

I’m not the only one to feel that way. Massachusetts Court Reporters figured that all out too, and released an open letter earlier this week. The letter was reportedly also sent to Anir Dutta via email.

In full disclosure, I did help draft an initial copy of this letter, but what was ultimately released was way better than what I wrote. I also wrote a physical letter to Anir Dutta on November 2, which I will release someday in the future, assuming the company does not change direction. It is my sincere belief and hope that he is not against us. I think that he saw what happened to Kodak and he tried to adopt digital as a way of preventing Stenograph from sharing the same fate. A lot of the stuff we know about digital reporting companies today, we did not know when he started at Stenograph. But even if he has no animosity towards us, it will not stop him from making decisions that negatively impact our field, and so to the degree that Stenograph and Anir Dutta make decisions like that, the ball is in our court to stop them.

Now, stenographers, the important thing you need to keep your eye on is how the company responds to all of this. If the writing was on the wall and stenography was doomed™️, they wouldn’t care what you think. Put it this way: Have you ever asked yourself what a T-Rex would think of you? Probably not, because all the T-Rex’s that might have thought about you are dead. We know the writing is not on the wall and that our thoughts and opinions matter very much. How do we know? Stenograph commented on the situation.

And, of course, realizing that if we actually get Stenograph to change direction, the shortage fraud gets exposed, Jim Cudahy did his best to broadcast the message.

Just to be clear about why I’m not nice to Cudahy, he was the Executive Director of NCRA, urged the organization to commission the Ducker Report and learn about the stenographer shortage, and then used his previous title with NCRA to lend credibility to his false and misleading claims that the shortage is impossible to solve. People familiar with this situation basically point to him as the man that weaponized our shortage against us. The jump from NCRA to STTI was not the result of some profound change in technology, it was opportunism, plain and simple.

What I need court reporters to understand now is simple: You have all of the power in this situation. You tell the company as loudly as possible that you will not buy another product and that you will not recommend the company to a single student from now until the end of time unless they change direction, and they will change direction. If they do not change direction, it is clear just how much we meant to them, and it should make it even easier to walk away. If they change direction, I’ll be the first to say GO STENOGRAPH. Until then? I have to lean boycott. It’s our best play and the most direct way we have of influencing the company. Take all the anger we routinely experience via social media and channel it into something very simple and healthy for us all.

Now, inevitably, some will look at Stenograph’s response and want to side with the company. But here are some things to consider for each bullet.

1. Stenograph states it continues to invest heavily in Luminex II and CaseCATalyst. Maybe so. But let’s not shy away from talking about how quickly the company discontinues support for its products. When I was a young reporter in 2010, I was told by teachers that my first machine should be paper. I failed to follow their advice and I bought a Diamante. Not long after, Stenograph sold its paper business and systematically shut down support for anything “old.” My rebellious decision ended up being a smart one. The company does that so much now that we don’t even discuss it as a field. It’s kind of like the EA Games of Court Reporting.

2. Stenograph states it has doubled the number of engineers working on writing enhancements. This is impressive if the engineering team is fairly large, but for all we know they had one person working on it and doubled it to two.

3. Stenograph is releasing a new CaseCAT version in the future and is committed to continuous releases on an ongoing basis. There is no actual commitment here. If they change their mind, they can just say they were committed at the time.

4. Proof It, which is supposed to be ASR for stenographers, will allegedly improve efficiency 40%. There’s no actual reason to believe this claim since ASR from the largest ASR providers in the world is 25 to 80% accurate. 40% is pretty close to 50%. A real 50% efficiency gain would mean transcribing jobs in half the time. If Stenograph created something that could cut transcription time BASICALLY in half, they would be letting you know about that every second of every day until you bought in. Instead it is tucked away in this response.

5. Stenograph claims it continues to have dedicated stenographic teams, but again, this is actually not a commitment. A dedicated team can be dedicated to any number of things. They can be dedicated to digital reporting and stenographic reporting. In a field where two of the largest companies inflate numbers by a factor of six to fool stenographers, it’s not incredibly surprising Stenograph would play with some words in a perfectly legal puffery-like way. It would also be pretty dumb to maintain separate dedicated teams, since you’d be paying effectively double to staff the company.

6. Stenograph announced a partnership of Caseview Net with vTestify. It’s possible this supports my belief that Stenograph is not actively against us but rather being misled. vTestify was that silly company that I blasted for saying it could save attorneys $3,000 on a deposition. After that, they started working more on being a platform and less on being a service. So this, to me, says that Stenograph’s leadership just doesn’t know some things about our field. They wouldn’t tout a relationship with vTestify if they did.

7. Stenograph is committed to growing the profession. And they support this with their Project Steno donations. I hate to punch down on an effort that I commend, because I do commend Stenograph and every company that donates to pro steno initiatives. I actually wrote about Stenograph’s donation in a positive way when it happened. I like Project Steno and I often mention it right alongside A to Z and Open Steno. But at the end of the day we have to realize that Project Steno is a write off and there is a benefit to companies PR-wise and monetarily to donate to it. At this point, it comes off as a publicity stunt to get us quietly accepting the company’s lean away from us. Let’s face facts, NCRA dumped its corporate sponsorship program, US Legal and their pals realized they couldn’t get the NCRA to push the digital product for them, and ever since then there’s been this bizarre “separate but equal” stance where companies just happen to support Project Steno over NCRA or NCRF. Considering that NCRA is basically THE trade association for stenographers, it’s easy to see that the goal is to undermine the stranglehold stenographers have on the market. That’s basically how I regard Project Steno at this point. A convenient place for all the entities not supporting NCRA to point and say “we care about steno too!” It’s called hedging.

8. Stenograph donates hours of training. Most vendors donate when asked. It’s kind of a chicken and egg, cost of doing business thing. You have a society of people, court reporters and stenographers. You have organizations that try to bring these people together, like NCRA. Playing ball with the organization that gives you access to your customers is called par for the course.

9. Stenograph uses a dedicated technical support team. Again, the word dedicated doesn’t even mean anything to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if the “dedicated” tech support is outsourced in whole or in part, just like their stock photo office picture.

I asked some of my audience to give me their comments on Stenograph’s bullets. This is some of what your fellow reporters say:

Respondent A: “My thoughts on it – One of the best things my dad ever told me was “You should always listen to what people have to say, but it’s more important to watch what they do.”

This is a typical PR response, and it sounds nice. But what I see Stenograph doing is channeling their resources to directly compete with their primary customers. What I see is Stenograph entering into increased alliances with STTI (a digital front, despite what they say), and AAERT. What I saw from Stenograph at the NCRA convention was a booth and their separate training offering (I think people had to pay for that in addition to the convention, but I’m unsure on that. If so, then they didn’t “donate” the training.) I saw a decreased level of event sponsorship. When I open the JCR, I no longer see any ads from Stenograph. These actions certainly indicate to me that while of course they would like to keep their steno customers, their focus is now on their digital product.

And I’d like to know if by integrating their realtime platform (CaseView) with VTestify, they plan to mine those transcripts to improve the AI for their digital program.”

Respondent B: “Thanks for sharing. The language in that post and PDF is basic and appears to have been written by a sales executive. Not a whole lot of depth there.

Two things:

Are they going to begin manufacturing and/or selling digital recording equipment?

Their last bullet point appears to be more about shortening their customer service employees’ time on service calls. The language is unclear about their policy or commitment to meeting their stenographic customers’ needs.”

Again, one thing is for sure. If the writing was on the wall, Stenograph wouldn’t care what you have to say. It has tipped its hand and admitted it cares very much. Use your collective power as consumers and walk away until the company is behaving in a manner that is actually accountable to you and not lip service. Let them know that’s what’s happening. Let them know it’s because of me if you want to. They’re using their position as a tech company to make you feel unqualified to judge their product. Meanwhile, when you ask someone like Stanley Sakai, someone that knows computer programming and steno, he can tell you why we use stenotypes. I can too. Why can’t Stenograph? The company has a monetary incentive not to. Take that away and you have a company with no choice but to support us or fold. If the company was on solid ground, we wouldn’t be able to cut through its arguments like Darth Vader cutting through rebel troops at the end of Rogue One. The company’s condition today is not our fault and we shouldn’t feel guilty about using it to our advantage. Certainly no one in this industry has felt guilty about using us.

My Transformation

I write this with hope that it helps all of you.

My world changed when I started to read a little bit about human psychology. We are very hardwired to form beliefs and defend those beliefs vigorously. Things like confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance inform my opinion there. We also work subconsciously towards our own expectations, as discovered by Robert Rosenthal in 1968. We also can draw profound power from hope, as told by Richter’s rats. Human psychology appears to be recursive and amplifying — we get better at what we do, form habits, and habits are hard to break.

Now here’s the hope: Your psychology is malleable. I know that because I am, more or less, an average human, and if I am able to do something, chances are good all of us can. I pulled off some major changes in my thinking. What are some bad habits I had?

Overeating. I was 290 pounds at one time, and it was physically painful for me if I did not engage in daily overeating. I forced myself to stop the behavior, and over time that physical pain went away. I’m now about 223 pounds and it’s physically painful when I overeat. The problem wasn’t me, it was the way I thought about eating. By analyzing my daily calorie intake and bringing it below what I needed to sustain my body weight, I was able to reduce my body weight by over 23%. But I had to do that against my brain throwing me headaches and temperature fluctuations to try to keep the high calorie count coming. The subconscious mind tries very hard to assert dominance over the conscious mind when a habit is being undone. Keep this in mind when you’re reading about habits of fear below.

Arachnophobia. I was terrified of spiders, even small ones. Now I capture them so I can use them in TikTok videos about court reporting. A fear I could barely live with has become a joke to me. How did I get there? I changed my thinking about spiders. I studied them. I learned that they do not perceive us in the way we perceive them. Once I understood that spiders could not “understand” me, it was easy to not be afraid anymore. They are comparably dumb and will skitter in whatever direction they think safety is in. Who could be afraid of that? They’re much more likely to feel vibrations from your movement or breath than ever realize you are a living being. For an arachnophobe, there’s no greater release than to realize that if you stay still and calm, the chances of a spider noticing you go down to basically zero. I had to change my thinking to improve my quality of life.

Alcoholism. I could function well enough, but I had trained my body to take on so much alcohol that it would kill Mr. Snuffleupagus. Alcohol was a habit I was able to break by thinking about all the things I would lose if I didn’t get it under control. Life, liberty, and happiness were all on the line, and slowly trading away alcohol so that I could keep those things was an almost spiritual experience for me. The consequences of not working on my habit were too great to ignore.

Anxiety and low self-confidence. Here’s where Robert Rosenthal’s work came in. In order to be a voice for people, I had to expect to be that voice. If we go back to 2020, I trembled at the idea of doing any kind of presentation, content, or public conclusion beyond my very comfortable habit of blogging on Stenonymous. Now I’m accusing corporations that make millions in revenue of fraud on every channel and medium I can. I had to tell myself I could do it before I did it. There were social barriers that made me very afraid to do it. Paralyzed by an endless stream of what ifs, I rarely considered the consequence of not doing what I knew was right.

Once I did what I knew was right, a large contingent of our field came out in support. It turned out that I was not the first one to have a bad experience in court reporting. It turned out I was not alone. So many have now written privately and publicly in support. I learned we had been conditioned for so many years to believe that nothing would ever change that we did not expect it to change, and so we did not fight for positive change. Abuse thrives on silence, and we were a field so resigned to silence that when the Chief Strategy Officer of US Legal, Peter Giammanco, wrote in an email, “does it really matter if it’s legal or ethical…” on NCRA’s listserv, even our own NCRA, this organization that we fund to the tune of millions of dollars a year, was silent. It felt powerless. It felt afraid. It did nothing. If our flagship was afraid to sail, what hope would there be for any one of us? If I had not published those listserv emails, we would still be in the same position, being silently abused and resigned to our fate, overblown shortage claims killing our student pipeline. The habit of doing nothing would kill an entire industry, and to the detriment of our replacements and society as a whole.

Like all my other habits, anxiety was broken by thought. I decided that if NCRA retaliated against me for releasing the emails, the organization would be effectively killing itself. Who is going to support a nonprofit that attacks its own member for exposing corporate misconduct? If US Legal or Giammanco did anything, they’d be calling infinitely more attention to my work. Sure, there are now some people in the field that don’t like me. But they do not like me because I am helping others or because they do not yet understand me. That is a flaw in their thinking, not mine. As I said in a related video, I see two futures. One where I am wholly correct in my assertion that the shortage has been exaggerated and exacerbated by these big companies or one where there really is nothing we can do and shortage will defeat us. All the available data points to the former, and the latter is basically a guarantee that our profession will not exist in ten years. The morons at the top of the USL totem pole made this an easy choice for me. Thanks, Rick.

So much of what we do and who we are is habit. Our minds will seek ways to justify our habits so that we do not suffer from an identity crisis. After all, if one embraces this idea of psychological malleability, does it not open the door to the idea that core beliefs, such as sexual preference or religion, may also be changed without consequence? I bypass this identity crisis by deciding to change what I need to change in order to accomplish my goals, learn more, be a better person, and nothing more. Again, look to Richter’s rats and the power of hope. If you use God to tap into hope, then God makes you powerful. In my case, there is a loyalty to altruism that survived my religious days. I was able to tap into that, see that I could not help anyone in my previous state of being, laden with fear and exhausted from my own bad habits, and began taking actions that would help the largest number of people possible. The idea that I can help people gives me hope. What does hope make me? Now I get to share: Anyone can do this. Anyone can be powerful.

There are still plenty of bad habits I will have to work through. But the main idea is that humans are problem-solving machines, so when we really sit and analyze the root of a problem, we find solutions. Look at me. Problems that I had for 10 or 15 years evaporated largely over the course of six months as if they had never existed because I willed it to be so. Now that I know that such a thing is possible, how could I not share it with the world? How could I leave my fellow court reporters in fear? I’m not the only one to come to such a realization. Steno Imperium just released an article about fear. Max Curry’s 2020 presentation at Stenopalooza was all about letting go of fear. We know we are afraid.

The message has not reached everyone in the industry yet. Love and support each other to the extent practicable to overcome this fear. Support systems generate hope, and hope is a huge booster to survival. For those who insist on living in fear or perpetuating it, such as Stenograph’s Anir Dutta, so convinced that we are his Kodak that he’d kill Stenograph to support his habit of fear, we have only one message: Step back, reassess, and see that what we are saying has a far stronger basis in reality than your fear. I promise to do the same always. Together, we will get the industry wherever it’s going.

Alternatively, proponents of fear can stand in my way. But just remember that there are enough court reporters in the business to give NCRA something like $3 million a year. Standing against them means running the risk they’ll start funding me and then I’ll have to kick ass all day every day instead of just doing so when my full-time job permits. I’ve already got a proven track record of defending them with the donations that have come through and my own cash. “Here’s a guy so committed he put a thousand dollars of his own money down just to help stenographers find their voice.” It’s going to be an easy choice for them. The only way to stop that kind of outcome is to accept that stenography is here to stay and get serious about funding it and recruiting for it instead of cuddling up with the disgraceful and opportunistic digital reporting propaganda outfit, STTI.

[sic]

We know that speech recognition is not as good as claimed. 25 to 80% accuracy depending on who’s speaking. We’ve also got information that says 40% of AI startups show no AI in their products and tech startups that say they are AI can expect 50% more funding. This isn’t the future, this is an ill-advised attempted to garner funding for something that has over an 80% chance of failure.

Stenograph is now trying to sell garbage to a customer base that is increasingly aware of that fact and there’s a guy on the playing field with a moral conviction to explain it to them in simple terms. Stenograph is relying on a retirement cliff that has been fraudulently exaggerated by STTI, US Legal, Veritext, and possibly others. The perpetrators of the fraud don’t actually care if Stenograph fails. They’d use it to bolster the fraud — “oh look, the leading manufacturer went under.” Not a desirable position for the company, but also not one that I put it in. So when the cards fall in exactly the way I am predicting, it’s not my problem. And if I’m wrong? Even better.

Think about it. Stenograph’s in the same boat I was. Lots of habits and a choice to make.

June 9 Burngirl CaseCAT Tips (2019)

Came across a Roisin McRoberts post that let us all know she was going to be hosting or having a CaseCAT tips session at 3 p.m. PST on June 9, 2019 on her Twitch channel, Burngirl. As far as I know, there are not CEUs offered, but it is a chance to learn new things. For people on the East Coast like me, we’re looking at it being at 6 p.m. EST. For those that don’t know, Twitch is primarily a video game streaming service and business, so if you tune in before that, you might just find someone playing some video games. All I can really say is thank you for taking the time to put together what you’re putting together and I hope it makes every attendee just a little more knowledgeable.

I think this is a really interesting idea, and I would love to see our profession spread to more platforms and marketplaces, so it’s a good time to mention that you too can join the streaming world. I believe Facebook and YouTube both provide simplified live streaming service. Last I checked it, Twitch required a streaming software like the free program, OBS, to work well, but perhaps that’s changed. Regardless, if you are a trainer or teacher out there who wants to help people, there are free video edit softwares like Shotcut out there to help. There are free or low-cost screen capture softwares like OBS or Fraps. Additionally, remember that if you follow the continuing education program rules, you can also offer CEUs to your audience.

We are really at a point where we can use technology to spread our message and help a lot of people. I have had friends in the past use video gaming itself as a way to donate money to serious causes like cancer or children, and I can only imagine all the ways that these platforms could be used. We could see NCRF matching drives or other causes that support steno rise up and hit bigger audiences. It’s a world of unlimited ideas, and every contribution is important.