Big Companies Are Not Using Digital Reporting Because of Stenographer Shortage

Following my exposition of US Legal’s deception regarding the stenographer shortage and Verbit’s complete lack of professional standards, it seems companies are dropping the ruse and just pressing onward with digital despite the fact that it is less efficient and will hurt minorities. They continue to assume that the legal profession will turn a blind eye to this assault on a field of 88% women, the legal profession’s consumer choice, and the rights of the legal profession’s clients. They continue to assume lawyers aren’t intelligent enough to catch onto the cost shifting game. They continue to assume that court reporters will sit back, shut up, and let it happen.

But you don’t need to read about any of that. All you need to do is look at the disparity in treatment.

Naegeli wants to pay you $1.75 per page even though you are almost certainly already working for less than you were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation on the east coast and west coast.

We win this by educating the transcribers on just how much labor they’re giving away.

US Legal, continuing with its blatant dishonesty, advertises that it uses CSRs, CERs, and CVRs. The CSR is typically a license which is required in some states. The other two are certifications by AAERT and NVRA. This seems to be a deliberate, subtle move to take attention off the NCRA. Their contempt for the NCRA is obvious to the industry expert, but their website looks nice and probably fools the uneducated consumer into feeling like there’s an equivalency. Remember, NCRA is larger than the other two. You can look up the tax returns on Pro Publica. there’s no reason to omit the RPR, and they did.

Highly skilled, even though Verbit claims digital reporting does not require a highly trained workforce.

Planet Depos, like the rest of the liars, claims that its use of digital reporters is out of need.

There is a critical shortage created by them, for them.

Yet they cannot be bothered to post a single stenographic reporter position.

It’s difficult to find something you’re not looking for.

Even Esquire wants to see us relegated to the role of transcriber rather than spend any real time or effort recruiting for the field.

Move us to the back end and nobody will notice when we’re gone. Genius. I’d do it too if I had no morals.

Veritext can’t decide if it does or doesn’t want digital reporting to replace stenography.

“We’re not going to replace you — WOOHOO DIGITAL!”

But I have to be honest, the materials they’ve produced for digital reporters seem far more expansive and professionally done than anything I got from an agency as a freelancer. 20 year old me got told “go into the room, take the job” by Jaguar Reporting in 2010 for a “luxurious” $2.80 a page. Compare that to the handholding companies are now willing to do to build digital.

This situation is so dire that a Nebraskan reporter sent me a chart of page rates compared to the consumer price index for urban consumers. The blue is what YOU are paying to BE ALIVE. and the ORANGE is what you are being paid.

We literally have nothing more to give.

There is hope. Many of these are likely zombie companies. They probably aren’t making a profit. They are propped up by investor money, loans, or other cash flow. You are probably a normal person who thinks about money and success linearly. “Look how many companies they’re buying or how big they are. They must be doing really well!” But there is far more to money and success in this modern world. Let’s take a company that we know makes millions of dollars on the digital side, like VIQ Solutions.

Hopefully they do not spell “point” with a zero like Verbit.

With $8 million in revenue in a quarter and $12 million in cash on hand, they’re a real beast. None of you has that kind of money, right?

But they’re losing between $1 million and $8 million a quarter. That’s kind of like paying a reporter $8 a page and charging a lawyer $4 a page. If you made a dollar in profit this year, you’re operating a more stable model than them.

“Digital reporting is the future. It just needs a little more money to get going.”

Right out of the gate, we have evidence that this digital stuff doesn’t work out too well. It’s a money pit for investors. And we are not alone. real estate, driving, and interpreting are all industries under pressure from irresponsible companies.

Want more hope? They’re all barreling into a shortage situation of their own. With Verbit’s admissions that it could take 3 to 8 transcribers to fulfill the role of one stenographic court reporter, I had theorized that it would be very difficult for companies to find the manpower they need for the digital transition. We now know that’s true because the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity said as much in their FAQ. Thanks, AHDI!

A transcriber shortage? Guess I’ll just add more demand to transcription!

But the beautiful thing about us as people is that we do not have to be complicit in this investor fraud and attack on justice. I asked for help to create a consumer awareness campaign, and all of you put down cold, hard cash to get our issues in front of 100,000 people and many news outlets. We are not going unheard. This issue is not going unnoticed.

Look at what you were all able to do in one week.

Look at what the people that you work with every day really feel about you when they hear about what you are being subjected to.

Now I have to ask for some more favors. You can do any of it or all of it. But I can just about guarantee that if enough of us take part, our timeless profession survives this decade and perhaps emerges stronger than it was in 1993 when there were reportedly 6,000 certified reporters and 40,000 unlicensed reporters in the State of California alone.

  1. Get into NCRA and PRO Link. I understand people’s gripes about the organization, but right now having a robust national directory of stenographers will blow away shortage myths. Members also need to push to get the organization to open up its wallet and do some serious advertising on our behalf. To put this into perspective, there are only 364 New York reporters listed in PRO Link. Meanwhile, I happen to know there were over a thousand reporters employed by NYSUCS as of 2019. We’re not shrinking THAT much, we’re separated. The apathy is really killing us, and we are quite frankly in a position where we must stand together or be hung separately.

2. Tell people about this field. Point them to NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno. Tell them about CRAH, StarTran Online, Simply Steno, or whatever program you happen to favor. Just to give you an idea of the kind of impact you can have, one unpopular answer on Quora can get 85 views. Multiply that by 27,000 stenographers on all the different platforms we use and people we speak to.

3. Support your state associations. NCRA simply does not have the resources or willpower to have a presence in each state. They are our national unifier, but for state issues, we need state associations to be powerful. As a board member of New York State Court Reporters Association earlier this year, I was constantly perplexed by how to make an impact with basically no funding. Management cost was somewhere in the range of $30,000 annually plus overages. There were only maybe 300 members. It was like trying to buy a $2 stick of gum with $1. This is in the context of a state we KNOW has at least 2,000 stenographic court reporters. That’s kind of like walking into the store with your rich uncle and him going “oh, you don’t have money for gum? That’s too bad.” The NYSCRA board of 2021 showed everyone what an association can do with almost no money when it joined forces with New York unions and got word to the courts that utilizing automatic trial transcription would implode the access to justice. Imagine what will be possible in every state with more participation and funding. Board members are generally reporters just like you, and they need your support to make the right call, which is why I did not encourage people to abandon PCRA months ago despite all my frustration with that situation.

4. Support a nonprofit like Protect Your Record Project. Their consumer awareness work has been an injection of pure courage into a field that was terrified of speaking out. There was a time where I was very uncomfortable suggesting that. I thought “if we divide the dollars, we divide the strength.” I was wrong. Slimmer nonprofits serve an important role. They can do, say, and commit to things that member associations simply do not prioritize. There is no doubt some similarity in the consumer awareness work of STRONG and PYRP, but I’ve come to realize we are all basically on the same side, and that realization is why I am unafraid of using this blog to promote whatever’s clever for all of us.

5. Entrepreneurs, give these businesses some competition. Verbit can’t decide if it’s based in New York, Delaware, or Israel and still managed to get over $100 million in investor money. It’s time to let investors know not only are they backing a losing horse, there’s a stable return waiting for them in stenography. This is a $3 billion industry and it’s time we took this fight to the funding arena. Once the faucet starts pouring on steno, investors will get wise to what a sham digital reporting is today, and the people responsible will be held accountable go on to attempt to wreck some other industry.

Court Reporting & Stenotype Services Market Research Report 2019 by Kentley Insights

6. Share the press release with news people. I can only reach so many by myself.

7. Make complaints where appropriate. Where companies are violating the law, we need attorneys general and executive bodies to know about it.

8. Share this article with lawyers and local bar associations. They deserve at least some small warning that they are being duped.

9. Share this article with your fellow reporter. A lot of them will have the same misconceptions about success that I mentioned earlier. If reporters feel hopeless, they won’t take action. It’s a different world when you expose the card house and tell them “blow a little bit and it might fall over.”

10. Reach out to digital court reporters and transcribers and let them know to try steno. If we lose, they will be the next generation of exploited and abused workers. Every stenographer we recruit is one that they don’t get to do that to.

11. Send me data. The more I publish, the less likely your fellow reporter will be taken advantage of. This blog is possible thanks to contributions of money and information. Do not ever think that I view myself as independently successful. I am very aware of how much Stenonymous relies on all of you.

12. Reach out to young reporters and students, and let them know you are available to help. Despite the shortage claims, professionals sponsored and bought lunch for an unprecedented number of students at our 2021 convention. This is a scary time for them. They’re largely going to be relying on you to do all the things I just mentioned and hand this field to them intact. Add to that the general stress of steno school and we have ourselves the perfect storm to scare people away from this field. We need them to know we are fighting not just so they have a job but that it will be the best damn decision of their lives just like it was for so many of us.

This is an ongoing situation. It’s not resolving in a day or week. If you feel yourself slipping into an uncomfortable place, take some time off, don’t worry about it, and come back when you’re ready. That’s pretty much the advice two reporters I love gave me when I was feeling low. Now I get to thank them by sharing it with everyone. Take care of yourselves first. We’ll keep this ship sailing till you get back.

How 60 Stenographers Changed Reality

After unprecedented articles exposing the bad behavior of corporations in our field like US Legal and Verbit, with help from Protect Your Record Project, We were able to secure nearly $4,000 in donations from about 60 stenographic court reporters and stenographic reporting firms across the country. That’s an average of about $67 a reporter. All donations, big and small, have contributed to this moment. Advertising campaigns have been launched to facilitate consumer and public awareness via Facebook and Twitter. Many court reporters have shared the posts and/or tagged local state and women’s bar associations. If this is something you want to become a part of, it’s a great time to jump in and like or share the posts on the Stenonymous Facebook page or my Twitter. This publicity is getting people asking the important questions.

I must have been excited. I couldn’t even spell low cost.
Me? Ideas? Never.

Just for a recap, we got US Legal to admit to not using Sourcebook / PRO Link to recruit despite its contention that the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve. How can one make the claim something is impossible to solve in good faith when one has not tried to solve it? It’s consumer fraud at its finest and it’ll grow increasingly harder for them to dance their way out of it as more people know it’s happening.

We also exposed that Verbit, a company that misrepresents itself as being New York based and had posted family court deposition audio to the internet. I have a source that states the audio issue was known about prior to my investigation into it, but it didn’t get taken down until after the publication of my blog post. Stenographers, you did that!

When we speak up, people are forced to react.

It’s also notable that for all their money and “power,” the corporations have given us more valuable information. They are guarding an empty fort. I’m probably one of the easiest people on the internet to find and email, and they haven’t bothered to threaten me with a cease and desist letter. They have not bothered to do much of anything at all. Their strategy is seemingly to ignore the situation and hope that we cannot articulate these issues to the media, the public, and associations of lawyers. Their strategy is seemingly to hope that we are summarily dismissed without thought or question. Their strategy is to hope we declare mission accomplished and stop kicking down the gates of that empty fort.

Well, we have seen firsthand how that will work out for them. How well were things going for us when we sat idle hoping things would be okay? Compare that to what happened when 0.2% of this field stood up and said “no!” No, you cannot take our jobs with your inferior product. No, you cannot scapegoat digital reporters. No, you cannot lie about our shortage. No, you cannot post people’s proceedings on the internet to train your offshore transcribers and get away with it! If 60 of us can do that, what are 27,000 of us capable of? This field could afford to pay an advocate like me for nearly two decades with a one-time payment of $67. Heaven help whoever’s talking impossible shortage if we ever secure that much money.

Our strategy? Part one was to show all of you your own power. Part two has two prongs. One, we must continue to apply this social pressure so that the companies stop behaving badly or fold under the incredible weight of their own incompetence. It’s clear they know nothing about the field they insinuate having expertise in. Two, this pressure and publicity will bring people to stenographic court reporting. Young men feel lost? Here’s a direction. Caption advocates don’t like autocraptions? Time to make friends.

Stenographers aren’t perfect either, but ASR has such wacky ranges of accuracy that we outmatch it every time. We can help these people and we need not be shy about letting them know!

The publicity is a big thing. In the next ten years we could easily double or triple the size of this field and start expanding into new markets. Why not? Humans like being listened to. There’s an obvious human need to be heard. Computers can’t do what we do. What is business but profiting off of human need? What is court reporting but our quest to memorialize what others have to say? Even the grimmest view of our field, that only maybe 10% of the population can do what we do, means that there are over 30 million people in the United States that can learn this skill. Look how many thousands of people stenographic reporting has gone in front of already. And this movement has only just started.

Four days did that. People haven’t even had the weekend to see our stuff yet.
Four days of ads done. Now we’ve booked 50 more.

Try to remember prior to this week what our reality was. “Nothing we can do.” “Impossible.” “A dying profession.” “An industry ripe for disruption.” That changed because we willed it to change. If you have ever doubted your own power, I urge you to stop, reassess what’s not working, and push for the things that matter to you. Push to change the things people claim cannot be changed; 60 brave reporters have just shown you they are wrong. History is filled with all sorts of winners and losers, including winners that beat overwhelming odds. If you, reader, allow others to dictate to you what your chances of victory are, you are already halfway to losing, and you have a choice to win.

If you would like to support the campaigns going now, take to Twitter and Facebook and start directing news people, legal professionals, and bar associations to my articles. If you would like to contribute financially to the advertisement campaigns running, please feel free to donate to my PayPal at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, Venmo at Christopher-Day-141, and Zelle at my email or 917 685 3010. As this continues to grow, I will look into advertising in other media so that our message makes the largest impact possible.

Of course, to our beloved corporations, you too have a choice. You can get in line with the industry standards or cease to exist. You can help recruit stenographers or lose all of your investors and customers to them. Trying to outsmart all of the people all of the time didn’t work out. Do the right thing, suck up your pride, and move forward with us. Let your digital reporters know that stenography is worth looking into. As we have just shown you, we will accept no less. I personally will accept no less because as I admitted to everyone, I am a product of the sad side of the industry that took from me and my colleagues until we had no more to give. I now have no compunction against taking it all back, giving it to our next generation of reporters, teaching them the tricks of the trade, and exposing to them the silence that allowed the abuse of mine. It was a simple calculation for me. I knew we had more people and better funding. I knew we had the more advanced technology. I knew that if the narrative remained “nothing we can do” my job would probably be at risk sometime in the next ten years. All I had to do was let go of the embarrassment and shame associated with saying “my industry has problems and I’m willing to be a part of the solution.”

My early career was defined by people telling me there was something wrong with me because I was not as successful as them. Now that I have success, I move into the rest of my career with a message for every entity in a position of power that thinks it’s going to use it against our young people and our newbies: We are coming for you.

Steno was the best decision I ever made. Now I give back in the hopes that one day nobody will have to suffer the way I did.

Investors Misled, Verbit Lies, Media Buys It

I’ve been following Verbit for a while. I’ve pointed out my skepticism regarding its series A funding claims of 99% accuracy in record time. That was well before the racial disparities in automatic speech recognition (ASR) study really hit the news and showed us that all the biggest players in the ASR market were having trouble consistently getting 80% accuracy. That was well before the captioning article showed us “record time” was 8 hours. My skepticism was revived when I read about Verbit floating the idea that it might go public. It seems very much to me like they’re unprofitable, like VIQ. It’s a game of getting investors to keep piling money on as far as I can tell. It’s the Uber strategy of throwing money around and trying to control a market whether or not the model is sustainable. We have a lot of reasons to doubt what Israel-based Verbit says.

Time to add one more to the pile. They claim they’re a New York-based company. They claimed that in May 2020.

This is basically all fluff. You cannot tailor-make ASR for legal proceedings because they encompass such a wide range of matters. Law and language are constantly evolving.

The claim was repeated in a June 2021 article by Peter Cohan in Forbes.

Wait. I thought we were tailoring to legal? This sounds a little bit like “we do everything. Honest.”

And despite my attempts to alert them to the inaccuracy in July 2021, nobody could be bothered to correct the article. It’s still wrong as of September 14, 2021.

Okay. Maybe my antics turned them off. Or maybe they just don’t care what’s true.

And just to make this really clear, it’s fact checkable using New York’s business search, which takes maybe 60 seconds. Verbit is a foreign corporation, meaning it is not based in New York.

Delaware, Israel, New York — maybe its base is wherever it thinks is going to be most attractive to investors.

This might seem like a minor thing, but it points to a larger problem. Media people are not bothering to fact check anything. They’ll go on and on about how the technology is great and new, and how this company is a unicorn valued at a billion dollars, but they’ll miss simple realities, like 85% of AI business solutions being predicted to fail. IBM Watson wasn’t the holy grail of ASR and IBM makes $70 billion in annual revenue. What are the chances that Verbit beat IBM with its $5 million in revenue? I’ll give everyone a hint. Vince McMahon’s theme song tells us exactly what chance they have.

And Verbit is not doing anything to correct false perceptions. They reposted their May 2020 article again on September 14, 2021.

Leor is actually a nice person. We got to talk once. But Verbit itself is playing the claim game.

Just for fun, let’s dive into the implications they list here, since it’s being published a second time as if it is still true.

1. The rise of non-compete litigation. I see no reason to believe that this is an accurate assessment. States like New York are banning non-competes under 75,000. Even our sitting President of the United States doesn’t seem to like non-competes very much. So it probably wasn’t true in May 2020 when the courts were closed and probably isn’t true now.

2. Courthouses are closed. True in May 2020. Not really holding true now.

3. Working from home culture. Stenographers adapted to this. There’s no edge to Verbit in that department.

4. High demand for lawyers. Can’t argue here. Our nation of laws needs lawyers, especially in rural areas.

5. Technology is key. They mention how lawyers that know how to send documents electronically and perform video conferences are more desirable. Is this surprising to anyone?

6. Fewer courtroom cases. Verbit has pointed to our stenographer shortage in the past as the casus belli requiring our replacement. If there are fewer courtroom cases, demand is lower than anticipated, and therefore stenographers can meet demand and the whole theme that we cannot has been a marketing farce.

7. Smaller law firms thrive. They’re writing this because smaller law firms have fewer resources to spend figuring out that the article is a sales pitch. Marketing is about how you make people feel. They want to make smaller law firms feel good and try Verbit.

8. New court reporting strategies. In May 2020, laws regarding oaths and the swearing-in of witnesses were changing to adapt to the pandemic environment. This has been a major debate in our field where some businesses ignore procedural rules while others zealously defend them. New York itself has fairly simple guidelines for depositions taken within the state, without the state, and in a foreign country. As page 32 of the Summer 2020 Vermont Bar Journal told us, this situation gets complicated. So it’s not a false statement they’re making, but this is an example of framing. “New” and “court reporting” are designed to make the reader feel like court reporting is changing. Our strategy is the same it’s been for a hundred years, stenotyping what you say while you say it. We just do it with better technology than we had in the 80s.

9. Courts are going digital. Yeah. Sure. But as I have pointed out to digital court reporters, stenographers have been digital for a while now.

10. The rise of the remote deposition. Automatic speech recognition thrives via the remote work because the audio quality tends to be much clearer, assuming everyone’s connection is good. It’s a closed scenario where everyone is speaking into a microphone. By contrast, the stenographic court reporter can survive anything. Check out 25 seconds of one of my early freelance jobs and let me know how well automatic captioning does there. I was a 20-something year old kid next to a steam radiator. If I had not been taking notes on my stenotype, there’d be no legal record of the proceedings. Automatic speech recognition fails in court reporting for the same reason court reporters get stressed out at lawyers. We have to get every word. Sometimes they stick us in spots where it’s really hard to do our jobs. In today’s world we are occasionally looked down on for asking to change our seat or relaying that a situation is unreportable. We will be very upset if the legal field suddenly decides “yes, we can create the ideal hearing scenario for the computer that we couldn’t bother to do for the human beings we work with every day.” But my money is on one simple truth, people are people and most of them will never jump through hoops to make a computer “happy” when they can work with a live stenographic reporter who will jump through hoops to make them happy. It’s the same reason customers dread calling any kind of service center nowadays. Getting bounced around by an automated system has got to be one of the most infuriating experiences in modern life. Applying that to the legal record is a masterful level of stupid.

This isn’t anything new from Verbit. They put out questionable marketing materials all the time. They did it again in this undated webpage about digital reporting. Let’s put those “myths” to bed too.

Nobody believes this. The Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 by Ducker Worldwide clearly gauged the use of digital reporting in each state. Digital or its predecessor, analog, have been in use in society and even stenographic court reporting for a long time.
They give three states that ostensibly allow digital court reporting to bust this myth and omit states like Washington where providers like StoryCloud have been accused of breaking the law. Download the complaint below!
We are all certified at over 95% accuracy. It’s true that we don’t all provide realtime. These things are different and they’re conflating them, hopefully out of ignorance. There is no evidence digital reporting is closing the gap.
They neglect to mention that transcription can take six to eight times the number of transcribers to get the work done in the same amount of time.
I’ll concede “fewer” inaudible portions for the sake of argument. But again, why would you sacrifice a stenographer who can tell you right then and there that something is missing?
It’s less secure because the transcription work is being done outside the jurisdiction of our country and our courts. If I alter a transcript illegally, I risk jail. If someone on the other side of the world does it, what recourse does an American lawyer have?
The racial disparities in automatic speech recognition study of 2020 told us all the major players were 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who was speaking. This means Verbit’s transcribers have to spend time figuring out what the computer gets wrong and then fixing it, arguably slower than typing it from scratch.
Stenographers have audio sync. We can do this too. It’s often much faster for us to search for a keyword and read what we have. I’ve had people ask me to read back stuff from hours or days prior. Good luck finding that on an audio file, even with modern audio searching.
Our notary is not what makes us trained “officiants.” Our support systems, educational systems, and experience with transcript production is what protects your record.
The Justice Served study about a decade ago put the costs in about the same ballpark for the consumer.

But you know what’s screwed up? Here Verbit is calling digital court reporters highly trained, but not long ago, they were claiming that digital reporting required a workforce that is not highly trained. Again, this is a company with no conviction or facts backing it. It is a chameleon, ready to blend in with whatever way will make it money or sound good.

I am quite proud to present my new work of art “Verbit is lying to consumers.”

Let’s keep on reading some digital reporting myths.

Oh, no. They got me here. Stenographers really are human.

AI never has a bad day? Well, in my October 2020 article, YouTube thought the caption for defeating the enemy and extinguishing his life was “to feed my enemy, I extinguish his wife.” In my June 2021 article YouTube AI thought “raise your right hand” was “rage right hand.” There’s two bad days right there. If Verbit’s got better ASR than YouTube, why haven’t they sold it to YouTube yet?

Actually, digital transcription is worse off than Alexa and Siri.

To understand why this is wrong, you have to know a little about the tech and concepts at play. Alexa and Siri are constantly able to learn your voice and tune to your voice. That’s like voice writing. In order to create a uniform ASR program that can get all English speakers all the time and automate that transcription, you need tons of data from all those speakers in all different types of environments. Since new people are being born every day and language is changing a little bit every day, this is basically hopeless. As written in Scientific American, ASR is not perfect and may never be. Just think criminal prosecutions. Does anyone really believe we are going to get defendants to sit there and help the court system train the computer to their voices? “Ah, yes, I think I will just assist the state in my prosecution.”

For anyone that hasn’t caught on, there is a pattern here. There is little substance, a lot of fluff, some great sales tactics, and no real court reporting knowledge. Perhaps most offensive is their reliance on quotes and ideas from the National Center for State Courts, which as far as I can tell just doesn’t like stenographers, since they continually call for digital recording despite some evidence that costs are similar and stenographers are more efficient. I hate to say that about NCSC since they seem to admire community court solutions as much as I do, but that’s where we’re at, they don’t like that my job exists.

I really feel for investors. They’re being recklessly encouraged to throw millions of dollars into something that, from any reasonable view of the facts, has a high chance of failing or stagnating. As I pointed out in my science article, they’re paying Kenyan transcribers maybe a fourth of what Americans are paid for the same work. Any alleged savings doesn’t go to the consumer, it goes to the company. Does the court reporting consumer want the creators of the legal record to be outside of his or her subpoena power? Does the captioning consumer want a company to push down prices so that captioners have a hard time affording continuing education? Is everybody really okay with what is apparently a zombie company coming in and sinking millions of dollars into Rev 2 under the false notion of “future technology?” Livne himself has admitted they’re “over-subscribed” when it comes to funding. It’s quite clear to me that they’re overfunded because they’re turning out to be an overblown transcription company and not the cutting edge of technology. After all, just compare their “over-subscribed” funding of maybe a couple hundred million dollars to the money pit of real AI research. When the media will admit that or when investors will catch on? That remains to be seen. But very much like US Legal, anything from Verbit needs to be viewed with extreme caution.

For investors looking for a stable return, consider getting involved with stenographic firms. Voice recognition and transcription has been identified as a market with billions of dollars in potential. Stenographers are the most efficient modality in that regard. Where technology companies will overpromise and underdeliver, the stenographic writer has worked out a system that has been going strong and evolving for over a hundred years. A Kentley Insights 2019 report showed a 10% profit as a percentage of revenue for court reporting businesses. As far as I am concerned, a far safer and more stable return is in stenography. If any investor wants to be directed to the more entrepreneurial minds of our profession, I am happy to direct. Please write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Addendum:

I reached out to Jim McMillan from NCSC and I have to correct my above position on the organization. He explained that he believed quote Verbit used from him was from a 2013 post and that that was well before speech-to-text automatic speech recognition was close to usable. The position that NCSC takes tends to be on courtrooms that do not require the transcription of many matters. Obviously, I will always be an advocate for the stenographic reporter, but this is a far different take on it that I previously had and important for our field to see.

Remember, this was about recording the matters in courtrooms, not depositions, because in some states a low percentage of matters are ordered.
Of course, I think that the damage to non-standard English dialect speakers is too great to ignore, but I see Jim’s point here.
And my assessment is he’s honest.

I Figured Out Why ASR Is So Hard To Perfect

Yesterday I noted the racial disparities in automatic speech recognition study and how modern ASR did worse than the estimates provided in an old patent. I also noted humans are built to get better at just about anything they do. I just so happen to think about this court reporting and automatic speech recognition stuff a lot. It finally hit me why automatic speech recognition has made little real progress in the last 20 years: Language drift. The way that people speak and write English tends to change over time. Great example? I’m a gamer but I’m not entrenched in gamer culture. When someone about six years younger than me said “I’m getting bodied,” I had almost no clue what he was talking about. He was getting beat up by the other team! If you took a look at the video I linked, it explains how words and nomenclature changed drastically in English. Early English, to me, sounded much more French than anything we know today. If you go back only about 650 years, you reach a point where you are unlikely to understand the English language. Giraffes used to be camelopards. “Verily” used to be a word that people used. Even worse, there was no electricity to charge our stenotypes yet. To the chagrin of English purists, language drift appears inevitable. But this is also why we need real people studying and mastering English. It gives the rest of us a fighting chance. That’s why a computer program could never do for court reporting what Margie Wakeman Wells did. The computer would only regurgitate the same rules again and again, never reviewing or assessing new information unless a real person told it to.

What does that have to do with automatic speech recognition and court reporting? Our verbal and written languages are changing over time. That’s why literally now means figuratively, literally! ASR is based off of machine learning. It’s unlikely to ever perfect English because English is ever evolving and never perfect. Let’s say a company compiles enough data and creates an algorithm so perfect that it can accurately understand every single one of the billions of speakers on the planet today. Every single day after that moment, the speech patterns would change just a little bit and would be unrecognizable to the system someday. Of course, there is not a single country or corporation on the planet allocating enough money or personnel to gather that much data in the first place!

As a secondary matter, a system trained to understand all English dialects is inherently less likely to work than a system trained to understand only standard English as far as I know. I’ve written extensively about how bad ASR was with AAVE, as low as 25%. If we train a system for AAVE and data suited for that, there is a high likelihood that it would have worse accuracy for standard speakers. Gain ground on one type of speaker and lose ground on the other. The main way to compensate for that would be to have a trained operator use a specific voice profile to select the speaker. Guess what? That’s voice writing, something our industry figured out two decades ago.

This is not to say we shouldn’t continue to train and be at the top of our game. But my thoughts on AI are shifting from what they were. I used to believe there was some small possibility we would be replaced. I am coming to a place where I do not see us as replaceable under the current model of ASR without a trained operator in every seat. If we’re going to do that, stenography is the way to go!

Thank you to recent donors. My PayPal is open to receive donations for those that wish to contribute to the cost of running the blog. If you don’t want to give something for “nothing,” I also designed a Sad Iron Stenographer mug on Zazzle. The cheaper one, I will make about $0.90 for every sale. The more expensive one, I will make about $10 for every sale. They are both identical mugs, so buy whichever you find to be more appropriate. Nothing will make your Mondays happier than the sad iron stenographer, I guarantee* it.

*Product is not guaranteed to make Mondays happier.

What Court Reporters Can Learn From Y2K

Remember when the world was supposed to end? Computer programs were going to crash. Massive delays could happen. It was the doomsday that never happened about 21 years ago.

It turns out Y2K was a pretty big problem in the computer programming world. Computer memory used to be incredibly limited. To get around this limitation, many programmers designed programs to save dates using fewer numbers. MM/DD/YY was shorter than MM/DD/YYYY. The result of this design was that in the year 2000, many programs could believe it was the year 1900. Booked a flight? Good luck finding your 100-year old reservation in the system. Clocked in at work? You were going to be 100 years late. Had a bank account? They were going to owe you 100 years of interest. Anything where dates and computers were important was in danger.

That danger came and went because programmers went to the media. Programmers whipped up a frenzy of attention to the issue, and the people that pay them took the issue seriously. Millions of dollars were spent to fix old programs, and the result was that Y2K went down in the public’s mind as a hoax or joke.

There are a few things stenographic reporters can mirror here. We too have a looming crisis. Our reporter shortage is well documented. The average age of NCRA membership is 55. For all the reasons listed in the PCRA article, digital reporting and automatic speech recognition is an inadequate replacement for the stenographic court reporter. Indeed, I’ve even “pontificated” that if we fail, it will cause much more severe delays than courts already experience.

We too have people that need to buy in. Court administrations, private attorneys, captioning purchasers, and educators are all examples of people we need to buy in the same way banks, airports, and others bought in and helped stop Y2K. Ultimately, these are the people injured if we fail to recruit more reporters, and the least we can do is let them know. The schools are not going to survive long with the offshoring of the jobs. The rest of them are going to suffer from a quality issue.

We too have seen this coming in advance. For over 7 years we’ve been pushing out initiatives to recruit reporters. NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno have all grown more robust and organized in that time. We still have a good 7 to 10 years before the majority of reporters cross the retirement threshold and reality tells us whether we’ve won or lost. That’s 7 to 10 years to change the outcome if you think we’re losing or keep the lead if you think we’re winning.

Most importantly, we too can win. Programmers were facing an unprecedented issue and worked to fix it. They did not fix everything perfectly; a nuclear weapons plant had a little hiccup after all, but they fixed everything enough that nothing catastrophic happened. They had a choice, and they chose to be leaders. As I told many students on February 2021, we too have a choice. We are not facing an unprecedented issue. We are facing a labor shortage. We don’t have to do this perfectly. As I explained yesterday, the corporations that are trying to bump us out of the field are far from perfect and their arguments are completely hollow. There are so many of us that with even the slightest effort, we will eclipse whatever anti-steno propaganda is put out there. We just have to do it.

My art skills inspired me to become a blogger.

Stenographer Energy & Social Media Recruitment

Stenographers are no strangers to social media. We’ve had students like Isabelle Lumsden get thousands of eyes on our stenotypes. We have amazing content from accounts like Stenoholics. More recently, I got to see a video from the TikTok letsgetfries. The video starts with our hero mentioning that she’s been on jury duty for two weeks. The most important thing she’s learned? Stenographers have the wildest energy of anyone she has ever met in her life! Don’t fuck with them. Maybe she’d make a good court reporter, she got our hand and eye thing down already!

This is exactly how I look at work every day for the last 11 years and she nails it.

I bring this up for the entertainment value, but also as a reminder that strategically social media is our battleground. There are companies out there right now, like US Legal, that are claiming the stenographer shortage cannot be solved by training more stenographers. It’s a blatant lie dressed up like industry news to fool industry insiders and outsiders. Meanwhile, we know from the Open Steno 2021 Survey that about two thirds of people coming into contact with steno, at least in that community, are coming into contact with it thanks to the Internet. So we’ve got to out-presence them, recruit people, and steer our students clear of dishonest companies.

OH NO. EQUATIONS. RUN.

And make no mistake that I am calling US Legal dishonest. In their article they note 1,120 retirees a year and 200 new reporters. An annual shrinkage of 920 reporters, giving the impression that this is an annual gap that never ends and only gets larger. But that’s not how these numbers work. First of all, they’re extrapolated from the Ducker Report, which was a forecast based off 120 interviews and some proprietary data analysis, not a future-telling machine. As more and more reporters retire out, the retirees would decrease each year. Anybody with a second-grade math level can figure out their math is wrong because a shrinkage of 920 annually means there would be zero reporters in 30ish years. That’s not actually possible if you’re getting 200 new reporters a year. The equivalent would be me going on JD Supra and saying the CEO of US Legal gets two brain cells a year and loses ten, therefore his company will probably be bankrupt in ten years. Doesn’t matter if it’s true, it just sounds good. I don’t begrudge people for where they work, but as a company, no matter how great any individual employee might be, they’ve got to be among the most dishonest, toxic, harmful companies in our industry. You know that scene in Star Wars where Luke tells Kylo “amazing, every word of what you just said was wrong”? That’s how I feel. Reporters get some cognitive dissonance here because US Legal does have nice people working for them, but that doesn’t change how I feel about the entity itself. It’s like Theranos. I’m sure nice people worked there, but the entire operation was a big joke that should never have happened.

Letsgetfries, I don’t know if you’ll ever happen across this, but let’s just say we’re so used to being treated like potted plants that whenever anybody says anything nice about us, we boost them big time. From getting Stanley Sakai’s article featured on Medium last year or sharing John Belcher’s deposition strategies. You’re no different. As of late last week we had shared you over a thousand times! Hope you had a great experience with jury duty! If you know anybody who’d like to join our field, please let them know about NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, or Open Steno. For the record, our crazy energy is mostly thanks to everyone saying they can replace us and failing for the last half decade. We’re working it out. Thanks again!

Fear Public Speaking? Try StenoMasters!

I’ve been writing this blog to help people look at the issues in our field differently and realize that they, as individuals, can change outcomes. Many of us struggle with fear and anxiety, whether it’s about a boss, a work situation, a life situation, or even the simple act of speaking up for ourselves. This blog is about bringing comfort through knowledge and often points out there’s always a way forward.

Here is a way forward for our future public speakers. Years ago, one of my best friends, NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards, asked me to attend a Toastmasters meeting. Toastmasters is a public speaking club. It helps people overcome their fear of speaking or enhance the skills they already have through practice. Toward the start of a meeting they had “table topics,” improvised scenarios for randomly-chosen guests to speak about. As luck had it, the very first time I attended I was chosen to talk about what I would do to sell clothing irons to people. I stood up, said I would lose my job, and launched deeper into an explanation about how I would sell those irons that only my Facebook friends can see because Facebook does not want me to touch the privacy settings on that one.

But I am Christopher Day!

At the conclusion of the meeting they asked “will you come back?” My response? “No, I enjoy my debilitating fear of public speaking.” I did come back a time or two and always listened to what Joshua had to say with great interest. He went on to become President of that Toastmasters chapter, participate in at least one regional contest, and sharpen his already-formidable speaking skills.

Now he’s setting up StenoMasters, an online speaking club. A Facebook group and page will be made soon. This will be geared toward stenographers, but it is not going to be exclusively stenographers, so if you have friends or family that want to jump into public speaking with you, have them check it out. There are many amazing options to learn about speaking and presenting. Because StenoMasters is going to be a nonprofit club, I assume it will be the most value for your dollar in public speaking practice, and I am very happy to share it with my audience. When enrollment opens, I hope to be the very first member to sign up.

We have a big messaging issue in steno. As more of us cross the threshold from voiceless to voices for the voiceless, our messaging and entire field will improve. Again, this is a life skill that will help you in all your personal and professional endeavors. I hope you’ll join me in joining StenoMasters.

The Importance of Plover and Open Steno

Open Steno was developed by Mirabai Knight, a CART writer in New York City. I first got to hear her speak about it years ago in the context of the stenographer shortage. She explained that this was a matter of statistics. We knew and still know that stenography is hard to do at working speeds. Only about ten percent of people that embark on the journey make it all the way through, and at that point, there’s almost 100% employment. The concept was simple. We cannot force people to pass steno programs, but if we introduce steno to more people, more people will find out they’re good at it and maybe want to make it their career. We can also tear down barriers for people that simply cannot afford student software, taking a different but equally important approach to something like Allie Hall’s Paying It Forward project. People that believe the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve may be surprised to learn that Mirabai pretty much figured it out over a decade ago.

The Open Steno community has brought things into creation like Plover, a free translation software that allows people to understand the basics of maintaining a dictionary without spending a dime. It has also brought Art of Chording by Ted Morin, a free way to learn steno.

The Open Steno 2021 survey results were released recently, and they are remarkable. Out of 100 respondents, almost half had been learning for less than three months, which means lots of people have been introduced to steno very recently.

Again, nearly half heard about steno from the internet, a blog, or website. This gives stenographic reporters a real peek at the power of the internet for recruiting court reporters. Television and online video is a distant second.

Social media is our friend.

On the flip side, most Open Steno participants do not intend to attend formal school. This is a trend that we should pay serious attention to. Communities like Open Steno are going to attract the people the court reporting schools cannot.

About half of the respondents use steno heavily in their normal computer use and over 60 percent of those that use it heavily intend to use it on a regular basis.

Not a single person said no. They love stenography.

Nearly 75% of respondents intend to use stenography exclusively in day-to-day computer use!

Again, skewed by people like me, who would’ve answered “no, and I do not intend to.”

The Open Steno community also has different people learning different theories, including Plover, StenEd, Magnum, and Phoenix. A variety of steno softwares are also used, including CaseCAT, Eclipse, and DigitalCAT.

11 respondents use CaseCAT!

Professional reporters, this is definitely one of many groups deserving of your support, whether you pop into the Discord chat to offer advice or even make financial donations, this is a chance to make a difference and contribute to one project that’s focused on putting an end to the shortage through tool creation and even free games like Steno Arcade.

Over-Engineering Will Hurt Your Business

A close friend sent me a Bill Maher clip from a while back. Obviously, Maher has his political leanings, but after he gets done with flaunting those, he makes a decent point. He describes the over-engineering of society and gives some pretty striking examples. His preferred vape’s newest model has no mouthpiece despite being something you put in your mouth. Car handles are replaced with buttons in some cars despite no efficiency gains. He describes a situation where his rental car asked him if he’d like to open the trunk while going 60 miles an hour. The point is clear, change for the sake of change is not always worthwhile or efficient. Indeed, change for the sake of change can be very dangerous.

This is connected to the exaggerated claims of salespeople that I’ve written about extensively, especially as it relates to voice recognition. I described it several posts ago as the claim game. Anybody can say anything. Anybody can make their business seem like the new, hot thing. Take this blog post by Kaplan Leaman & Wolfe from about a year ago. It reads nicely, and it sounds innovative. It mentions a flat-rate fee, affordable per-page price structure, a design to significantly reduce legal expenses. At the point in 2020 the post was written, everybody was doing remote stuff. Pretty much everybody’s got a per-page price structure. Anybody can claim their service is affordable or reduces expenses. It’s called puffery and it’s an ordinary part of business.

Where it gets messy, and where I’ve tried to educate reporters, is some advertisements are easier to spot than others. If Burger King says they’ve got the best burger, most everyone knows that’s puffery and sales. Things get harder with technology. How do you prove or disprove whether someone has made a technological breakthrough without a comprehensive understanding of the science and concepts at work? Not all reporters understand the concept of machine learning. Even those of us that have researched quite a lot can’t possibly know everything there is to know. This leaves a gap for tech sellers to come in and try to fool consumers into buying services that may not suit their needs using the hype train.

Told you I write a lot about this. I read a decent amount too.

This also leaves reporters playing a catch-up game of learning about these systems so they can help their clients navigate claims and discern fact from fiction. For example, the truism that technology is improving every day. We look around ourselves and marvel at this magical modern world. But I’ve taken the pretty hard stance that certain technologies, namely voice recognition and associated technologies, are not improving every day. Give it speech it’s used to and it’ll do fine. Give it speech that’s just a little off from what it’s trained for and it’ll turn “would you raise your right hand” into “it’s rage right hand.”

Yes, it’s rage’s right hand.

But surely reinventing the wheel and all these claims of being BETTER aren’t BAD for business, right? If puffery is normal then a little bit of stretching the truth won’t hurt anybody! But we already see that’s not the case. Take Maher’s example. One little glitch on the highway and you could have dead motorists. Take the fact that 25 percent of court reporting companies may be unprofitable; court reporting has been around a long time, it’s likely the losers are the ones trying to switch it up too much too fast. Take vTestify’s massive switch from boasting about providing inexpensive court reporting services to providing an online platform for the legal industry. Take Verbit’s claims in its series A funding of 99 percent accuracy and its subsequent announcement that it will use human transcribers after all, and the very real possibility that it is, despite all its funding, not profitable.

Exaggerated claims serve only as a cliff from which these companies have a chance to walk off of or step back from. The competition is going to wise up. The consumers are going to wise up. I can only hope that a lot of these tech companies realize this, wise up, and start putting their resources behind actually improving our technology. It’s a lot easier to compete in a field with maybe seven players like Stenograph or Advantage than it is to beat out thousands upon thousands of independent contractors and hundreds of reporting firms, many with their own clients and connections. It’s frighteningly easy to see there’s a more lucrative path than over-engineering what stenographic court reporters have made simple, and I can only hope that business owners realize this before walking investors’ money off that cliff.

Share Something For Me?

For those of you that have seen Social Dilemma, you know we live in a world that is largely curated by algorithms that are constantly assessing our likes and interests. Social media has developed into an engagement machine. The side effect of such a thing is that the algorithms will start to hide things your friends post on Facebook without you doing anything. Some of you are perpetually hidden from me and I am likely perpetually hidden from some of you. So when I share something, only the people that interact with me constantly see it.

Recently I posted that journalists may be reporting black people’s stories wrong. It was an easy dig at the inadequate reporting done on the Testifying While Black study. When you look at the big picture, journalism sucks right now, and right now is when we need to get the word out that stenographic court reporters are needed. If there was another way to get their attention, I’d take it, but I’ve been playing diplomat for two years, and we are running out of time. Perfect example? Last year I agreed to speak with Frank Runyeon. I said if he’d ever like to write anything on court reporting, he could consider me a resource. Sure, he said, just write him in 6 to 8 months. When I did, he didn’t bother to respond. I’m pretty sure there was an Alice Cooper song for this.

Our shortage is mathematically simple. Years ago I had the privilege of hearing Mirabai Knight speak about it and I completely agreed with her. There are a limited number of people that will be good at steno and want to do stenography for a living. We can’t really affect that number much. What we can impact heavily is the number of people that hear about stenography. That’s one of the reasons Open Steno was born. That’s one of the reasons this blog was born. We can no longer sit back and trust that it’ll all work out. The people that want to replace you with inadequate technology aren’t leaving this up to chance. Any time they can put their thumb on the scale, they do, and when they lose, they whine loudly.

So, without reservation, I choose to put my thumb on the scale and occasionally use the same tools weaponized against us. If clickbait journalism is the way of the future, then let it work for us. I set up an ad campaign to get my article in front of journalists and bloggers, but like I said on my Facebook page, when the money’s dried up, that’s the end of that.

Just don’t tell my girlfriend what I spent our vacation money on.

If you’d like to join me on this, I’d ask you to head over to social media and share my Facebook post, the Stenonymous post, or the original blog post with the hashtags #journalism and #clickbaitJournalism. You can share as is, say something horrible about it, or say something nice. If you feel comfortable doing so, please set the privacy settings to public on the post where you share it. When the ad money’s gone, the hashtags will live on. There’s evidence that failing to utilize stenographers will adversely impact people that don’t speak a certain way. This one’s for them.