Does Stenonymous Spend More On Steno Ads Than US Legal?

When you care about something, how difficult is it to do? I can only go by my own experiences here. I hate calling lawyers. A family member got fired and there was potentially an attached legal issue. I was on the phone chain calling lawyers for them until I found one that could speak to the family member that same day. I don’t have any desire to be a public speaker, but I figured it out when I thought our profession might need it. US Legal, by all appearances, cares a lot about attracting digital reporters and strengthening AAERT.

I would love to talk to you too, senior recruiter.

In fairness, US Legal does have a reporter corner and a few spots on their site where they specifically mention stenography. But we have to look at the totality of the circumstances to decide whether this is out of genuine care or whether it’s a facade to point at and say “look, we care!” It’s been known for a while that US Legal is backing digital reporting. They bought out Stenotrain, made some announcements to look good, and killed it. Now reporters are getting offers to join USL as long as reporters drop the stenotype and fall in line with whatever junk USL wants to peddle to consumers. Again, I have to look at my own experiences, and when I don’t advertise very much, my site can get as little as 500 views a year.

What a year that was. Am I right?

Meanwhile, when I spend a few hundred bucks on an ad, I get the word steno in front of thousands of people.

A seven-nation army couldn’t hold me back.

Hopefully the point is pretty clear. If and when they cry shortage and say they just can’t fill the seats, it’s a lie. According to Owler, they have a revenue of over $100 million. They’re taking that money and betting it against stenographic court reporters. There are national, state, and nonprofit databases of reporters. This is a game to take our relatively high-paying jobs and organized, educated workforce, and replace them with low-paying jobs and people who won’t have the same ethics culture we do.

It’s a game I need some help winning. All corporations are made up of people. Educate those people on the truth, and just maybe they’ll realize they’re risking everything by backing the losing horse. If you happen to get a message from one of the recruiters working on this, please don’t blast them, but let them know what’s happening. Chances are good they have no idea.

I do wish him luck and success. But I also hope he finds a better employer.

A Primer on ASR and Machine Learning For Stenographers

There’s a lot of conjecture when it comes to automatic speech recognition (ASR) and its ability to replace the stenographic reporter or captioner. You may also see ASR referred to as NLP or natural language processing. An important piece of the puzzle is understanding the basics behind artificial intelligence and how complex problems are solved. This can be confusing for reporters because in any of the literature on the topic, there are words and concepts that we simply have a weak grasp on. I’m going to tackle some of that today. In brief, computer programmers are problem solvers. They utilize datasets and algorithms to solve problems.

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do. You can also think of it as computer code for this discussion. To keep things simple, computers must have things broken down logically for them. Think of it like a recipe. For example, let’s look at a very simple algorithm written in the Python 3 language:

Do not despair. I’m about to make this so easy for you.

Line one tells the computer to put the words “The stenographer is _.” on the screen. Line two creates something called a Stenographer, and the Stenographer is equal to whatever you type in. If you input the word awesome with a lowercase or uppercase “a” the computer will tell you that you are right. If you input anything else, it will tell you the correct answer was awesome. Again, think of an algorithm like a recipe. The computer is told what to do with the information or ingredients it is given.

What is a dataset?

A dataset is a collection of information. In the context of machine learning, it is a collection that is put into the computer. An algorithm then tells the computer what to do with that information. Datasets will look very different dependent on the problem that a computer programmer is trying to solve. As an example, for enhancing facial recognition, datasets may be comprised of pictures. A dataset may be a wide range of photos labeled “face” or “not face.” The algorithm might tell the computer to compare millions of pictures. After doing that, the computer has a much better idea of what faces “look like.”

What is machine learning?

As demonstrated above, algorithms can be very simple steps that a computer goes through. Algorithms can also be incredibly complex math equations that help a computer analyze datasets and decide what to do with similar data in the future. One issue that comes up with any complex problem is that no dataset is perfect. For example, with regard to facial recognition, there have been situations with almost 100 percent accuracy with lighter male faces and only 80 percent accuracy with darker female faces. There are two major ways this can happen. One, the algorithm may not accurately instruct the computer on how to handle the differences between a “lighter male” face and a “darker female” face. Two, the dataset may not equally represent all faces. If the dataset has more “lighter male” faces in this example, then the computer will get more practice identifying those faces, and will not be as good at identifying other faces, even if the algorithm is perfect.

Artificial intelligence / AI / voice recognition, for purposes of this discussion, are all synonymous with each other and with machine learning. The computer is not making decisions for itself, like you see in the movies, it is being fed lots of data and using that to make future decisions.

Why Voice Recognition Isn’t Perfect and May Never Be

Computers “hear” sound by taking the air pressure from a noise into a microphone and converting that to electronic signals or instructions so that it can be played back through a speaker. A dataset for audio recognition might look something like a clip of someone speaking paired with the words that are spoken. There are many factors that complicate this. Datasets might be focused on speakers that speak in a grammatically correct fashion. Datasets might focus on a specific demographic. Datasets might focus on a specific topic. Datasets might focus on audio that does not have background noises. Creating a dataset that accurately reflects every type of speaker in every environment, and an algorithm that tells the computer what to do with it, is very hard. “Training” the computer on imperfect datasets can result in a word error rate of up to 75 percent.

This technology is not new. There is a patent from 2000 that seems to be a design for audio and stenographic transcription to be fed to a “data center.” That patent was assigned to Nuance Communications, the owner of Dragon, in 2009. From the documents, as I interpret them, it was thought that 20 to 30 hours of training could result in 92 percent accuracy. One thing is clear: as far back as 2000, 92 percent accuracy was in the realm of possibility. As recently as April 2020, the data studied from Apple, IBM, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft was 65 to 80 percent accuracy. Assuming, from Microsoft’s intention to purchase Nuance for $20 billion, that Nuance is the best voice recognition on the market today, there’s still zero reason to believe that Nuance’s technology is comparable to court reporter accuracy. Nuance Communications was founded in 1992. Verbit was founded in 2016. If the new kid on the block seriously believes it has a chance of competing, and it seems to, that’s a pretty good indicator that Nuance’s lead is tenuous, if it exists at all. There’s a list of problems for automation of speech recognition, and even though computer programmers are brilliant people, there’s no guarantee any of them will be “perfectly solved.” Dragon trains to a person’s voice to get its high level of accuracy. It simply would not make economic sense to have hours of training a software to everyone who is going to speak in court forever until the end of time, and the process would be susceptible to sabotage or mistake if it was unmonitored and/or self-guided (AKA cheap).

This is all why legal reporting needs the human element. We are able to understand context and make decisions even when we have no prior experience with a situation. Think of all the times you’ve heard a qualified stenographer, videographer, or voice writer say “in 30 years, I’ve never seen that.” For us, it’s just something that happens, and we handle whatever the situation is. For a computer that has never been trained with the right dataset, it’s catastrophic. It’s easy, now, to see why even AI proponents like Tom Livne have said that they will not remove the human element.

Why Learning About Machine Learning Is Important For Court Reporters

Machine learning, or applications fueled by machine learning, are very likely to become part of our stenographic software. If you don’t believe me, just read this snippet about Advantage Software’s Eclipse AI Boost.

Don’t get out the pitchforks. Just consider what I have to blog.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably figured out, and it pretty much lays it out here, that datasets are needed to train “AI.” There are a few somewhat technical questions that stenographic reporters will probably want answered at some point:

  1. Is this technology really sending your audio up to the Cloud and Google?
  2. Is Google’s transcription reliable?
  3. How securely is the information being sent?
  4. Is the reporter’s transcription also being sent up to the Cloud and Google?

The reasons for answering?

  1. The sensitive nature of some of our work may make it unsuitable for being uploaded. To the extent stuff may be confidential, privileged, or ex parte, court reporters and their clients may simply not want the audio to go anywhere.
  2. Again, as shown in “Racial disparities in automated speech recognition” by Allison Koenecke, et al., Google’s ASR word error rate can be as high as 30 percent. Having to fix 30 percent of a job is a frightening possibility that could be more a hindrance than a help. I’m a pretty average reporter, and if I don’t do any defining on a job, I only have to fix 2 to 10 percent of any given job.
  3. If we assume that everyone is fine with the audio being sent to the cloud, we must still question the security of the information. I assume that the best encryption possible would be in use, so this would be a minor issue.
  4. The reporter’s transcription carries not only all the same confidential information discussed in point 1, but also would provide helpful data to make the AI better. Reporters will have to decide whether they want to help improve this technology for free. If the reporter’s transcription is not sent up with the audio, then the audio would only ostensibly be useful if human transcribers went through the audio, similar to what Facebook was caught doing two years ago. Do we want outside transcribers having access to this data?

Our technological competence changes how well we serve our clients. Nobody reading this needs to become a computer genius, but being generally aware of how these things work and some of the material out there can only benefit reporters. In one of my first posts about AI, I alluded to the fact that just because a problem is solvable does not mean it will be solved. I didn’t have any of the data I have today to assure me that my guess was correct. But I saw how tech news was demoralizing my fellow stenographers, and I called it as I saw it even though I risked looking like an idiot.

It’s my hope that reporters can similarly let go of fear and start to pick apart the truth about what’s being sold to them. Talk to each other about this stuff, pros and cons. My personal view, at this point, is that a lot of these salespeople saw a field with a large percentage of women sitting on a nice chunk of the “$30 billion” transcription industry, and assumed we’d all be too risk averse to speak out on it. Obviously, I’m not a woman, but it makes a lot of sense. Pick on the people that won’t fight back. Pick on the people that will freeze their rates for 20 or 30 years. Keep telling a lie and it will become the truth because people expect it to become the truth. Look how many reporters believe audio recording is cheaper even when that’s not necessarily true.

Here’s my assumption: a little bit of hope and we’ve won. Decades ago, a scientist named Richter did an experiment where rats were placed in the water. It took them a few minutes to drown. Another group of rats were taken out of the water just before they drowned. The next time they were submerged, they swam for hours to survive. We’re not rats, we’re reporters, but I’ve watched this work for humans too. Years ago, doctors estimated a family member would live about six more months. We all rallied around her and said “maybe they’re wrong.” She went another three years. We have a totally different situation here. We know they’re wrong. Every reporter has a choice: sit on the sideline and let other people decide what happens or become advocates for the consumers we’ve been protecting for the last 140 years, before the stenotype design we use today was even invented. People have been telling stenographers that their technology is outdated since before I was born, and it’s only gotten more advanced since that time. Next time somebody makes such a claim, it’s not unreasonable for you to question it, learn what you can, and let your clients know what kind of deal they’re getting with the “new tech.”

Addendum 4/27/21:

Some readers checked in with the Eclipse AI Boost, and as it was relayed to me, the agreement is that Google will not save the audio and will not be taking the stenographic transcriptions. Assuming that this is true, my current understanding of the tech is that stenographers would not be helping improve the technology by utilizing this technology unless there’s some clever wordplay going on, “we’re not saving the audio, we’re just analyzing it.” At this point, I have no reason to suspect that kind of a game. In my view, our software manufacturers tend to be honest because there’s simply no truth worth getting caught in a lie over. The worst I have seen are companies using buzzwords to try to appease everyone, and I have not seen that from Advantage.

Admittedly, I did not reach out to Advantage myself because this was meant to assist reporters with understanding the concepts as opposed to a news story. But I’m very happy people took that to heart and started asking questions.

Facebook Boosting 101

If you’re looking to promote your steno nonprofit or your primary steno business, the numbers don’t lie, marketing is going to bring more eyes to what you’re selling. That’s a common-sense statement, but let’s drive it home. This blog, on average, will get about 500 to 1000 unique visitors a month and about double the views or clicks. That’s just me writing what I write and sharing it on Facebook. In honor of CRCW 2021, I ended up posting a lot this month. I published over a dozen articles, and the “average” did not change much. Now we’ll compare that to December 2020, where I wrote three posts and advertised two on Facebook.

I wrote my heart out and it’s not even close.

About 700 visitors, 14 posts, that’s about 50 visitors a post. That’s compared to nearly 3,000 visitors, three posts, a thousand visitors a post. About $200 gave me 20x the reach.

Yay for me. Why am I writing this? To help you. On Facebook today there are groups and pages. Groups serve, more or less, as discussion boards. Pages are more like ad space. They’re promotional and you generally control the content on there. You can have a page and a group, and you can have a page act as an admin to a group. There’s one major difference between the two. As best I can tell, groups cannot advertise. Pages, on the other hand, have the power to boost posts. So if you’re looking to market, get yourself a page.

What kind of monster doesn’t even like his own page?

When you create a post on your page, you have the option to boost a post. Check the boost post option before you make your post to get to the “boost” controls.

Nobody liked that.

After you click post, you’ll get transported to the magic world of the boost page. That’s going to look like the image below, hopefully, and it’s going to give you options to put in your budget, and more importantly, edit your audience. Generally if you put in more money, they’ll estimate more views per day. If you put in more days, you’ll get fewer views per day, but the ad will run longer. There are some minimums, but you can go as low or as high as you want. Again, in December, I felt comfortable spending in the ballpark of $200 for week-long campaigns. What will you see in the edit audience tab?

You get to target, gender, age, location, and then add specific demographics.

The only thing you should know is your audience has to be broad enough to run the ad. If you’re way too specific, it blocks you. For example, I started clicking demographics for all these things and the potential reach was only about 5,000. I clicked “lawyer” and the potential reach jumped up by millions.

That’s all there is to it! There are a few other options, like whether you want your ad to run in Facebook, Messenger, or both, and whether you want to use Facebook Pixel. My personal preference? I run the ad only Facebook and do nothing with Facebook Pixel. I know a lot of us trust and believe in face-to-face conversations. We want to grow deep connections and be one with our audience. But again, we’re looking at 20x the reach with a small budget.

With that in mind, I’ll be launching and advertising a post on March 1 directed at digital reporters and transcribers. Here’s my thinking: We have this whole group of people who probably like sitting in court proceedings, the companies they work for are not telling them about steno, or maybe even lying to them about steno. It’s time to break that in half and get the good ones over to us. If you support that, or even if you’re just grateful for the information in this post, feel free to donate here. I’m very grateful to people that have donated in the past. Every dollar helps keep this place ad-free. We don’t want to go back to that time.

Alternatively, if you’re tired of my blog, check out Glen Warner’s or Matt Moss’s. There are so many out there, including businesses like Migliore & Associates or MGR. It can be really heartening to see the incredible amount of information and opinions we have out there. Highly suggest checking out any of them.

For Students Saddled With Unpayable Student Loan Debt

We often highlight the success stories of our industry. I think this is very important because it keeps current students open to the idea that they can succeed. Like every industry, we will have people that make colossal gains, start businesses, and create a great life with lots of opportunities and experiences. On the other hand, there may be individuals out there who, for whatever reason, cannot finish school or do not land very lucrative work at the start of their journey. I had a rough time starting off. I didn’t have a lot of life experience and most of the work I got was from being a reliable and steady “yes man” instead of having strong negotiation skills or even strong steno skills. Things worked out great for me with time and effort, but it’s time to acknowledge that not everybody is going to have that same experience, and let you in on America’s best-kept secret.

Student Loans Are Dischargeable
For over a decade America has sunk deeply into the myth that student loans are never dischargeable. I heard this as a student. I was told this by my mother and countless role model figures in my life. This myth is so prevalent that I never once bothered to fact check it. These days, you can find resources online to explain to you that they are forgivable, dischargeable, and under what circumstances. There are even United States government sites with that information. For easy access, I’m going to repeat some of the highlights here. Student loans can be…

1. …forgiven with certain public service work and/or work as a teacher.
2. …discharged in the event of school closure.
3. …discharged in the event of total and permanent disability.
4. …discharged or not required to be paid in some circumstances where a school falsely certified your eligibility, you withdrew, or you have a repayment defense.
5. …discharged via bankruptcy.

The courts must decide if repaying the loan would cause you undue hardship. Undue hardship was not defined by the Congress, and so the courts look at whether you would be able to maintain a minimum standard of living if forced to repay the loan, whether there is evidence the hardship will continue for a significant portion of the repayment period, and whether you made a good-faith effort to repay the loan prior to filing for bankruptcy. A court may order the loan fully discharged, partially discharged, or the court may order you to repay the loan. In the event the court orders you to repay the loan, the repayment may be structured differently. It is notable that this is not a magic fix-everything button. There are significant hurdles and it is harder to discharge student loans through bankruptcy. But if you’re stuck in debt and can’t seem to claw out, it just might make sense to put together some money for a lawyer to help you navigate your way out of tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

This is really important to get out there because compound interest works both ways. When you have a savings account or certificate of deposit, every accrual period means more interest added to your money, which means more interest on future accrual periods. When you take out a loan or take on credit card debt, it works the other way, where your minimum payments are meant to pay the interest and pay a small part of the principal. Many people fall into a trap where they make partial repayments that do not cover the interest, and the debt begins to grow instead of shrink despite making consistent good-faith payments. This is how you come across nightmare stories where a person pays for years and yet their loan amount never goes down or doesn’t go down much. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal for people to sign agreements that they do not fully understand and incomes in any industry or with any education are not guaranteed. So when things go wrong, it seems like the right thing to do to let people know they do not have to suffer with lifelong debt that they genuinely cannot repay. Rights don’t matter if they go unspoken and unasserted, so if you know somebody stuck in the debt spiral, let them know there’s a way out.

Help Chris DeGrazio Celebrate International Women’s Day!

Chris DeGrazio is one of the newest professionals on our scene and he’s already making a great impact on the field. You might’ve heard Chris interviewing Anna Mar on Confessions of a Stenographer. You might’ve seen the wonderful collage put together for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021. No matter where you’ve heard of Chris, I’d love to boost his next creative idea. In celebration of March 8, International Women’s Day, Chris DeGrazio will be working on a collage for court reporter women and their hobbies. So if you’re somebody that wants to be in that spotlight or help put together more content to showcase our profession, here’s your chance, make sure to reach out to him.

While I’m on the topic of highlighting new or upcoming reporter accomplishments, let me just again promote Shaunise Day and her work with Confessions of a Stenographer. I had the privilege of being able to sponsor the episode where Kimberly Xavier was interviewed by Kristine Utley. I had some time yesterday to sit down and listen to the entire interview, and everything Kimberly said resonated deeply with me. She talked about the diversity of our field, the importance of diversity in leadership, the importance of getting involved, and the nonprofit Stenovator Pathway Solutions (Facebook). Getting to hear from her really made me realize that we could be almost two thousand miles apart and still be thinking so many of the same things.

It’s a fascinating time for reporting. When I was a student the common-sense advice was “settle down, don’t rock the boat, don’t stick out too much.” Let me be one to say that did not work. That did not get us to a good place. As Connie Psaros put it, we need more lions, not lambs. So if you’re a working reporter reading my blog and you’ve got a little extra time on your hands, please take the time out to support students and new reporters. These are our upcoming lions, and we cannot let their passions be tamed in the same way that I know some of ours were. Rock that boat, stick out, and keep doing your best to showcase our field! You’re doing an amazing job.

You Need 2FA Now

Telling grown professionals what to do and how to conduct themselves online is generally not in my business plan. But I know that some of us are not 100 percent caught up with techy stuff, and I feel obligated to write this one.

2FA is a creative shortening of “two-factor authentication.” You may also hear it referred to as multi-factor authentication. No matter who you are, you’ve probably heard these words. Maybe you looked into it and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it looked too complicated and you said “not for me, thanks.” Whatever the case, I can show you in one image why you need two-factor authentication.

I can assure you, I was not attempting to log into Twitch from India.
Also, XChrisUnknownX was a really creative moniker for a 12 year old.

We’re in a hacker’s world now. Hackers will get your passwords. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. As a matter of fact, Google now has this handy feature to show you how compromised your passwords are. Want to guess how many times hackers have gotten their hands on my password?

Excuse me! StenoIsK00L is not a weak password!

In its early days, even this blog got hacked into! 2FA prevents that every day. 2FA, at its core, means you sign in with your password, and then the service you’re logging into sends you a numeric password via text message or it sends a numeric code to an authenticator app on your phone. This numeric code changes every minute or so, so somebody who wants to log into your stuff without your permission needs to get your username, password, and be tapped into your phone OR have physical possession of your phone. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to hack in from India, China, Beirut, or next door, they’re not getting in without very substantial access to your personal life.

PRO TIP WHERE APPLICABLE: Put 2FA for your e-mail, link that to your phone, then use 2FA and link everything else to your e-mail. The result? Every time someone tries to hack you, you get an e-mail about it.

There is one major exception to this, and the most common way that you will be hacked using 2FA: You. Hackers and scammers may send you a site by e-mail that looks legitimate. If you go to log in, they will record your login details, and they will record the numeric code that’s sent from your authenticator if you give it to them. Always double check that you’re logging into the correct site, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up giving away valuable information to people that don’t deserve to have it. So, for example, let’s say you get an e-mail saying it’s from Chase Bank. They’re going to close your account unless you act now. Don’t click anything in that e-mail. Go to your browser and type in the Chase website that you know and love. Scammers and hackers design stuff to make you feel rushed and fearful because that’s when you’re least likely to think about a minor decision like logging into a site. Any time you’re feeling rushed or fearful, take some extra time to think before you act.

That’s really it. I have countless old accounts and usernames that I opened as a kid, before the age of 2FA, and they’ve all pretty much been taken over by bots and spammers. Given the importance of our work and the transcripts we produce, we can’t afford to let our clients down and let the bad guys seize information. 2FA for most services is free. Google Authenticator is free. “Free” is a great price for peace of mind, so check if the services you use have 2FA today.

Need Continuing Education? Consider CCR Seminars.

Wind the clock back about eleven months ago. I grabbed my RPR after a decade of not grabbing my RPR, and I was quickly introduced to the world of court reporting continuing education. We have to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. There’s a lot of ways to get it done. You can hit up prerecorded educational material. You can pay per credit. You can also do longer courses and effectively pay bulk prices for the credits. I want to talk about the value of a longer course today.

Last year I tuned into the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 CCR Seminars webinars. I have to say that overall I really appreciated the presentations. There were things like building your brand, apps for court reporters; all kinds of stuff that gave me new perspectives. Last year, thanks to CCR Seminars and NCRA’s Stenopalooza, I was able to complete all my required credits. So that brings me to this year, I get this in my inbox:

Humorless humorist? Is he talking about me?

The value being offered here is high. This is a little under $15 per hour or per 0.1 education credits. There are instances where you can pay $45 per credit, so this is cutting your cost down by 66%. Using these types of services and events can bring your cycle cost down by up to $900. My advice? Get on the mailing list. If you need the credits or just want to attend courses that might be helpful to you, CCR is a great option. The user experience is positive. Everything is logged into your account on the website so it’s easy to track.

If I had to come up with a “negative,” it was that I disagreed a little bit with one presenter’s personal opinion on one topic. That, to me, is a great presentation. Disagreement makes you sit there and think a little bit. It makes you examine why you feel the way you do about a topic, and it doesn’t take anything away from what you’re actually learning. Good value, good customer service, and presenters who aren’t afraid to present professional opinions right alongside facts/content. I’m definitely thinking of attending again this year despite my unfortunate credit situation:

I have at least one reader that has more credits.
She’s also cooler than me.

If you’re not sure about where you are on your cycle, remember that you can always check the transcript here. It can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out, but it becomes really easy and second nature. Feel free to chime in with thoughts on continuing education!

For The Record Documentary Goes Free

Years ago I attended the New York screening of the For The Record documentary. Didn’t really know who Marc Greenberg was (I think we’d exchanged e-mails exactly once). Didn’t really know about Simply Steno. StenoFest hadn’t happened yet. Well, Marc Greenberg is a phenomenal creator and educator for our field. He’s made more content, websites, and listings than I ever will. He’s a solid support for our students. I purchased the documentary on Vimeo and I believe it’s still available for purchase there. But Marc’s come up with something big that I think nails Court Reporting & Captioning Week’s theme, “all you need is steno & love.” He’s released For The Record free on Stenotube. Tell us how you really, feel, Marc.

It takes a lot of courage and commitment to take such a work of art and effort and offer it for free. Show the love back with some likes and shares. If you’re a new reporter or never got the chance to see the documentary, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. In the screening version, it dove into topics like vicarious trauma and the captioning of 9/11. For me, as a young reporter, these were new and foreign concepts. Want to see your “tiny” profession on the big screen? Enough from me; go check it out!

NYSCRA’s CRCW 2021 & My Thoughts On The Future

Besides being a full-time PC gamer, I’m also on the board of the New York State Court Reporters Association, patiently waiting for one of our members to run against me and take the seat so I can go back to playing Steno Arcade and Space Court all day.

Space Court is no joke.

Fortunately, I have a window into what the organization is doing to strengthen stenographic reporting and captioning. Historically, some of that had to do with getting brochures out to attorneys and members about reporting and NYSCRA. Some of it had to do with advertising our “Find A Reporter” feature. Some of it had to do with mentoring. Some of it had to do with discounts. For Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, we’re embracing NCRA’s theme of “all you need is steno & love.” NYSCRA issued a press release detailing just a few things that are being done to commemorate the week and the importance of all stenographic reporters and captioners. There are some really powerful quotes in there. There’s a quote from ASSCR President Eric Allen reminding us of the general excellence of reporters. There’s a quote from NYSCRA President-Elect Dom Tursi remarking on the tenacity of reporters. There’s one from NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards noting the limitless potential of court reporters coming together. There’s also a major announcement from First Department Director Debra Levinson telling members to look out for more information on the CertifyNow voluntary certification program. Members will be able to schedule tests without waiting for block testing!

On February 6 there will be a student panel. Often these panels are used to create a forum where students can hear from working reporters or professionals from the legal field. Sometimes students get to ask questions at the event or submit questions after the event. There’s a whole lot to love about student panels. So if you’re a working reporter who wants to get in and speak on the next one, definitely engage with us. For everybody else, check out our wonderful speakers. It may say student panel, but anyone is invited to come listen in as long as they register.

That last guy sounds sus.

After the student panel there will be three member-exclusive free CAT trainings for StenoCAT, Eclipse, and CaseCAT. For any members who use a software that is not represented in our lineup, every single member of the board keeps their contact info up on the association website. Reach out. Let us know what you need. We’re already the best when it comes to taking the record. Additional training just keeps your lead strong. If CAT training is not your thing, we also have a dictation session coming up that you can use to build your dictionary or get some writing time in. We’ll be dictating the United States Constitution on February 12. If using the Friday before Valentine’s Day to practice doesn’t scream steno & love, I don’t know what does. Sign up today!

Also happy to say that a private person sponsored prize memberships for reporters that make a submission to our CRCW 2021 Acrostic Poem Contest. Five lines are all that stand between you and a free NYSCRA membership. One student membership and one working reporter membership is up for grabs. Maybe you’re a member that wants to extend your current membership. Maybe you’re a non-member that just doesn’t want anybody else to have the prize. Whatever your deal is, give it a shot. Submissions must be in by February 8.

On a much more somber note, I rarely mingle my blog with my board service. I never let my opinions drive my decisions as a board member. But let me just say this: NYSCRA is the nonprofit in New York for stenographers. There are a lot of people out there who want to say court reporters are done. They want to say that times are changing, that standards are shifting, and they want to spread the message that court reporters are obsolete. In that article I just linked, they literally depicted the court reporter phasing out into digital static or computer code. We need to answer resolutely: We are here to stay. We are the standard. We need to give our associations ammunition in the form of memberships so that their leaders can go to decision makers and let them know that we’re not relics, we’re real people, and there are thousands of us. We opened up our NYSCRA board meetings to members for the first time on January 21, 2021. Many saw the membership report. I guesstimate that ten percent or less of our New York field has a NYSCRA membership. We need to turn that around so that when these folks start pressing New York the way they pressed Massachusetts, we come out on top. It’s about keeping this field viable, vibrant, and lucrative. When you hold a NYSCRA membership you’re purchasing all that and more. In this next decade a large percentage of the field is forecasted to retire.

There will be a strong push from certain entities to say that there aren’t enough of us. That will happen regardless of the truth. Please join us in the counter-push. Give us the numbers we need to loudly and proudly refute those claims. Defend what we love for the next ten years and we won’t have to worry for the next thirty. If you’re in another part of the country, that’s fine too. Arizona and its fight to educate the legislature. Florida and its work to educate consumers. New Jersey and its move to keep reporters defined as independent contractors. Our National Court Reporters Association and its constant push to highlight individuals, projects, and associations. There are other notable nonprofits dedicated to stenographic court reporting such as Protect Your Record and Project Steno. There are online communities such as Open Steno creating free resources for learners and the public. Wherever you hang your hat and do your business, there are causes worth backing, and every single one plays a part in making sure this career stays here for us and all the reporters that come after.

Turning Omissions Into Opportunity

We’re in an interesting time. Pretty much anywhere you look there are job postings for digital reporters, articles with headlines talking about our replacement, articles with headlines talking about our angst. Over time, brilliant articles from people like Eric Allen, Ana Fatima Costa, Angie Starbuck (bar version), and Stanley Sakai start to get buried or appear dated when, in actuality, not much has changed at all. They’re super relevant and on point. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, we’re going to have to use our professional sense, think critically, and keep spreading the truth about ourselves and the tech we use.

One way to do that critical thinking is to look squarely at what is presented and notice what goes unmentioned. For example, look back at my first link. Searching for digital reporting work, ambiguous “freelance” postings come up, meaning stenographer jobs are actually branded as “digital” jobs. District courts seeking a stenographer? Labeled as a digital job. News reporters to report news about court? Labeled as a digital job. No wonder there’s a shortage, we’re just labeling everything the same way and expecting people who haven’t spent four decades in this business to figure it out. In this particular instance, Zip Recruiter proudly told me there were about 20 digital court reporter jobs in New York, but in actuality about 90 percent were mislabeled.

Another way to do it is to look at contradictions in a general narrative. For example, we say steno is integrity. So there was an article from Lisa Dees that shot back and said, basically, any method can have integrity. Can’t argue there. Integrity is kind of an individual thing. But to get to the conclusion these things are equal, you have to ignore a lot of stuff that anyone who’s been working in the field a while knows. Stenography has a longer history and a stronger culture. With AAERT pulling in maybe 20 percent of what NCRA does on the regular, who has more money going into ethics education? Most likely stenographers. When you multiply the number of people that have to work on a transcript, you’re multiplying the risk of one of those people not having integrity. We’re also ignoring how digital proponents like US Legal have no problem going into a courtroom and arguing that they shouldn’t be regulated like court reporters because they don’t supply court reporting services. Even further down the road of integrity, we know from other digital proponents that stenography is the gold standard (thanks, Stenograph) and that the master plan for digital proponents is to use a workforce that is not highly trained. I will totally concede that these things are all from “different” sources, but they all point to each other as de facto experts in the field and sit on each other’s boards and panels. It’s very clear there’s mutual interest. So, again, look at the contradictions. “The integrity of every method is equal, but stenography is the gold standard, but we are going to use a workforce with less training.” What?

Let’s get to how to talk about this stuff, and for that, I’m going to leave an example here. I do follow the court reporting stuff that gets published by Legaltech News. There’s one news reporter, Victoria Hudgins, who has touched on steno and court reporting a few times. I feel her information is coming mostly from the digital proponents, so in an effort to provide more information, I wrote:

“Hi Ms. Hudgins. My name’s Christopher Day. I’m a stenographer in New York. I follow with great interest and admiration most of your articles related to court reporting in Legal Tech News [sic]. But I am writing today to let you know that many of the things being represented to you by these companies appear false or misleading. In the August 24 article about Stenograph’s logo, the Stenograph offices that you were given are, as best I can tell, a stock photo. In the September 11 article about court reporter angst, Livne, says our field has not been digitized, but that’s simply not true. Court reporter equipment has been digital for decades. The stenotype picture you got from Mr. Rando is quite an old model and most of us do not use those anymore. I’m happy to send you a picture of a newer model, or share evidence for any of my statements in this communication.

Our position is being misrepresented very much. We are not worried so much about the technology, we are more worried that people will believe the technology is ready for prime time and replace us with it without realizing that it is not. Livne kind of admitted this himself. In his series A funding, he or Verbit stated that the tech was 99 percent accurate. In the series B funding he said Verbit would not get rid of the human element. These two statements don’t seem very compatible.

How come when these companies are selling their ASR, it’s “99 percent” or “ready to disrupt the market,” but when Stanford studied ASR it was, at best, 80 percent accurate?

Ultimately, if the ASR isn’t up to the task, these are transcription companies. They know that if they continue to use the buzzwords, you’ll continue to publish them, and that will draw them more investors.

I am happy to be a resource on stenographic court reporting technology, its efficiency, and at least a few of the things that have been done to address the shortage. Please feel free to reach out.”

To be very fair, because of the limitations of the website submission form, she didn’t get any of the links. But, you know, I think this stands as a decent example of how to address news people when they pick up stories about us. They just don’t know. They only know what they’re told or how things look. There will be some responsibility on our part to share our years of experience and knowledge if we want fair representation in media. It’s the Pygmalion effect at work. Expectations can impact reality. That’s why these narratives exist, and that is why a countering narrative is so important. Think about it. When digital first came it was all about how it was allegedly cheaper. When that turned out not to be true, it became a call for stenographers to just see the writing on the wall and acknowledge there is a shortage and that there is nothing we can do about it. Now that’s turning out not to be true, we’re doing a lot about it, and all we have left is to let those outside the industry know the truth.

Addendum:

A reader reminded me that Eric Allen’s article is now in archive. The text may be found here. For context purposes, it came amid a series of articles by Steve Townsend, and is an excellent example of what I’m talking about in terms of getting the truth out there.