StenoKey, Stenographic Education Innovation?

On June 19, I had the privilege of getting to talk with Katiana Walton from StenoKey. I’ve mentioned her program from time to time right alongside things like NCRA’s A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno as major positives for this field, but I never had a good grasp of what StenoKey was about. The discussion we had changed all that, and now I get to give readers a synopsis of all the good StenoKey is looking to do for our field and our students.

StenoKey is looking to have a science-based approach to learning. There are many reasons students struggle in stenographic programs, and the way they learn might just be one of them. As it was explained to me, Ms. Walton could’ve opened a traditional school in Florida right now, but because she’s looking to innovate, she must prove to the State of Florida that her method works in order to have a school. That’s where this pilot program comes in.

Centered on Magnum theory, StenoKey utilizes Realtime Coach to grade students instantly. Instead of a traditional model where students learn theory and then move into speed, StenoKey seeks to introduce speed right from the beginning. Students are expected to reach introductory levels of speed in each chapter, as high as 60 to 120 words per minute, before moving on to the next chapter. Briefs relevant to each chapter are also incorporated so that students have an early understanding of the concept of briefing.

Through practice logs, Ms. Walton is able to gauge each student’s level of engagement. This way, students that practice often but have difficulty progressing can receive relevant advice on what to practice to. Students that are not practicing can see in writing that they’re not practicing enough to make meaningful progress. In addition, students have designated times to call in, ask questions about things they’ve encountered during a lesson or take, and receive guidance or support. In the words of Ms. Walton, it “helps build community.”

Similar to our brick-and-mortar institutions, StenoKey seeks to get students to stop looking at the stenotype keys. As early as week two, students are encouraged to stop looking down. The program, by design, acknowledges that five-minute takes may be harder for people who are just starting out. Each chapter has a syllabic 120 WPM test. At chapters 11 to 20, that test is a 2 minute, 140 WPM test. By chapter 41, students are expected to be taking five-minute takes at up to 180 WPM.

The overall goal is not just to reach a working speed of 225, but to have students working towards RMR-like speeds of up to 240 to 260 WPM. Numbers, long the bane of learning reporters, are baked into the program from chapter 12 onward. As it is not yet a school, the program does not offer “academics,” but it does offer one grammar rule every chapter to keep students’ transcription sharp. In addition, it gets into the finer points of realtime writing by explaining conflicts. Magnum theory is conflict free, but the lessons go further by teaching learners about “inconsequential conflicts,” or conflicts that can be spotted and corrected easily during editing on a regular deposition or job.

Asked about superstars in the program, one learner was said to have made it through chapter 12 in six hours. Ms. Walton’s nieces, 12 and 14, also attend the program, and have completed 9 chapters. Part of the success of the program seems attributable to in-depth error analysis. Students are encouraged to identify and analyze their mistakes, either in how they practice or how they write, and fix it. Students are also encouraged to read each other’s notes because sometimes students have an easier time pointing out and learning from others’ mistakes than their own. Asked about the biggest challenge of running such a program, Ms. Walton admitted that not every individual commits to the program. Some just don’t put forward as much effort as they expressed they would during their introduction interview.

StenoKey is looking at helping people with all different learning styles. For visual learners, each chapter has two videos,  a professional video and a “Katiana Teaches” video. The videos work together to give students an in-depth understanding of each chapter. Student feedback from each chapter also goes into tweaking the program to be more successful. Not just for students, StenoKey also has had two working reporters join the program in order to improve their realtime writing. In that sense, StenoKey can also be viewed as a Realtime Development Program. “Magnum Steno is not hard to understand. It’s very systematic” says Walton. She explained that writers do not have to change their whole theory to adopt some Magnum and shorten their writing. “Look for what is holding you back in your writing. There are realtime reporters in every theory out there, and with the right mindset, you can be better.”

One might look at such an idea and wonder if there’s a way to get involved. To that end, Ms. Walton says she’s looking into the possibility of bringing on assistants for administering StenoKey and getting more people engaged with it. She may also be seeking a programmer to develop readback tools or materials.

At that point, Katiana had to go and counsel her program’s attendees. Before we hung up, I was able to get that the pilot program is currently $200 a month and always online. Currently, she’s looking at the possibility of having a longer, more valuable subscription model, and weighing options out. Overall, I think that the idea of fully integrating speed and theory is a valuable one. If students are able to hit working speeds faster than in the past, our shortage becomes a bad memory for the next three decades and beyond. I would urge associations and schools to keep an eye on developments here. If the results start coming in that this is a better method, it may be worth putting some money down on the expansion or adoption of this type of educational innovation. From a distance, I’ve read a little about Walton’s Lady Steno Speed Clinic. I’ve seen the testimonials. I know her heart’s in the right place when it comes to this field. I hope we’ll see similar success and glowing reviews for StenoKey!

How Organizations & Associations Work

Our lives are built on perception. The perception that someone must do more, or that someone does too much, or that someone is doing something wrongly or rightly can be very powerful. Perceptions can change outcomes. We see it in social movements. We see it in the Pygmalion effect. Think of the power of your own opinion. If you do not like a store, you do not shop there, and that store effectively loses the money it would have made off of you. Some voice that opinion, some vote silently with their wallet, and others buy away. All of these contribute to the reality of that store’s situation. While you read, continue to keep in mind the power of your opinion.

When I was younger, I viewed associations, unions, and groups of people, collectives, as inherently powerful. In that perception, I also expected them to be wise and knowing. “They should be able to fix this. They should be able to fix that. They should know what to do.” Perhaps others believe as I once did, that the association and members work together to create things. Perhaps some believe the members support a group and therefore the group should be able to do everything by itself. There is probably not a simple graphic to perfectly illustrate how everything works. Again, though, there is one overarching truth, the power of your opinion.

Think of something in your life that you wanted and you now have. Did it magically appear in your lap? It’s likely that there were steps you had to take to get what you wanted. It’s likely that there were “vehicles” you drove to get there. Maybe the “vehicle” to something you bought with money was a good job. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to a good relationship was a dating service, or a night at a bar, or walking down the street in a squid hat. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to being a successful person was forming good habits, strengthening weaknesses, or playing off strengths. In the context of this discussion, associations, unions, and organizations are all vehicles to get where we want to go.

One jab that large organizations and corporations get is their usually slower reaction. This has to do with organizational structure. When a group is formed with one decision maker or very few decision makers, that group can respond to things at the will of that sole decision maker. A great example is this blog. Not a single person needs to be consulted before something is posted. However, in order to ensure that budgets are spent wisely, many organizations are built up from a board structure. The nonprofit “sector” runs heavily off of volunteer boards. A board of directors is typically a group of people that oversee the management of the entity. Think of them as the manager’s boss. In the case of our stenographic associations, these tend to be professionals from our stenographic community. Larger associations can afford to pay a management team under the board’s direction to deal with legal obligations, filings, and member questions. Even in larger organizations, the team may be very large, with an executive director and many people under him or her, or it may be a very small one-warrior management team. Smaller organizations may have a board that has to devote their own time to doing these things and act as both board and management. Ultimately, think of a board of directors as a group of people coming together to vote on the best way to direct an organization and its funding.

How do you fit in? Maybe you’re not a board member. Maybe you have no desire to be a board member. Maybe you’re “just” a member. You don’t control management, so where does a guy like me come off telling you your opinion has power?  In the association and union structure of an organization, the members give the board and management power and resources to act. Very often there is a constitution and/or bylaws that dictate how someone can run for a board position, how someone can propose an amendment to the constitution and bylaws, or how someone can participate with management and the board as a volunteer. Any member can contribute a great deal to the organization as a whole. If members dislike the way something is being run in an association structure, they have the power to replace the board by running against them. If members do not feel the mission of an organization is being accurately carried out by management, they have the power to submit changes. Association management generally has a duty to follow the law of their country and the bylaws of an organization. This all amounts to a great deal of power being given to members of large organizations. The importance of the association structure is in its ability to be “owned” by the members. Again, for example, let’s say that you log onto the Stenonymous Facebook group and you want to post an article about birds. Let’s say I say “I would prefer not to have posts like this on my group.” There’s no mechanism for you to take over and make it okay to post about birds. In an association structure, if the members want posts about birds, there’s a mechanism to override management and post about birds.

How can one enhance their pull as a member? In many organizational structures, there are groups of volunteer members dedicated to a task handed down by the board and/or management. These are often called committees and/or subcommittees. Committees do not have a direct vote in what the association does or what the board decides, but they are charged with giving input and/or creating things that can be used by the association for its mission. Committee work also helps teach members to work together constructively in a team so that if they ever do decide to run for board membership, they are used to working cohesively with others that may have very different opinions on the “right thing to do.”

Now we get down to the greatest power members have. We are the boots on the ground. We see what is occurring in our workplaces, out in the streets, and on our social media. I’ve been a proud union member of two different unions in the last 5 years. Occasionally, when I hear or see something strange, I’ll let a union person know, or I’ll ask a union person a question. Why? It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s not about being more friendly with my union leader. It’s not about being a busybody or a know-it-all. It’s not about scoring points at the workplace. It’s about realizing that these management and director teams are human beings. They are not omnipotent giant floating brains.  Often, they have not heard about what we are sharing with them, or they have not thought about it in the way we have presented. Imagine you are now John or Jane Doe, CEO of Your Corporation. Your boots on the ground are your employees and your customers. If someone’s lying about your company behind your back, do you expect your boots on the ground to mention it to you? We are a community. Like any community, we each have great power in protecting and growing the community.

Over the last decade, I have seen something startling in the way that we view our leaders, and sometimes how our leaders view us. For a time, I know people in power were dismissive.  I have friends and colleagues whose concerns and opinions fell on deaf ears, whether that was management or board members. Those friends and colleagues voted with their wallet and they backed away from the association structure. Those deaf ears are long gone or have gone on to support associations that work against our community’s best interest, and yet still there is a pervasive attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” There is a disowning of the community’s triumphs when they come from people who aren’t in our tribe. There is a strong push towards factionalism. This divides our house. This forces us to spend time and energy fighting each other. With the inherent power of members of a community described, and the reasons for an association structure described, it’s my hope that we’ll spend less time beating up on our allies and their organizational structures. There has been a great push to platform each other in recent months. This pandemic showed us that unity is achievable. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t get it; if there’s someone that has no clue how powerful they are or why certain things operate the way they do, it’s up to us all to let them know, and in that order. You got this, now go get it.

April Applications 2020 (Jobs Post)

Obviously, this goes up during the COVID-19 outbreak, and many of my colleagues or their families are impacted health-wise or economically. It’s serious stuff. Some of us have lost people or been in danger of losing people. This is a time when mostly everything has slowed down, and for many it may not feel like there is an end in sight. That said, I assure you there is an end in sight, and when this is all over, we’re going to need to pick up the pieces, move forward, and help each other move forward.

There’s a lot of fear and a disruption in our normal lives. So to keep with some semblance of normality, I’m going to move forward with a jobs post. Keep in mind that with this outbreak, many places are running on a skeleton crew, so they may not be actually hiring right now, but when things start to speed up again, stenographic reporters are needed all over the city, state, and country. They’re needed outside the country too, but I’ll let the experts handle that. Remember that if you’re a student or a newer reporter, there are also programs out there designed to find you a mentor. Mentors are no doubt having difficulties too, but they may be able to offer advice or ideas nonetheless.

Running along, NCRA has a good number of job listings up for reporters. They’re also looking for a certification & testing program manager. I know here in New York we have some reporters who are extremely gifted and passionate about certification and testing, so if that’s something you think you’d put down the machine for, take a look. Looking at the federal judiciary jobs page, there are openings in New York, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Missouri, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Federal courts all over the country want stenographic court reporters.

The NYS statewide provisional court reporter application remains open to anyone with the guts to step up and give reporting for the state judiciary a chance. The courts in this state need people that care about the record and want to do a good job. If you’re looking for a steady job with paid time off, this is a first foot in the door while we wait for the civil service exam together. Before this outbreak and mess, I had a brief e-mail exchange with Michael DeVito, whose contact information is on the bottom of that application. Paraphrasing what he said, any employment prospects are encouraged to contact him. You have someone in the system to reach out to in addition to the unions that represent New York City court reporters and senior court reporters.

Last, but certainly not least, the Bronx DA has a posted position for grand jury stenographer. The DCAS Reporter/Stenographer test remains postponed.

Try to remain positive. I know there has been a marked drop in freelance work.  You are not alone. At the beginning of this, several of NYSCRA’s officers and board members, Joshua Edwards, Diane Salters, Karen Santucci, and Dominick Tursi, got together to show our community an example of a remote deposition. The full video is available. Many members asked additional questions, which I tried to address via this video, and wrote some more information in the description box. If you’re a NYSCRA member or a potential member, don’t be afraid to send e-mails to board members. We can’t wave a magic wand and make everything better, but we can try to use the association’s resources that we all pay into in a responsible way. Remember that you are integral to those resources, and that even if you can’t get a membership right now, you can still throw in support later when work starts booming again. And we are not alone. Many state associations, and the NCRA, have been promoting ways to get reporters back to earning a living for themselves and their family. Many reporters have independently taken the time to host webinars or put up videos to help each other. Many CAT trainers are scheduling remote appointments to help people with their software. As an example, I personally follow Dineen Squillante and Anthony Frisolone. Some help is free, some help is for fee, and the bottom line is that we’re going to get through this together.

 

 

Eastern District NY Hiring! 2/13/20

I usually do my job posts in the beginning of the month, but sometimes jobs come along and it’d be a tragedy not to share. I’m told that Eastern District will be hiring. That’s federal court in New York. I know a few past, current, and probably future district court reporters, and let’s just say they’re good people and it’s a good place to work. Especially in the future, when you’re there!

For this one, you’ll need an RPR and you’ll need to reach out to Anthony Frisolone. I do not know if this posting is going up on the federal judiciary jobs page, so don’t wait, write Anthony today!

Shortage Solutions 12: Stenography

If you haven’t had the time to use my site’s search box for all the shortage solutions available, I recommend giving it a try. Over the last year we’ve covered some phenomenal ideas. Many stenographers across social media have internalized these ideas, talked about them, made them better than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Well, this one’s for all the non-stenographers and a look into why our shortage mathematically requires us and not other methods of capturing the spoken word. May it help some of you educate non-reporters and maybe even reporting companies on who we are, what we really do, and why we are irreplaceable. Really quickly, machine shorthand reporting gets a bad RAP because it’s “old.” The stenotype style we use today originally was invented in 1906 by Ward Stone Ireland. With over a century of usage, it’s easy for other methods to say that the technology is outdated and point to something like digital recording, originally invented in 1970 by James Russell, as a newer, “better” technology.

Objectively, when you look at both methods, they have seen vast improvements. Back in “the day,” stenographers had to painstakingly transcribe paper tape notes or even dictate their notes back to a typist using Dictaphone-type technology, who would transcribe for them while they continued to take other proceedings stenographically. Modern stenography uses advanced word processing techniques to take the input from a stenographic writer and output text. The more skillful someone is at operating a stenography machine or stenotype, the cleaner the output text is. Some reporters, reaching a 99.9% untranslate or accuracy level, can practically hit print at the end of a job and have a ready transcript.

Even those of us without such a level of skill are more efficient than the record and transcribe methodology. The average person types about 50 words per minute (WPM). The average transcriber reaches about 80 WPM. The average stenographer? 225 WPM. So while it may seem paradoxical that this century-old technology is the fastest and most efficient method available to the consumer today, it’s true.

So when we talk about shortage, numbers, and the “impossible” gap stenographers must fill to meet rising demand and replace retiring reporters, let’s talk some real numbers. There are somewhere between 11,000 and 30,000 working reporters in this country depending on whose numbers you want to use. Let’s say a healthy 15,000. If we’re inputting words 2 to 4 times faster, on average, you need 2 to 4 people to replace every stenographer. If you need another person to operate the recording equipment, that means 5 people per stenographer today. It gets tougher. Hard-working transcribers have reported it takes up to six hours for them to transcribe a one-hour depo. I’m a pretty average stenographer. I know from timing my own work that a one-hour depo is about 40 pages, and I can transcribe 40 pages in 1 to 2 hours. On a great day where my input is good, I could even do it in 30 to 45 minutes dependent on page density and subject matter. But let’s stick to average, one hour transcription for one hour of testimony for one stenographer. Now compare that to the record and transcribe method, up to six hours for one hour of testimony. That could be six to seven people to do the work of one stenographer, or it could take six to seven times as long.

What do all these numbers mean? It means whoever’s numbers you want to use, if you want to say the gap is 10,000 people by 2030, or 1,000 people, or 5 people, it means you’re talking about filling a stenographic reporter gap. Companies who are pushing digital as a solution are saying there’s no way to get stenographers, but somehow they can find, organize, train, and utilize teams 4 to 6 times larger than their current stenographic reporting assets. We complain about the lack of stenography schools. How many digital reporting or transcribing schools exist? How long have those existed? AAERT lists four. NCRA lists almost four steno schools in New York alone. Tell us again how that is the future? Seems to me that if you’re scared about filling a gap of 1,000, a gap of 4,000 is pretty terrifying. If we’re talking replacement of 15,000 stenographers, we’re looking at 50,000 people plus the gap. Even with the abominable success rates of the past, pre A to Z, pre NCRA 2.0, 10 to 20 percent, it follows that if you’re introducing tens of thousands of hardworking people to the field of reporting, and you introduce them to stenography, you can overcome any shortage you would otherwise have. Smart transcribers and digital reporters have a head start on this. They’ve switched to steno because it’s better for them, their wallet, and the consumer.

Let’s just touch on AI as it relates to taking down the spoken word. Computer programming is not magic. Despite the claims of some that technology is advancing every day, an objective look at technology shows it hasn’t advanced much at all. How much better has your bank’s voice recognition gotten in the last ten years? It was hit or miss then, and it’s hit or miss now. Look at it in big picture terms instead of the daily claims of “tech news” sources. Improvements have been made, to be sure. Open source programming projects allow virtually anyone with a little time and technical knowhow to integrate voice recognition into their product or website. Promises of a $25 billion market draw new investors every day.

But the fact remains that a lot of the buzz surrounding automatic speech recognition is just that, buzz, smoke, promises of a better tomorrow that no one can guarantee. It’s a new spin on old news. To understand this, it is important to understand what computers really are. Computers are math-solving machines. Anything you can break down into numbers can be represented by a classical computer. Video games? Math. Word processing? Math. Internet search? Math. We are spoiled. We live in a world where you click buttons and have windows. Far gone are the days when programmers had to use punch cards to operate computers. But consider that everything your computer is doing is broken down into two signals, 1 and 0, on and off. How smart do you think someone has to be to figure out an equation to account for every accent, English dialect, or circumstance? Try differentiating four different speakers using math! I’ve said it before. There’s a very real possibility that it can be solved and that perfect voice recognition can be programmed. Could be tomorrow. Could be 100 years away. Might not even happen. We don’t know. But any claim that AI is the future must be met with serious and sustained skepticism, as AI-related companies can burn through half a billion dollars in a year and still have no major profitable product. There’s a reason the public trusts stenographers and not Siri, and that’s why smart investors stick with stenographer platforms.

Companies and organizations should really re-examine their own views on this. Stenography needs all hands on deck, and they’ll have a much easier time building on our education culture and matured technology than trying to switch over the industry to something untried, untested, and less consumer friendly than the personal and proper touch of a qualified stenographic reporter. The years of training and experience we have collectively, as well as the infrastructure of our large associations and institutions, are second to none. Ultimately, it will be up to the buyers in our market to examine that and decide: Do they want to ride the wave, improve the field as it stands today? Do they want to pay the great cost of reinventing the wheel in the hopes that things will someday be better? I suspect the smartest leaders have already crunched some of these numbers and weighed these factors. They know there’s a very real truth that replacing stenography is unlikely to work. It certainly doesn’t make sense mathematically, and that is why they hedge their investments and keep all avenues open.

Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to companies on the fence. Do not go the way of US Legal, who apparently acquired Stenotrain just to scrub its Internet presence a couple of years later. These numbers are real. The challenges faced in finding coverage are real. These challenges are far from insurmountable. But it will be about four times harder to use non-stenographic transcribers than it would be to address the stenographer shortage. Follow the recent example of companies like Lexitas. Reach out to stenographers and ask them about schools that need your support to keep supplying you with quality reporters. Your investors will thank you. Your customers will have the best service for the lowest cost. You will not be subject to the inconsistency of professional flip-floppers. Your business won’t be broken by people who have no plan for when a transcript is needed for appellate review. Your companies will thrive. You will have a better outcome than you would losing money and clients up against a superior modality like stenography. Shortage solutions? Without a doubt, the resourceful entrepreneur picks steno.

A Night In Brooklyn, PYRP 78

This past weekend 78 pop-up events across the country launched for stenographers, almost all of which were at the same time on January 18, 2020. For Sabbath observers and those who couldn’t make the January 18 pop up, Devora Hackner organized and hosted one on the night of January 19 in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic night and a good indicator of what just a little solidarity can achieve. Protect Your Record Project, started in California by Kimberly D’Urso and Kelly Bryce Shainline, has swelled to a national movement where stenographers are saying loud and clear to the consumer that we are the fastest and most efficient method of capturing the spoken word.

The Brooklyn event was a real showing of stenographic society in NY. Every attendee’s presence was important and brought something special to the table. Nancy Silberger, immediate past president of NYSCRA and host of New York’s Saturday PYRP event was there. Howie Gresh and Reid Goldsmith, both longtime working reporters and educators were there. Ellen Sandles, a reporter who has done extensive research into the Federation of Shorthand Reporters was present. Representatives and owners of Little, Lex, and Diamond were also present. NYSCRA’s President, Joshua Edwards, also made an appearance some time after the event’s start. There were over thirty decades of collective reporting experience in the room and nearly two dozen attendees.

Everyone came together to talk about how to advocate for stenography. Ms. Silberger mentioned her ability to host some meetings. Ms. Sandles talked about having potential press contacts. Jane Sackheim of Diamond mentioned that space could be offered by Diamond to teach A to Z courses, something NCRA and Project Steno advocates should definitely ask about. Mr. Gresh reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s involvement in offering free test prep classes. Rivka Teich, a masterful reporter working at the Eastern District Brooklyn Courthouse talked about doing a career night and introducing more people to what we do and different jobs in the field. Mr. Edwards reminded everyone about NYSCRA’s mentoring program and urged people to sign up as mentors or to be mentored. He also brought up that attendees were still being accepted for the NYSCRA Court Reporting & Captioning Week Real-Time events.

Many, many ideas were covered. From high school outreach and following NYS legislation to PYRP’s available resources and files, all the way to potential legislative ideas, like copy protection for reporters’ work. The importance of starting discussions on stenography was noted. We talked about the potential of changing covers, parentheticals, and cert pages to say stenographer instead of court reporter. The importance of communicating with the videographer and injecting oneself into the record when necessary to make a better record was talked about.

There is one theme recurrent in all of this. The power of the individual is undeniable. That’s everyone who was present. That’s you. Reporters are getting together and great things are happening. Maybe there’s a skill you have, or some kind of connection you’ve made that can help educate a consumer or empower another reporter. You don’t have to wait for a giant winged creature to invite you, you just have to be brave enough to jump on the wagon.

January 2020, Just Apply!

Courtesy of the links I’ve got up at Get A Real Job, here’s what we’ve got posted around the Internet at the start of the new year. Freelancers can check the bottom for some ideas. Just before we roll into that, remember that NYSCRA has a free mentoring program, and people can use NCRA’s Sourcebook for unconventional moves like finding a mentor. If you’re a student or a new reporter feeling kind of lost, you don’t have to go it alone, reach out. Even people five years on the job have said “wow, sometimes I feel like I need a mentor!”

But you’re not here for that. You’re here for the jobs, dammit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this month we have the Bronx grand jury job still posted. That’s a Reporter / Stenographer title as a City of New York employee. Side note, the Queens DA site is down so I have no idea if they’re hiring. I guess I’ll have to snail mail them. More side notes, the DCAS Reporter Stenographer application scheduled in November has been postponed, and there does not seem to be a date for it on this DCAS schedule, up to April 2020.

There’s no civil service exam out for NYSUCS Court Reporters because they just had the last test in Summer 2019. They generally hold the test every 1 to 4 years though, so keep an eye out. Even though the civil service exam is probably a little way off, Court Reporter provisional applications are being accepted continuously statewide according to the website.

In the least predictable move ever made, we move on to federal jobs. There are three Southern District postings in New York, including part time and full time work. Whether that means they need three people or one really good one, go for it! There are also a number of federal positions all around the country. Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Remember what happens when they can’t get good stenographers in those positions. They settle for less. Spread these jobs around, don’t be shy.

From the freelance angle it is troubling to me that for years I rarely saw agencies advertise looking for steno reporters and yet I see many postings continue to pop up for digital reporters now. It is not inappropriate for stenographers to take this for what it is, a sign that securing private clients may be a way forward to secure future work, especially if our trade and methodology is not going to be front and center of these old businesses. Take the leap, file with NYS, get yourself on the vendor list of NYC VENDEX or NYS procurement, get on the insurance companies’ procurement lists. Navigating the business world is not an easy thing, but it is entirely possible for anyone that sits down and starts familiarizing themselves with how people buy and sell services and where to find people that buy what we do. Pricing is another monster to tackle. Depending on the contract, people might bid super low original prices just to get copies locked in. Some contracts don’t really have many copies so a high original is necessary. There’s no manual I know of, it’s all straight experience and getting yourself situated as a player in this game, not a pawn.

Let’s win it together in 2020!

The Economics of Caring

A question often received is “you became an official, why do you write about and focus on freelance so heavily?” It’s usually an honest question, and there’s an easy and honest answer. Hopefully this’ll put things into perspective and everybody can embrace this kind of thought.

It all starts from my freelance experience. I was working very hard at first and making not very much money. I started as many start out, young, zero life experience. I had my mentors, but mentors can only help with their wise advice and their own experiences. They can’t change the market. And at that point the market was just unpleasant to be in if you weren’t in the very upper echelons of real-time reporting. To keep this short, all the things I talked about in my last article came from things I was told, overheard, or saw myself. I had friends leave this field because it was not treating them well. I have a mentee now whose friends are leaving in droves because the field is not treating them well. This shortage likely exists, at least in New York, because stenographers are underpaid or not treated well, and complaints by newbies are not received well. We’re regarded as complainers. Meanwhile, we were given an impossible task of putting in 150 to 200 percent of what people put in in the 90s. I have seen a lot change in 10 years though. We are much more open to discussion. And now I am not dependent on agencies for work. I can’t be fired for blogging. How could I not contribute, like many of you, to being a voice for the voiceless? How could I kick away the ladder I just climbed?

This is the isolation of freelance. It’s not like the old days where everyone sat around and transcribed at an agency. There’s little opportunity for people to say “oh, what’re you making on that job?” Between the isolation and the antitrust laws quashing any discussion of rates in our trade associations, companies were pretty much free to dictate our worth to us. On empathy alone, the right thing to do is to break this cycle by any means necessary.

But the economics of caring are even more compelling. The almighty Ducker Report tells us that the field at large was over 70 percent freelance in 2013. Maybe most places, but especially New York, the entry level job is freelance, and reporters siphon into other positions from that. So the smaller that freelance chunk is, it follows that the smaller everything else will be. Imagine the industry as one giant paycheck. Every single reporter is a dollar in that paycheck. Maybe realtimers want to count themselves as 10 dollars for purposes of this exercise. What happens to a person if they lose 70 percent of their paycheck? What happens to your reputation if you delete 70 percent of a transcript? If we lose the non-real-time work or cede more of the freelance field to other methodologies, we can shrink to a point of novelty and insignificance. If I want my job to be here, I need all of you to have one too.

This is a future that does not have to happen. This is not some inevitable end. I have already shown, using vTestify’s numbers, that we are a robust field and could beat the shortage with some tweaks to efficiency. But we cannot win if we do not try. This blog stands as one avenue for discussion and sharing. So many others are standing up and speaking out today. It’s kind of like the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. In brief, the main character lives the same dark and terrifying day over and over, over a billion years. At the end of each day, he’s punching away at a solid wall. One day, the wall cracks, and the monster terrorizing him is vaporized. We are in a story with thousands of protagonists. On that fact alone, I know that change can be exponential. If it would take one a hundred years to effect change, it could take one hundred a year to effect change.

Next time your anxiety is telling you the situation is un-winnable, that you shouldn’t bother to mentor someone because it won’t make a difference, you shouldn’t share something, you shouldn’t write a JCR article, you shouldn’t go after a private client, or you shouldn’t negotiate better contract terms because whatever you’re up against seems bigger, stronger, or richer than you, just remember we live in a country where people who didn’t have the right to vote secured the right to vote. People who had no workers rights fought and died for workers rights. Victims of serious crime and oppression went systemically unheard for decades — but even they got the world to acknowledge them. What are we fighting for? A permanent place in an industry we own? An industry that takes care of its newbies so they’re not dreading every depo? Not to minimize its importance, but when you look at all the fights people have won in this country, this one will be easy. History has shown us that stepping out of our comfort zones and engaging means the next generation might not have to suffer the same way. So if you’re somebody on the sidelines, or you know somebody on the sidelines, it’s time to reach out, be involved, offer suggestions. When people say Superman isn’t coming, it’s a rallying cry. We are all Superman, and this is a profession we protect together.

Pricing Yourself Out of the Market

In response to my previous articles on historic rate data in California and New York and my use of inflation to extrapolate forward what those rates should be today, a frequent-enough comment was that reporters would price themselves out of the market or somehow hurt the field if their rates were higher. I’m not blind to the realities of the market. I understand there are challenges to running a business, and a point where what we could ask for would be “too high.” I’m working on a bigger post for that too. But for now, let’s just dive into understanding how the game is played, at least in New York, and juxtapose it to the rest of the country.

Often the original is a deflated price to lock in work. If it’s Joe’s deposition, and Joe is your client, you might charge him 6, 7, or 8 dollars if he’s not a regular client. Who cares about Joe’s firm? He only has a deposition once a year. Might as well squeeze as much out of Joe as possible. But if Joe owns a huge firm and they’re involved into hundreds of suits and generating thousands of depositions, you might offer Joe $3.50, $2.00, whatever it is to lock in that work, even if you lose money on the original or don’t charge anything at all for the original. Why? Copies.

Copies are incredibly valuable. As I’ve written before, there’s no regulation in New York on them. Companies have, at least for the last decade, been offering reporters somewhere between $0.00 and $0.50 on copies. This gives the reporter the impression that they’re worthless. This gives companies an awful lot of wiggle room.

If your reporter is only taking 25 cents a copy, you can send a copy purchaser a bill for $4.00 a page. If they don’t complain and just pay it, you’ve just made a whole lot of money. If they complain, they just turned into a sales pitch target. “Oh, our agency has the highest quality standards and we do charge for that. But our reporter said you were such a joy to work with, so we’ve been authorized to cut your bill in half!” Doesn’t matter if it’s true. All that matters is they’ve just sold the person on the other end a positive feeling. “Wow! My bill is half! They like me, they really like me!” The reporter doesn’t know or care, they made their 25 cents. The agency doesn’t really care because printing copies is practically costless. Even on an inefficient home printer, the cost is somewhere in the realm of 25 cents a page, and pennies per page when you get into industrial printers.

So quite frankly, when an agency tells you that they can’t pay more on an original because that’s what they charge the attorney, they may or may not be lying. But it’s on you to understand that that does not mean that they’re doing poorly. That doesn’t mean they can’t afford to pay you better. It’s a tactic. They’re selling you a feeling too. “Wow. They’re paying me the whole O + 2. I feel greedy.” Anything that’ll get you to do the work for less without question and without competing with them directly is more money in their pocket. That’s the bottom line.

Reporters constantly berate each other too. “Why should you expect more? Have you improved your skills any?” But now it’s coming out that a brand-new startup company outside NY is ready to pay its brand new digital reporters $140 for the first two hours — which sounds a lot to me like a $140 minimum. They mention all these cities that they’re paying this in, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle. They say this is the average. Yet I keep hearing about how inexpensive digital reporting is. All the stenographers everywhere else make so much more that a $40 an hour cost to the agency is cheap? You know what all those cities have in common with New York City? They’re some of the most expensive to live in. They’re some of the most expensive to rent office space in.

We are not some anomaly where we just work for less here. You really think any of the so-called big boxes are looking at their profit and loss statements and saying “well, it’s New York, so we just work for less out there.” No. The money is coming in. It might not be coming from your original, but you can be damn sure that with a main office and 1 to 4 satellites, they’d have no problem raising your rates somewhere. But the issue is in our education. From a typical stenographic education, there’s very little business training. There’s very little market training. If you’re a kid, and this is your first real career, you’re not born with business sense. You can get suckered into a $60 bust fee (NY) because you just don’t know any better. People who had real-world experience made more starting out. If I was pulling $40k a year starting out, my best friend, a decade older, was pulling $100k. And, mind you, by all my calculations, even he was underpaid.

That’s the issue in New York, from my perspective. We lack education. We lack an appropriate model where kids out of school are shown the ropes and mentored. If you have a gaggle of agencies all saying that you expect too much or you’re only worth X, then you come to believe you’re only worth X. Yet here you are, seeing with your own eyes, that people with far less education, training, and experience in deposition reporting are being offered comparatively high rates. Remember, these folks, talented as they are, aren’t necessarily preparing the transcript. So let me ask you, reporters, is your hourly appearance fee $40? Forget real-time, rough, daily, expedite. Just for showing up, are you collecting $40 an hour?

What’s left? Talk to each other. Maybe consider pooling some money and starting a business. Make it very clear that they pay us or they compete with us. But don’t ever let me hear again that they can’t afford to raise rates. It’s a game. And the sooner you quit playing by their rules, the sooner you’ll win it. Rule one of any corporate culture I’ve ever been a part of? Don’t rock the boat. I’ve shown you that we’re better value than this digital craze. By all means, rock the boat and show them we can build better businesses too.

December Dirigibles 2019

First let me say, any student or reporter out there seeking a mentor, make sure you check out NYSCRA or any of the other associations offering mentoring. You owe it to yourself to find at least one person, but hopefully more than one, to show you the ropes and help you into and through your career.

With that out of the way, fly high in your career by checking out some of the jobs links below. Remember, you can get all of these links off of Get A Real Job.

Bronx Grand Jury Reporter/Stenographer has been up since 11/8. I hope everybody has applied, but if not, here’s your sign!

The Special Narcotics Prosecutor still has their posting for grand jury reporter up. I’d say that means it’s a great time to reapply or give them a call and make sure you know if and when they’re giving another test. Just note the DCAS test for Reporter/Stenographer is postponed.

Onondaga County Grand Jury is hiring. Thanks be to Adam Alweis for making sure every single one of us had a shot at this wonderful opportunity.

The court reporter provisional title is still up on the statewide NYSUCS postings. The list just came out last month, and if history is anything to go by the state is going to likely take people who passed the civil service test first. That said, it’s never a bad time to apply to be a court reporter today!

Southern District of New York, that’s federal court, is seeking a court reporter. If SDNY is too rich and famous for your tastes, there are over 10 postings for federal court reporters in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Washington State, and Washington D.C. It may be a misnomer, but the D.C. posting says district courts and bankruptcy courts. Bankruptcy courts had previously went the way of the recording, so every time a steno covers one of those, you’re trailblazing.

As always, the court reporter job board and CSR Nation are filled with activity. If you’re in the freelance world and having trouble finding work, these are good starting grounds. Make some connections. I’m hearing a blend of things from reporters in the freelance community. Some are thriving. Some are struggling. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you are struggling and make changes that make your life better. Whether it’s taking on more complex work or dropping an agency relationship that isn’t working for you, you can find a strategy that works for you.

Consider taking on some private clients. With some of the biggest names in the business claiming they can’t find reporters, you might very well find yourself in a position to do what they can’t do and meet the needs of the deposition market with stenographic reporters. Look at all the job postings this year that have come up and been filled. Look at supply and demand. As so many siphon off to court, freelancers are in a position to make more money and take on more business now than in the last ten years here in New York. But that’s only if they quit dancing and make money moves.

I’ll just take this time to encourage people to take up the cause. Post jobs in your state. Join groups where reporters are. Share information. Even if you’re good, you might come across a valuable lead just when someone in your life or professional network needs it most. Even if you don’t believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, believe that we are stronger together. Know that every single one of you who have shared something about this field have made a difference.