Readback Seeks Reporter in Charge After Smashing Steno Machine

Readback, the company most known for declaring it’s going to do away with steno and making bogus claims, is on the hunt for a reporter in charge in California.

Active Readback seeks stenographer after bashing steno.

I cannot think of a company that has made it more clear that they hate stenographers, and stenographers would do well to lock them out of the California market’s whole licensing scam by just not working for them. It’s very simple. The data we have today is that stenography is more accurate. They effectively advertised wanting to be less accurate. In a field that’s all about accuracy, consumers and court reporters are going to run the other way. As for this game of “oh, your poor joints…” Maybe we were gullible enough as an industry to believe such a thing half a decade ago, but not now.

One has to wonder if the business types have taken notice that we are allegedly on our way out and have this massive retirement cliff, but we are able to organize, get legislatures to act on our behalf, and just generally be a pain in the ass of anybody that wants to eliminate positions for our students. It’s almost as if the data they were relying on is wrong. I wonder who could have predicted that?

Perhaps this message goes beyond the businesses and meets us directly. We have value for as long as accurate court records have value. A major part of the game is learning and pricing that value. Another part of the game is communicating the value of accuracy in a way that only we really can. A third piece is realizing that organization constitutes part of our value. The more we are able to organize and fund associations or entities that will advertise and advocate for the profession, the more collective benefit we pull.

One thing is clear: Stenographers will not let the shortage be the scapegoat for our replacement. Readback, what’s your next move?

Veritext Partners with John Jay College on Digital Court Reporting

I’m informed that John Jay is now partnered with Veritext.

Of course, I object to this for many reasons. I still believe that stenography will lead to better accuracy outcomes, particularly for minority speakers. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers were only 80% accurate taking down African American Vernacular English. Laypeople were 40% accurate (pilot study 1). Since emphasis in the above examples is on short-duration training, which accuracy level do we expect from digital reporting?

If Veritext wasn’t threatening the futures of our students with its lies and misinformation, I’d admire the company for its brilliance. It’s set up to earn money from digital, at least according to Twitter.

“They require you to buy their equipment…”

Of course, we still have the fact that we are honest, hard-working people on our side. We still constitute the majority of workers in this field. Our collective voices can still win this. We have a choice to remain silent and resign the future to the agendas of others or resist and lead this field into its next iteration.

Link 1, Link 2, Link 3

Thank you to my readers for informing me of this development. Without you, what am I?

If you have ever doubted that we are under attack as a profession and that the incomes and outcomes of our students are at risk, here is your sign. It is time to be bold. It is time to stand up for the profession that has given us so much. Share this with your fellow colleagues so that they know what’s happening and can begin to talk about solutions.

Lightning Law Stands Up For The Record

Stenographers are not alone in explaining to others the pitfalls of tech mania™️. I was sent these this week and I feel it important to share. It’s from Lightning Law.

Lightning Law says the judicial record is at risk.
Live Court Reporter v Digital Recording by Lightning Law

There’s even a page set up to start collecting cases and facts.

It’s good to see businesses setting up for the counter to tech’s obsession with pretending to automate everything. Eventually investors will stop being fooled by the buzzword “AI,” and at that point businesses that value people will end up in the limelight. At present, LL caters to attorneys and mediators. It will be interesting to see future offerings for court reporters.

Educational Partnership Between NCRA and Advantage Announced

Students that take and complete the NCRA A to Z program will now be provided two years of Eclipse student software and support.

Honestly, this is a colossal step in the right direction. I feel we suffer from a lack of teamwork on the steno side of the steno v digital debate. That collaboration is incredibly important. As shown by NCRA and Advantage here, it opens up new opportunities.

Advantage and other steno software and hardware vendors may find themselves in a great position to ride the circumstances set in motion by myself and the Open Steno community. Open Steno has introduced stenography to well over a thousand people and continues to raise a community of people that want to learn steno, including transcribers. Meanwhile I have set the stage and made the case that stenographer pay is too low in some markets. It follows that transcriber pay is too low in some markets and will have transcribers looking for a way to increase their efficiency. Who better to help than stenography software and hardware vendors? All during a time when workers across the country are realizing their value and asking for it. Conditions are ripe for the strengthening and reimagining of our timeless profession. It’s exciting to witness and be a part of, and today I can honestly say I’m proud to be an NCRA member and Advantage customer.

Learn more about the educational partnership here.

Protect Your Record Project issues Statement on SB 241

I’ve already commented, in my own way, that things don’t seem right in California. Here, PYRP makes the astute point that the big box companies likely would’ve opposed the bill if it was not in their best interest, among many other great points.

I’ve called what’s being done to consumers fraud for many reasons, and that’s a word that pops up in this statement too. Ultimately, it’s that kind of bravery and boldness that will seize the day, and is a departure from the positive toxicity that permeates stereotypical corporate cultures, including our own.

All I can really say is that association board members should heed these words and realize that the more advocacy that is shouldered by nonprofits like PYRP or for-profit enterprises like Stenonymous, the more advocacy dollars will flow away from traditional associations. The success or failure of our institutions rides on the motivations and feelings of working reporters. If people feel that associations are not doing enough, or that associations are working against their interest, then wallets will, perhaps rightfully, close, in some cases permanently.

See the full text of PYRP’s statement below.

Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241
Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241
Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241
Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241
Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241
Protect Your Record Project statement on SB 241

SB 241, linked text.

Protect Your Record Project maintains a contact form here.

Stenograph’s Digital Court Reporting Academy and MAXScribe

MAXScribe and the Digital Court Reporting Academy were both brought to my attention. Before I launch into my usual full defense of stenography, I’ll put it out there that I think I understand Stenograph from a business perspective. My assumption is that they see the retirement cliff combined with big money’s interest in expanding digital, and they are doing what they see as the most profitable move, diversifying into a product line that they expect will be growing (digital) rather than shrinking (ostensibly stenography). From a purely business mindset, I think all of us get it. But I’ve been down on Stenograph these last few months and remain so.

My criticism comes from a place of circumstance. We let Stenograph into our schools and gave them access to our students. We encouraged each other to get and keep support contracts over the years, though admittedly I was never in with that crowd. The bottom line is that we built Stenograph with our wallets and brand dedication. We need to grapple with the obvious truth, Stenograph does not have the same dedication to its customers, the stenographic trainers, or anyone else. It’s going to sell to whoever will buy.

By itself, that might be annoying, but there is another reason I find fault with what they’re doing. We have some data that suggests stenography is better for equality. If we look back at the Testifying While Black study, stenographers scored something like 80% on African American Vernacular English — a shock at the time it happened. The pilot studies of that study tested laypeople and lawyers, and those people scored around 40% and 60%. The hard truth is that stenographers may, on average, be understanding more of what’s said by speakers of that dialect in the courtroom or deposition than anybody else. Couple that with the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, where automatic speech recognition by major companies scored as low as 25% on the same dialect. Simply put, stenographers are better for accuracy on the dialect studied. I’d bet results would be similar for a number of dialects and accents, though funding for further studies seems elusive. By taking this hard push towards digital, companies, including Stenograph, are basically saying “we do not care about people.” Anir Dutta and others have used the words “democratization of technology.” Perhaps this really is the democratization of technology and we have simply “voted” that AAVE speakers and anyone else that would be better served by stenography or voice writing does not deserve that service. Good thing nobody’s told the press. Seems like the kind of thing the public might object to. “Court case? Congratulations, if you don’t speak in the way the powers that be deem appropriate, your transcript’s accuracy may be lower.”

Even putting aside all that science stuff, Stenograph’s claims are questionable. Take a look.

Excerpt from Stenograph explaining MAXScribe.

It states the number of pages produced per hour can be boosted up to 50%. If there was such a product, wouldn’t it have been marketable to stenographers? If it’s not marketable to stenographers, then that likely means stenographers already produce pages faster. If stenographers already produce pages faster, why is Stenograph not trying to improve our methods and processes? It doesn’t make much sense unless one locks oneself into the bubble of “big money wants digital, and we want big money.”

Excerpt about MAXScribe by Stenograph

Maybe it’s time for us to get into the business of helping out digital court reporters. Dear DCRs, anyone that says they can double your earnings without giving you a real good idea of how that happens is lying to you. Ask questions.

Then there’s the Digital Court Reporting Academy.

Digital Court Reporting Academy by Stenograph

The effort put into enticing digital court reporters is obvious. But I suspect that Stenograph has missed the mark here. Digital court reporters are likely to face the same income disparities stenographers are currently facing, and they’ll make cuts largely the same way stenographers have because they’re people too. The problem remains this wage or income issue. Cash-strapped “contractors” cut corners and court reporting and transcription companies are forcing as many expenses onto the contractor as possible. That means Stenograph is trying to run from a world where stenographers are avoiding purchases because the money isn’t there to a world where digitals will avoid purchases because the money isn’t there.

Though perhaps I have a naive view of the world. I have assumed that the working reporter is the customer. But perhaps they are all really after the “potential working reporters” or students. If you sell 80 student stenotypes for $1,500, it’s a lot more money than selling 5 professional stenotypes to graduates at $5,000. That same logic likely carries to digital. I expect there will be incredibly high turnover based on communications I’ve gotten from past and present digital reporters about their treatment. Stenograph may be financially incentivized to support that turnover because every person that tries digital and doesn’t like it would be a potential customer.

Big money wants digital. It wants digital so bad that lies about the NCRA were plastered to the internet before NCRA apparently got them taken down, students were being misled into digital, questionable claims have been made to get attorneys onto digital reporting, and a piece to discredit me was apparently commissioned and poorly executed. These are just some of the things we look at in horror and wonder how we could find ourselves in such a lopsided competition where actors on the digital side of the equation get to lie and obfuscate while we get cudgeled by our licensing authorities and consumers are left to fend for themselves. Stenograph’s not responsible for any of that, but by continuing to alienate existing customers and continuing to chase big money over morals, Stenograph has set itself up to hemorrhage stenographic customers, and if growth of digital is stunted by stenographers spreading the word that there’s a better career in stenography, the company may well end up the sten-tech industry’s biggest loser.

Texas Lawyer Cold Calling List For Sale

This is very similar to the California list put on sale last week. This is put out for any group of entrepreneurs, court reporting businesses, or others that might need a list of lawyers for cold calling operations in Texas. The development of sales & marketing strategies in our field is essential. Having information like this in one simple spot can be a game changer. There are over 1,600 entries on this list, so it’s priced at about $0.08 per entry. The format is xlsx, which can be opened via Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, and if I’m not mistaken, Apache Open Office.

So, if you are in need of a cold calling spreadsheet for Texas, look no further.

I plan to release one or two more lists like this and then move into more educational materials that help make use of information like this, so if you’re generally interested and don’t have a use for this yet, sit tight, there is more to come. If you have an interest in a specific state, feel free to write me at contact@stenonymous.com. I’ll see what I can do.

Addendum:

A reader asked whether this list shows the city and e-mail address. This list has an address listed for most firms, with many located in Irving, Austin, Houston, and Dallas, but it does not have a great e-mail listings. There are services that provide more comprehensive lists, but they also tend to have a higher price point.

Shortage Solutions 14: Migration

I recently had an exchange on Facebook where I had to explain my stance on the shortage. For those that don’t know, the Speech-to-Text Institute has weaponized the shortage against stenographers, claiming it is impossible to solve or irreversible. Their statistics ignore the recruitment over the last decade and use the shortage to say that digital court reporting must be used. They also ignore that we have survived shortages before. Basically STTI is marketing for digital court reporting masquerading under the banner of supporting all three modalities of spoken word recordation.

What inevitably happens is that my nuanced stance on shortage gets lost. People see me speaking against the current industry paradigm and it confuses them. The reason for this confusion is simple. As of the Ducker Report, more than 50% of court reporting was estimated to be in California, Illinois, Texas, and New York. Those states all had a forecasted supply gap in the hundreds or thousands. Reporters that come from those states, possibly the majority of reporters, will be noticing the shortage more than other states.

I believe one additional way to solve our problem is to begin cross-state recruitment. My financial resources are tapped at the moment, but this is something any association or organization with some time and money could try. Basically, when Ducker came out, it told us some states would be facing surpluses, some states would be facing a one-digit supply gap as of 2018, some states would be facing two or three-digit supply gaps. Then California was in a league of its own, with a supply gap of over 2,000 predicted in California.

Stated another way, the states with bigger shortage concerns can begin a targeted campaign to bring reporters from states with smaller shortage concerns. I pledge to use Stenonymous to make announcements for any association that wants to put out a press release or post along those lines. I can also help with crafting a social media ad for an interested organization. I’ve built this thing out and I have readers in many states. Stenonymous is an avenue to get stenographic news out. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at contact@stenonymous.com. Consider the blog a resource for you.

Here is a list of the states and where they stood on the forecast. You can get this information from page 14 and onward of the Ducker Report.

Surplus:

Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Wyoming and Vermont.

Single Digit Supply Gap:

Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island

Double Digit Supply Gap:

Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia.

Triple Digit Supply Gap:

Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin.

Quadruple digit gap:

California

Conclusions:

California and the triple-digit states should make efforts to advertise to reporters in the surplus and one-digit states. Notably, some of those states have a very low overall forecasted supply. Going by the forecasted supply, it would make sense to prioritize recruiting from Florida (915), Louisiana (750), and Kentucky (330). Recruiting from Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming might not be viable because all of those states were forecasted to have a supply under 100 and very small surpluses. Obviously, the surplus states were not forecasted as having a large enough surplus to cover the shortage, so recruitment is still important, but a bit of migration might solve more immediate staffing needs.

Again, this particular idea cannot solve the shortage by itself. It is just one idea in the sea that is court reporting recruitment, and I hope sharing it helps spread ideas.

Shortage Solutions 13: Unionization

One factor I’ve identified as a reason for stenographer shortage is terrible compensation. While it may be difficult for some court reporters to learn, there are people in this field working decades behind inflation. There are reporters that haven’t had a raise for the better part of a decade or more. When it comes to reporter treatment, there’s a spectrum of treatment as wide as the reporter spectrum of skill, and the two don’t necessarily correlate.

Unionization is an interesting topic because many of us consider ourselves independent contractors. There are lots of resources out there for understanding employee misclassification and common law employees versus independent contractors. The IRS even lists public stenographers under independent contractors because we’ve become so ubiquitously associated with independent contracting. Generally, independent contractors cannot form a union, and recent federal rule changes have made that clear. In New York, we had the Federation of Shorthand for deposition reporters, but it no longer exists.

The question of whether someone is an employee or independent contractor is something of interest to many government agencies and courts, and something that is not always clear in the court reporting and captioning industry. What two parties call a relationship is mostly irrelevant for determining what that relationship is under the law. As an example of the kind of things that courts consider, let’s check out the Ninth Circuit:

Real v Driscoll Strawberry Assocs., Inc., 603 F.2d 748, 754, 9th Circuit, 1979. Independent Contractor Test

Using a test like this, one starts to see the different interpretations possible. Recent rule changes focus even more so on the right to control work of the “employer” and the profit or loss or the employee. Some may be incredulous, “we control our hours! We’re independent contractors!” But such a blanket answer does not and never will address the truth, that many agencies demand a specific layout, specific page rates, or bar reporters from sending others on jobs accepted by the reporter. There’s a lot of control that reporters give up for the “right to work,” and in some cases it arguably would make us employees if and when it were challenged in court. Companies have settled such claims in the past, probably to prevent precedent from taking hold and court reporters realizing that the “freedom” of “independent contracting” effectively silences discussions on worker pay and working conditions, conveniently placing the blame on the “entrepreneur,” who could be a 20 year old, newly graduated, with no comprehension of the business. How well can we expect them to do when instructors tell them how high the demand is for their skills and companies beat them down and deny that value in the name of the almighty dollar?

Captioners aren’t released from this discussion either. Some captioners work as employees, some work as independent contractors, and the distinctions aren’t always clear or consistent in the same company, let alone across multiple companies.

There’s no doubt in my mind that unionization can help more of us. I am a member of ASSCR, and prior to that I was a member of Local 1070. Prior to that, I was New York freelance. Nothing is ever perfect, but my job security and compensation rose tremendously when I gave up freelancing for officialship. If the two had been remotely close, I’d still be a deposition reporter. I loved it. Love doesn’t pay the bills.

The main jab that people give when discussing unionization is the right to refuse work. Reporters don’t want to give that up. But an employment contract drafted by a smart union for per diem or commission-based employees, which is essentially what many of us are, could simply include the right to refuse work. People could still be paid by page. There is not a single “right” granted by being independent contractors that could not be covered in an employment contract. A lot of the smaller gripes around unionization seem to be from thinking too deeply inside the box and assuming we’d have to conform to low hourly wages, which is simply a lie perpetuated by people afraid of the word “union.”

The main hurdle with regard to unionization, and what makes it unlikely in my view, is reporter organization and willpower. At least 30% of the reporters at a given company or location would have to come together, make the case that they were common law employees, and request a vote to join a union. Then they’d have to actually win the vote! A lot of people in the private sector don’t know who works for who. We don’t even have great data on the total number of court reporters that exist. How can we expect someone to unionize a location they never go to or confer with colleagues they never see? Even more confusing, some court reporters will easily meet the definition of independent contractor while others could be defined as employees. Some court reporters are simply afraid to discuss unionization because of potential retaliation.

Our realtimers might scoff at such a discussion, but if we think of court reporting as a pyramid where the realtimers sit on top, and we think of the exploited common law employee class of reporter as the bottom, it’s easy to see why realtimers need that bottom to be strong. How long will realtime rates remain high if the floor drops out from under you? The only “good” answer I’ve seen to this question is “well, I should be able to make it to retirement, so I don’t care.” My answer to that is “a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” But even if a reader is a self-centered prick that doesn’t care about that, how much more money do you think realtimers will be able to ask for once the base pay is back where it should be? It’s in the self-centered prick’s interest to add fuel to this fire too.

I also believe our associations, the primary drivers for our defense currently, would never assist or support such endeavors. Unions are likely seen as a threat. Once a union exists, is an association necessary? But the very thing driving association membership into the ground is the inability of associations to directly influence rate discussions and their unwillingness to collect and distribute rate data. There’s even some chance association membership would rise, since people would likely have more to spend. If associations want to remain relevant, it may make sense to start looking out for reporters, and particularly the ones that are struggling, instead of milking the certification cow until it’s dead.

On the digital front, unionization could lead to negotiations where stenographers are given work preference by contract instead of the situation we have now, where the companies “promise” we’re number one and quietly do everything they can to push us out of the market.

I think the threat needs to be on the table for the larger companies. They will have no choice but to raise rates as unionization discussions spread. It’s working in other industries and will work in ours. In the short term, we could expect dirty tricks. In the long term, we could expect higher wages for all reporters, union and non-union. Feel free to like, comment, or share if that’s a future you want!

Addendum:

Shortly after the launch of this post, a reader sent me this TikTok. In brief, adjusting prices upward can attract a different quality of customer. So those that fearmonger pricing ourselves out of the market might be interested in viewing that.

June-July 2022 Rates Survey

I’m opening up a 6-question survey to the public, as well as court reporting providers, for court reporting rates.

Associations are allowed to collect and distribute aggregate rate data. I’ve provided information on how newbie court reporters are taken advantage of, sometimes working decades behind inflation, due to the dearth of data about the court reporting & stenotype services industry. It is very clear to me that we must move beyond the fallacy of being unable to discuss rates that has been drilled into court reporters’ collective conscience. We must replace it with a more nuanced truth: Discussions and historical data are fair game. It is collusion and the appearance of collusion among competitors that is problematic for those of us that are true independent contractors and associations. Failing to approach this with some nuance allows our silence to be weaponized against our new people, who are told their skills are worth much less than they actually are. They try to make it work and end up leaving because they’re working too hard for too little money.

Associations also risk falling behind if they do not have this data. A lot of players are scraping up court reporter data today, including Capvision, LEK Consulting, Dialectica, and Guidepoint. I cannot yet say conclusively say how the data is being used, but I can absolutely say that it is not in the hands of court reporters, and therefore we are once again playing “catch up.”

This survey focuses on California, Illinois, New York, and Texas. As of the Ducker Report, those states had the highest court reporting demand (page 13). If you’d like to take part in the survey, please do so. You may also submit your e-mail for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

I am hopeful that the data collected will be a useful start to understanding the current state of the market. If nothing else, it should provide a base for discussion. Results should be announced sometime in Q3 2022.