After a successful campaign to trick lawyers and law firms into allowing digital court reporting via their deposition notices, the court reporting industry giant Veritext made a statement on Thursday that it would continue its aggressive expansion of digital court reporting. Part-time spokesperson Richard Stubbins said:
“Since nobody opposed us using the Speech-to-Text Institute (STTI) to join with our fellow competitors, spread the lie that the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve, and generally manipulate the market, we’re in good shape. Consumers are too complacent to explore antitrust options against our successful bait and switch of digital court reporting in the place of stenography, and the government agencies that are meant to protect consumers are too underfunded and terrified of our lawyers to do much of anything, so we will now move to the next phase of the operation.”
Asked to expound, the industry behemoth stated that it would continue to work its way into lawyer education and legal spaces in order to continue to frame stenographers as old and outdated, despite the fact that stenography is referred to as the gold standard of court reporting and more efficient than digital court reporting.
“It’s a genius plan, really. Lawyers don’t want to think about what we do and they let us handle everything. We take advantage of that by charging them gold standard prices for substandard service and charging them as much as possible even though they could probably hire any stenographer off NCRA PRO Link for less. We wanted legal professionals to use digital, and they wouldn’t, so we simply pushed the narrative that the stenographers they prefer are unavailable. Bottom line is the only people standing against us are a nonprofit designed to call out misconduct, an idiot with a blog, and a field of women. With those odds, I’d put money on the dishonest corporate machine any day. It’s not like news media are going to report on corporate fraud, they’re reliant on corporate advertisers.”
Critics of the expansion of digital court reporting point to the difficulty of being able to subpoena foreign transcribers in the event of suspected error or tampering. They also believe that the lower paid workers will have an incentive to sell or distribute sensitive or private information that standard court reporters simply do not have.
Stenographic and voice writing proponents point to the importance of having a court reporter that can be called to testify as to the truth and accuracy of stenographic or audio notes. In today’s AI-heavy world, voice cloning and manipulation leaves mere digital recording at severe risk of tampering to produce favorable court outcomes.
“Even though our clients are some of the smartest people on the planet, they haven’t worked out a way to stop us from giving away sweetheart deals to BigLaw and its insurance counterpart while overcharging smaller shops on the copies they’re more or less forced to buy from us. Since there are zero consequences, we don’t intend to stop any time soon. Worst case scenario, we’ll just tell them all the stenographers are making a big deal out of self-interest. Nobody’ll think about our own self-interest as a multimillion dollar company. It’ll be great.”
*This is satire and should not be taken as a factual article. It’s part of Stenonymous Satire Weekends, a project to bring more eyes to corporate fraud in court reporting.As you can imagine, it’s the centralized power of capital versus the decentralized power of 18,000 to 30,000 stenographers. The situation is just a tad asymmetrical and we have to push back in ways that don’t involve spending thousands of dollars, at least until court reporters get so fed up that they “GoFundMe” enough to hire people that’ll hammer on corporate fraudsters full time.
To sum it up, a group of court reporting competitors and companies syndicated behind the Speech-to-Text Institute to pump the market with misinformation that the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve and make the case that therefore digital reporting is necessary. Digital proponents talk about the equivalency of steno versus digital, but then they do things like call the workforce not highly trained, presumably to create the illusion that this shift will be cheaper for the consumer. Don’t believe me? Check out this old Verbit infographic.
As I went into in another post, pictures get several times more engagement than text pieces. But it’s difficult to cram what’s going on into small bites.
I’m going to try a hybrid approach and run the newspaper image below as an advertisement. Hopefully it will shock consumers into action. If you’d like to contribute to the ad campaign, feel free to use the front page of Stenonymous.com to donate.
Feel free to spread these images if you think there’s somewhere they belong. I’m only one person. I can only post so much. There are like 30,000 of you.
My behavior, to some, may come off as strange. I started the digital court reporter helpline on Facebook. Some people, even my own readers, take issue with the fact that I refer to them as reporters. I’d like to level with people, I know that what I do is different from mainstream stenography. There are ideas and strategies behind many things that I do. I’d like to share some so that people can understand and make their own judgments. I’ll also memorialize some steno history as I see it.
First, on the issue of shortage, I envision possibilities and then document events until I know a probable truth. For example, certainly at the start of my journey, I wrote about shortage and I viewed the shortage as our main problem. As I started to see the Speech-to-Text Institute inundate our side of the field with claims that the shortage was impossible to solve, this belief was replaced, I came to believe that STTI was simply digital court reporter marketing, and that by emphasizing the shortage, they were trying to fool reporters into going digital, fool agencies into using digital, and ultimately fool our associations into embracing the “new” court reporting. It’s called framing. How you frame an issue dramatically changes the response you get. If they framed the shortage as insurmountable, we would come to the conclusion they wanted: You must go digital. To wrap up my thoughts here, I formed two possibilities in my mind. 1) The shortage is impossible to solve. 2) The shortage is possible to solve.
Eventually, after much documentation and research of their claims, I concluded 2 was most likely. I’ll spare everybody the explanation. But that’s where I jumped into a number of activities, writing about digital reporting, the pitfalls, the deception of jobseekers. Here’s the strategy part: This all creates a record. It populates searches with Stenonymous blog posts. It begins to shape digital court reporting’s online presence and frames the issue in the way STTI was doing to all of you. So when people look up digital, they might see it’s a kind of “soft scam” and go elsewhere. This makes the economic cost of filling digital positions higher, and therefore disincentivizes digital use in businesses. Even now, search engines may start pairing digital court reporter with scam just because I wrote them together. So for those of you that want me to call them recorders, this is why I won’t. The people in power now have to live with the toxic title they stole from us.
I also scare off people that have an agenda, but no conviction. I was connected with Jim Cudahy (then STTI), on LinkedIn for a short time. At that time a lot of shortage media was going out, and I realized the man had a connection with an association for journalists. While I can’t prove it, I believe at least some shortage articles were engineered because I have been trying to get an article run on corporate fraud for over a year (on and off) with little success. Why in the world is every journalist DYING to talk about the end of stenographers, a field for which they previously had no interest? It might be big business interfering in our industry media. One analyst, Victoria Hudgins, ignored me when I wrote to her with corrections and kept publishing stuff that put stenographers in a negative light. I finally ran an attack ad on her, and we haven’t heard from her since. I called Jim Cudahy a fraud and he ran away to the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies. Now I’ve been watching Steven Lerner’s articles at Law360. He’s a senior reporter at Law360. I feel his articles put too much emphasis on calling things equal, mostly because the idiot called STTI a stenography association, and he has outright ignored many things I’ve sent him. So quite frankly he may be next. Say what you want about me. In medieval warfare getting the enemy to rout was a win. At the point where its enemies flee, the stenographic legion is winning.
There is also a strategy to being solo. I’m a bit of a loner and you can’t really ostracize a loner. I separated from my volunteer roles in associations. This has many benefits as far as lawsuits against me for my publishing. A potential plaintiff would have to target me as an individual. The amount they could collect is limited because I just don’t have very much. The economic cost of a lawsuit would also be phenomenal for a plaintiff. Imagine for a moment the 400 or so blog posts I’ve made over the years becoming exhibits, the depositions, the interrogatories, the emails, the trial! This is on top of the fact that a lawsuit against me would not be meritorious, and therefore plaintiff would risk losing against a pro se stenographer.
I tried contacting law enforcement, but I don’t have any details on where those reports go. This leaves us in a kind of twilight where we need the media to cover this and ask the hard questions, like “hey, multimillion dollar corporation Veritext, why would you let a respected member of the profession say these things about you without trying to convince him he’s wrong?” Remember, they don’t have to sue, they just have to convince me I’m wrong. They haven’t tried. Because it’s a fraud. I even wrote them a letter. We also need the media to ask government questions, because that would probably get government to act. Until it does, we are a nation of unenforced laws.
Again, possibilities. 1) An event will occur which triggers a viral moment, calling attention to us in a way that changes the trajectory of digital recruitmentand definitively ends shortage, such as attracting investors. 2) Such an event will not occur. So what is digital court reporter helpline? An assumption that I will lose. I will assume that court reporters will not increase their funding of Stenonymous over the next decade, that no journalist or lawyer will come to our rescue in a way that makes a difference, and that the number of stenographers falls to the point where we won’t bounce back (unlikely). So then the goal, for me, at least, becomes improving the lives and working conditions of working reporters. That means organizing people. That means communicating with them. That means thinking well outside the box. And if you see the description for the helpline, you’ll see what I mean. Again, as I grow this movement, it will hopefully decrease the steno-digital pay gap, leading to incentivized stenographer use because we are more efficient on average. And if the corporations decide to discontinue their aggressive pursuit of digital before we have a viral moment, so be it. But that’s what the helpline is about, taking control of digital court reporter spaces in a way that associations could never do.
But until I’m fairly sure I’ve lost, I’ll be trying to reach that viral moment. I’ve done this in a lot of different ways, even some ways people wouldn’t think about, like being a little more rude or aggressive. This is because journalists are lazy and about ten thousand times more likely to publish an article about me saying something a little off key than the math showing shortage is exaggerated. Seriously, somebody lie and tell a journalist I made a racial slur and I’ll be in the news tomorrow. But corporate fraud affecting thousands of people isn’t important. In that same vein, I was hoping someone would start media antithetical to mine and start an ideology war with me. Power’s about eyeballs, and nothing would get eyeballs like an open market media war. The most I got was Mary Ann Payonk blocking me and badmouthing me to others.
You see, for years court reporters predictably went in the same direction and were stuck in a kind of “group think.” By injecting the market with a new and growing viewpoint, we create an environment that is uncertain. In a “certain” environment, status quo reigns supreme, and right now the aggressive expansion of digital is the status quo. In an uncertain environment, the largest players have the most to lose and are the slowest to act. By taking our predictability off the table, we can force the largest players on the field to react to us. If your opponent is reacting to you, it means you have a shot at controlling the game.
Some miscellaneous points. As for why I allow uncomfortable conversations in the Stenonymous Facebook group, my business is information. It’s a cop tactic. Let the suspect talk themselves into a corner. Let the people that make us uncomfortable speak, we might learn something or we might not, but we certainly will not if we silence dissent. And learning new information can only help us because we are the more-established workforce.
Before I conclude, I would just like to say I’m imperfect. My execution of things isn’t always great. So I am open to criticism. I don’t discard it when you send it. I do not censor contrary viewpoints. That’s why I’m writing this. Being open minded is also part of my strategy. Evidence will change my views, particularly over time and with reflection. Building truth seeking into my worldview allows me to re-evaluate things and avoid confirmation bias trapping me in an endless loop of “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
I guess the bottom line is my life as a court reporter has taught me that a lot of “bad people” go through life with a simple moral code. “Screw you, stop me.” I’m experimenting with what happens when a “good person” has had enough and takes on the same moral code. What happens when a “good person” is willing to be the “bad guy?”
Picture this. You are among the leaders of “sten-tech.” Widely acclaimed. Admired in many circles. Supported by hundreds or thousands of stenographers by way of support contracts for the hardware and software you make.
Some of the largest companies in the court reporting industry decide digital is the future. They ostensibly create a shell organization to propagandize the field, claim the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve, and highlight digital reporting as the solution. Anticipating the direction of the market, you join. Unknown whether you joined with or without knowledge of the fraud, but whatever.
Some guy with a blog is writing some stuff about inequality and the shortage stats being misleading. Who really knows? Digital is the future. Ahead to the future!
There are a few ways to view Stenograph’s message. You can either see it as the markup is way above 1000% and therefore they were making way more money off of us than a lot of us ever really cared to think about, you can see it as they sacrificed or maybe even took a loss for customers, or you can just assume they’re lying. I won’t tell readers what to believe this time. I honestly don’t know.
I do know that if Stenograph wants to make it right with stenographers, there’s an easy way. Break rank with the companies trying to strangle the market, disavow STTI’s ludicrous claims that the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve, and detach from the STTI Bloc. NCRA Strong left the door wide open. If Stenograph can’t do that, then can it really say that Stenograph remains committed to the future of stenography? It’s literally intermingled with an organization that tried to bury stenography under a wave of shortage media. We may have big hearts and short memories, but anybody that was paying attention 2020 to 2021 is just going to feel insulted or gaslighted.
Stenograph could make history in our field by withdrawing its support from the STTI Bloc and denouncing the lies STTI told about our profession. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s arguably the smart thing to do. Despite the media blackout, the illegal collusion of big box companies to manipulate a market, and the complete collapse of support from what I thought was our largest manufacturer, we’re winning. With minimal funding and relatively little institutional support, we’re winning. Even though most of us have to advocate in addition to and after our full-time jobs, we’re winning. We know we’re winning because if our numbers were so catastrophic that we could not bounce back, Stenograph wouldn’t spend any time trying to appease or impress stenographers. If Stenograph was suckered in by the bad stats and misinformation, a lot of us were, stenographers will forgive it. If it continues to dance around the issues and pretend we are stupid, don’t feel too bad about what happens next.
I’ve raised questions about the Speech-to-Text Institute’s data and some companies’ blind reliance on that data. Today I’ve got to raise the fact that, if we compare net assets on 2020 tax returns and information found on ProPublica for NCRA, STTI, AAERT, and NVRA, it seems like NCRA is the clear leader at over $6 million, and its nearest “competitor,” AAERT, had about $217k. STTI came in dead last, more than $100,000 in the red. This doesn’t even account for the myriad court reporting associations and nonprofits across the country and the money that goes into them.
It still remains a serious question why the public and court administrators would rely on the word of an organization that doesn’t seem to have the monetary support needed to address the court reporter shortage in California, let alone America. Think about it. If you want to raise a workforce of possibly 20,000 professionals, who do you turn to, the organization with $6 million or the organization that’s in the red and being kept afloat by some undiscovered means?
There also remains a question about the severity of the shortage. As told by the document linked above, it states that over 50% of California courts have reported they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types. California’s shortage was forecasted to be the worst in the country, about 20x worse than many other states. If around 50% of California courts are having trouble, it would follow that somewhere around 2.5% would be the average across the country. Devising relocation incentives could pull more people to California and solve the problem.
This has implications for the big business bosses and the small businesses they bully. They’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to match stenographic initiatives. Eventually shareholders are going to ask why these businesses are swimming against the direction of the market. Why would you spend time and attention trying to cultivate a professional community in digital court reporting when one clearly exists in the stenographic community? Why would you aggravate the talent/labor until it starts discussing things like misclassification, pay, and working conditions?
There’s an interesting dynamic to telling an uncomfortable truth. In the beginning, the truth teller is filled with fear and does not know how the truth will be received. Through the support of others, the fear can be replaced by courage. That is what I see unfolding here. I was afraid. I stood up. Court reporters supported me. In three months we went from “the court reporter shortage is nearly impossible to solve” to “some people want an unrealistic steno-only solution.” STTI’s lie will likely become untenable because people will start asking how a shortage that was impossible to solve is being solved. Simply put, if court reporters keep recruiting, stenographers stay on top.
I got to review this infographic put out by the Speech-to-Text Institute. I had seen it around before, but never had time to study it.
Assuming their numbers are accurate — though I don’t know why we would considering STTI is a digital reporting marketing front — we can already see some issues. From my analysis of available statistics, we have about 28,000 court reporters in 2021. This is just a bit upward from the NCRA estimate of 27,000. STTI claims that in 2018, we had 27,700 reporters, and this is a number taken straight from the Ducker Report.
Why is this a problem? STTI fails to account for ANY increase in recruitment since Ducker. We know that NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno all grew considerably after the 2013 industry forecast. There are other programs like Steno Key that grew considerably in that time. To assume they had no impact tells us all we need to know about STTI’s mission. They do not care about accuracy, they care about telling a story.
STTI also claims we’ll have 23,000 reporters by 2023. The idea that 20% of the field is retiring in the next year and two months is crazy. Just to bring us back to what Ducker actually told us, it told us about 70% of the field would retire over the next 20 years — between 2013 and 2033.
So if we assume that that 70% is retiring evenly over the 20 years, that’s about 3.5% a year. If we assume absolutely no one retired 2013 to 2018 and then suddenly there was a cliff of retirement that would constitute 70% of our field, that would be an average of 4.67% a year. Again, assuming that in any given year 20% of our field is retiring is either stupidity so overwhelming it looks like fraud or fraud so confident it doesn’t care how stupid it looks.
And it is stupid. What if we take the numbers as they are? Digital recruitment is not going well. Between the poor treatment of digital court reporters and our industry’s efforts to let digital court reporters know they’re being played, I suspect the recruitment will only get worse. So what if we had really had a gap of 5,500 reporters in 2018? Well, 5,500 required + 27,700 existing = 32.200 total need. So 5,500/32,200 = about 16.6%. 2018 to 2023, over 16% of depositions or proceedings would have went uncovered, with a growing number of uncovered depositions each year. Those of you that own businesses, are 16% of your depositions going uncovered? Less? That means we are doing better than forecasted. More? That means we are doing worse than forecasted.
Like I always do, I asked Lisa Migliore from Migliore & Associates to weigh in, this time on her uncovered jobs. What did she say?
“I have yet to have a job go uncovered by a stenographic reporter. Sure, there are a handful of days a year where it can be a challenge on a particularly busy day/time to find coverage, but that’s the exception, not the rule. But I have a good relationship with many firms and reporters and don’t engage in practices that make accepting work from my firm unattractive, or worse, ILLEGAL. It’s no surprise to me that firms that are known to contract with parties in interest, are known to dictate low rates to reporters, and are known to engage in unethical practices have a smaller pool of talent from which to draw. I won’t work for these firms, and I imagine there are many others like me that don’t want to take a long, hot shower to scrub the stink off of themselves at the end of a workday either. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the largest firms have become the largest firms by taking unethical and illegal shortcuts to their success, that they value the dollar more than integrity and impartiality in their dealings.”
To be entirely fair, according to Ducker, Kentucky was one of the states with a surplus of stenographers. It’s not surprising that Migliore & Associates is doing well. So I asked a couple of New York firm owners, and they said their percentage of uncovered jobs is under 5%. One firm said only one job has gone uncovered in 30 years. But our shortage in California is forecasted to be worse than the rest of the country, so it seems fair to ask Californian business owners. Out of the people that responded, nobody gave an estimate close to 16% of jobs uncovered, which means to drag the average up to where it’s supposed to be, “big box” companies would have to be letting go of way more than 16% of their jobs. If that’s happening, I think it’s safe to say the problem is the mismanagement of those companies and not our shortage.
Sorry to say, we’ve been duped. These jackals have been telling us the math is stark and irrefutable, and we’ve been eating it up, but the only thing the math actually shows is that our stenographer shortage can and will be defeated if we continue to recruit. The math shows us that we’re the best value workers in the country, because we haven’t asked for a raise in 30 years. The math shows us that if we successfully communicate the fact that attorneys are being defrauded, we do have the numbers to turn this around and build a field far larger than the one we have today. Will we do it? I think so. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Magician’s tricks only work for as long as they go unexplained. And now that everyone has a quick reference guide for the number games going on here, let’s see what happens.
It came to my attention through an anonymous source that on June 26, 2021, the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association held a webinar titled “Educating the Next Generation of Reporters.” The learning objectives were pretty standard: The importance of staying up to date with technology, how technology is affecting reporting, and recruiting individuals to become students of court reporting. At a glance these are all things related to technology and advocacy, and certainly fall under NCRA’s CEU guidelines. Nothing particularly surprising until we get to a couple of the presenters.
Chrissy Boggs from Secure Transcription Solutions (STS) and Kelly Moranz from Tri-C. Secure Transcription Solutions doesn’t sound like court reporting and Ms. Moranz is on the board of the Speech To Text Institute (STTI). STTI is basically the new mouthpiece of digital reporting and automatic speech recognition. They claim that they want to set quality standards for all methods of record taking, but as we’ll get into, digital reporting, and especially automatic speech recognition, is inherently less efficient and cannot consistently meet the quality of stenographic court reporting or voice writing as of today.
It was noted that Chrissy Boggs has worked with STS since its inception in 2019. “During that time, she has embraced the unique challenges posed by the court reporting industry; namely, the issue of expediently producing qualified reporters using critically needed and thoughtfully designed digital reporting technologies.” At this point, at least some reporters in attendance were confused, and for good reason. There is an audience requirement for CEUs. Courses must be designed to meet the continuing education needs of a specific credential holder segment. Take a look.
During the presentation, automatic speech recognition by Parrot was showcased transcribing My Cousin Vinny. It performed poorly according to at least two sources. It was mentioned that there’s room for every method and they don’t diminish one method over the other. In summary, the presentation was a platform that legitimized digital reporting and automatic speech recognition as court reporting technologies, and if you don’t believe me, you can check out the extensive notes taken by my source.
Being somebody who just resigned from an association board last month, I thought “this must be in violation of their mission statement or bylaws.” I could not have been more wrong. As of today, PCRA’s bylaws do not define court reporters as stenographic court reporters. Their purpose is the general welfare of court reporting.
My investigation didn’t stop there. I took a look at the mission statement, which I could see was revised late last year.
So then I used the Wayback Machine to get a look at what the mission statement had been in August 2020, prior to the revision. It unreservedly and unapologetically was about stenographic court reporting. That was the clear mission of PCRA prior to the November 2020 revision.
This leads, naturally, to some questions. Questions that I asked PCRA right away.
1. Does PCRA see the future generation of reporters as being digital reporters? 2. Why was PCRA’s mission objective changed from focusing on stenographic reporters in November 2020? 3. Doesn’t it seem nonsensical to promote the modalities as equal when stenographic reporting organizations like NCRA are many times bigger than digital reporting nonprofits? 4. Any other comments related to the session or PCRA’s stance as it pertains to stenographic reporting and digital reporting.
I was ready for them to kick my ass (in a good way). Maybe some kind of legal requirement was at play. Maybe I missed something very, very obvious. Maybe a mistake was made. Whatever the case, certainly a board of RPRs was going to set the record straight and make this situation clearer.
If you take the statement at face value, it’s actually not a bad statement. A hundred percent steno sounds good. But my four questions were pretty softball questions. It would’ve been pretty easy for anyone with any conviction or strong feeling to say “The future is steno. No further questions.” They didn’t bother. Regardless of actual intention, this creates justifiable suspicion of a change in direction, a lack of conviction, and/or a desire to hide something. All things we do not need in leadership today. If that sounds harsh, let’s apply the response I got to some other situations together.
For those that can’t watch the video, I sit down with guest star Marina Dubson in a series of three short skits. In the first skit, the question is asked, “Did you cheat on me?” The response, “baby, I’m 100 percent you.” In the second skit, the question is asked, “Why did you eat all the snacks?” The response, “While the number of snacks has recently changed, my objective remains the same.” In the third skit, the question is asked, “Why would you invite Johnny to the party? You know we don’t get along.” The response, crickets. There’s not a single situation I can think of where avoiding questions like that doesn’t raise some suspicion, whether it be suspicion that the answerer is lying or that the answerer simply does not care enough to give a real answer.
Well, I am incredibly naive and gullible. Maybe they just forgot there were specific questions posed.
I cannot overstate how upsetting this is for me personally. I’m no association hater. I’m a member of six different associations this year, though admittedly not PCRA. In my view, PCRA has always been among the best teachers with regard to political writing and advocacy for reporters. They were the victims of a mindless media flop that I have spent years trying to correct. They have maintained great materials on their site with regard to writing to politicians or writing to editors since I was a young reporter. There’s a lot of great stuff about the organization that reporters should support. But this needs an immediate course correction. I’ve gotten better responses in the past from Esquire and Veritext. I hope I am not the only one that finds it a little odd that, when questioned, Veritext, ostensibly among the leaders of the corporations pushing digital reporting, says technology “...will not take the place of the stenographer” and PCRA, when questioned, can’t be bothered to answer directly. It’s about as bizarre as NCRA’s complete silence on the matter despite requests for comment from myself and others.
Just in case somebody thinks this is all bluster and that digital reporting and/or ASR really can be equivalent to stenographic reporting, let me set the record straight. It can take up to eight transcribers to complete a rough draft, something I was completely oblivious to until I consulted Lisa Migliore Black from Migliore & Associates. She had this to say:
“I’ve spoken with Verbit salespeople on a few occasions over the past few years. In the most recent sales pitch regarding the provision of rough draft transcripts, the representative stated that eight transcriptionists would be working behind the scenes to provide a rough draft of the day’s proceeding with a final transcript delivered the next day. Eight. Eight sources of potential breach of confidentiality. Eight transcriptionists to provide the rough draft that a single stenographic reporter could produce within seconds of the conclusion of a legal proceeding. Eight transcriptionists to provide the next day [that] a team of three (stenographic reporter, scopist/editor, and proofreader) could produce within an hour of the ending of the proceedings on the same day with a stenographic reporter in charge. If Verbit’s ASR technology were truly an advancement, shouldn’t it be more efficient and require far less human involvement?”
In brief, there’s no reason to believe the technology is equivalent, and Verbit, a digital reporting proponent, has conceded the lack of equivalence its own infographics, as I reported in the past.
For those that believe pay is commensurate with training or experience, enjoy this video where a Youtuber advertises that transcribers can make 23,000 Indian rupees a month working with Verbit. That’s about $308 a month as of writing. Good luck maintaining uncompromising quality and adhering to AAERT standards when digital proponents can pay people 8,000 miles away 6% or less of what court reporters make today. No matter what Moranz had to say during the presentation, the hard fact is that once you shift the reporter from the front end to the back end, unscrupulous and conniving people are going to be shipping the work off to Manila, Kenya, and India where your laws and best practices are not enforceable. How do we know? They already do it.
It’s just anti-intellectual to continue to pretend that these things are equal. 85 percent of AI business solutions, the umbrella under which ASR lives, are predicted to fail by 2022. There’s very good reason to believe some companies relying on digital solutions are unprofitable. Court systems have acknowledged that the use of such technologies would threaten access to justice. Captioning advocates refer to ASR output as autocraptions. That PCRA is okay with platforming this stuff as stenographic reporter education and then comfortable with giving me one of the most non-responsive responses I’ve ever had the displeasure of reporting should give reporters and the consumers we serve pause.
There’s a real easy way to remedy this situation, and there can be some good to come from it. Bylaws matter. Board members and the organizations they serve are obligated to follow the law and the organization’s bylaws. If you are not a Pennsylvania reporter, the best thing you could do for this industry right now is forward this to a Pennsylvania reporter. If you are a Pennsylvania reporter, then any three members of the board or any five members of the association can propose a bylaws amendment.
You need only slip the word stenographic in front of “court reporting” and “captioning” in Article II and redefine court reporter in Article III to be any person who captures the spoken word by stenotype or stenographic means.
This exercise will serve a few purposes. If everything is cool, then the amendment is going to pass without issue, members can feel confident in their PCRA, and this post can go down as the ramblings of Chris Day, the registered paranoid reporter. It is not lost on me that there are good, professional people on that board right now and that leaders sometimes stay silent for strategic reasons or out of fear. At this point we really need our leaders to fear silence and take strides to safeguard our associations. I am unabashedly a steno ally. If I can’t get satisfactory answers, then any time a writer wants to spin a bullshit anti-steno story, they’re going to tear our leaders apart. Changing the bylaws will allow PCRA to come out strong on this issue and maybe give the organization some practice in responding to media inquiries.
The exercise will also help identify people who might be sitting in positions of power with an intention to spread the consumer nightmare that is digital reporting. If anyone fights the amendment, it’s a great indicator they’re trying to subvert your organization’s original mission and have got to be voted out. Those subversives, by the way, will be the ones saying “we don’t need to amend the bylaws because there’s no problem with the bylaws.” Those subversives will be the ones who want to publish a throwaway statement about this article instead of amending the bylaws.
Subversives are not going to spell out for you that their intentions are not in line with what most of us expect from stenography’s leaders. How do we know? Again, it’s already happened before. Jim Cudahy was the Executive Director of NCRA. He did the association a great service in getting the stenographer shortage forecasted. Nowadays he’s using his “knowledge” and past title to advocate for an integrated market of stenographic and digital reporters and bring some legitimacy to AAERT and STTI.
Professional flip flopper, weaponizing the shortage against us, and completely shameless. It’s very dangerous to engage in pitchfork culture. It’s also very dangerous to continue to trust everybody when there is at least some evidence of a small minority in the field willing to use their credentials and experience to sabotage the rest of us. That’s why I urge Pennsylvania reporters to take control of the situation and get those bylaws amended in 2022.
This exercise will also put the industry on notice that stenographers are not going to sit idle while the dues they pay are used to advocate for their elimination. There is also some hope that every reporter in the country realizes now how important it is for us to take ownership of our associations. If you don’t want your association, STTI and AAERT supporters will be happy to have it, its legitimacy, and its bank account.
You want an easy win for steno? It takes three to five of you to make the difference. In an organization that is 100% steno, it will never get easier.
Addendum: A few hours after this article launched, an e-mail was sent by Lisa Migliore Black to a number of people regarding whether the CEUs should be counted. A response by NCRA President Christine Phipps acknowledged that the course, in the way that it was submitted to NCRA, was appropriate. She pointed out that withdrawing the CEUs would punish certification holders that had already taken the course, and explained that steps had been taken to review the content. It was further mentioned that steps would be taken to deal with similar issues in the future. Not a bad outcome and certainly in line with what I had expected when I initially reached out to NCRA. As of writing, I cannot think of a way to screen CEU courses better without making it a much more burdensome process on nonprofit and commercial educators, so I think these actions are appropriate for addressing junk education.