The Good Reporter Fallacy

I’ll just come out and say it. There are folks among us that think speech recognition technology is going to beat court reporters. I’ll even go so far as to say I personally believe that the technology will eventually do what we do.

But first on the issue of technology: Read what they aren’t saying. The technology is 95 percent accurate! But what was the setting under which it was accurate? Was there an air conditioner blowing overhead? Was someone printing directly behind the recording machine? Were there people speaking over each other? Did the computer accurately designate who spoke? Was the computer able to handle an unidentified speaker? Were there multiple speakers at different distances? Did the test take place in rooms of various sizes and acoustics? Yes, it is my sincere and honest belief that someday technology will be there to seamlessly do all of this, but there is no telling when. Until it is there, it is smoke. They’re blowing smoke just like everyone else who wants to sell a product. When it is there, we still fight to keep the jobs we have.

And that’s the topic of today’s missive. So some believe we’ll be overtaken by technology, and they are saying: Do not invite people into this dying field. That makes sense if you take the fact that it is dying as true and completely irreversible. Our current crisis in the reporting world is a reporter shortage, and their answer is: Don’t do anything and ride this career to the bitter end. There will be jobs for the good reporters.

But what is that good reporter? A realtimer? There are more non-realtime jobs than realtime jobs. Even today, there are more non-realtime jobs. So even if everyone is a good reporter tomorrow, there aren’t enough jobs for you if we give up that non-realtime work. Sorry. It’s a delicate balance. Reporter shortage means it’s easier for customers to swap to recording because there simply aren’t enough of us to meet a demand. Reporter glut means we suffer because high supply generally means lower cost (wage).

Well, right now, at this second, we are facing a shortage, and in the great wide world of life, we have better chances if there are more of us. Consider NCRA’s old strength of what I’m told was 30,000 reporters versus today’s — whatever — 15,000. That was literally double the budget to fight for reporters. Double the constituents when politicians ask how many people they are representing. Double pretty much everything.

So you can get up and introduce this field to somebody and be a part of ending the shortage, or you can sit it out and see what happens, and we can be friends either way, but I think it’s best to act. It’s very simple statistically: Can’t win if you don’t try. People play lotto on that same principle, so isn’t a shot at saving thousands of careers worth trying too? Look at politics. When your preferred politician or proposed legislation fails, do you just drop everything and say “I support this because it’s happening.” Maybe, but according to my Facebook, not likely!

If you’re an average person, you matter. History was built on average people. Armies are built out of average people. Battles were won when average people got the enemy army to route. The computer technology we use started with overall average programmers using punch cards to give computers simple instructions!

If you’re above average, show us. We average people want great leaders. We want problem solvers and talented people to look up to. There’s a market for greatness and a world of ways to uplift people. What if someone could design a steno program that got someone out in months, not years? What if someone could design a political campaign capable of sustaining our jobs even when the technology does what we do?

Be a creator. Be an inventor. Be an innovator. Support the people fighting for you. Support the people around you. Support yourself. Do what people say can’t be done. Be a winner. And remember, besides thermonuclear war, there are few times you can win by not playing.

The Truths of Employability

For this purpose we define employability generally as ability to work and be “employed” as employees and independent contractors. There is no secret that I often write about how court reporters need to ask for more money, be confident, and negotiate for better benefits or conditions. It’s true. We constantly have market forces exerted on us to lower our expectations in terms of earnings, or make our deadlines tighter, or make our work harder. We are the polite opposition to those market forces. No, we will not work for free. No, we will not give away expedites. No, we will not reprint the entire transcript because your client disagrees subjectively with the potential interpretations arising from the placement of a comma.

But today there’s an important addition to all of that. Today it’s time to say out loud: In addition to demanding you be paid what you are worth, you must make yourself employable. It struck me as I read this Quora answer to the question, “What is the saddest truth about smart people?” The answer itself has a simple theme: Smart people can be the smartest people in the room, but can be unsuccessful and unhappy if they do not take on risks or new opportunities. Now I adapt to this to court reporting. Imagine you are now the fastest, most knowledgeable court reporter in all the world. Imagine you have nothing more to do or learn. Imagine that you are undoubtedly the best. Now imagine that you cannot write a resume or cover letter. You make great transcripts but your cover letters are just awful with misplaced words or rambling ideas. Who will an employer hire; the best court reporter in the world, or the one who knows how to write a resume? In all likelihood, the one who knows how to write, because they have the skill of being able to write, and that makes them employable.

So now it is my time to urge every student, every current reporter, and every non-reporter to do what a theory teacher once taught me: Never stop learning. You don’t have to learn to be the best x, or y, or z. You don’t have to discover new technologies or be a genius. You need only apply yourself to things that interest you. Take a step back and look at a job you really want. What kinds of things make a person employable for that position? You may find that there are a bunch of tangential qualities that can actually make you much more likely to land a position or career. Indeed, basic life skills, like writing a cover letter, go a long way to landing work. Be sure to spell check, double check, and/or have an honest friend review submissions you will make to an agency. I fondly recall a time when I applied to work at or with Reporter’s Ink (as of writing proper spelling) as a freelancer, and before that, I worked with Jaguar. They wanted a sample of my work, and so I provided it to them. They immediately insisted I use their layout, so I applied their layout, and sent the whole thing without checking. Turns out the swap from Jaguar to Reporter’s Ink’s layout stacked the lettering into one another. Succinctly, I lost myself a job opportunity because I didn’t check myself. Don’t be me, get the job, be employable, check yourself, and succeed!