RE: Remote Judicial Reporting, WUNCRA

WUNCRA recently put out an article labeled NCRA/NCRF For Sale. I don’t reblog many of Frank’s articles for a few reasons, but I do feel that there are some things that need to be said. First of all, WUNCRA has apparently enabled comments. In months past, the option to comment was available but blocked. I, for one, will applaud WUNCRA for enabling comments, and urge that forum to continue to embrace transparency and honest discussions on the issues presented. May this be a sign of a paradigm shift towards discourse and solutions.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Frank touches on two very important issues, but I feel doesn’t explain it as well as it can be explained, so I will take a shot at it. The issue centers around the JCR’s May 2019 edition which, in addition to Dave Wenhold’s fantastic article about change, features an article from NCRF and its chair, Tami Keenan. The article touches briefly on NCRF’s work to educate lawyers on how to make a better record, and then dives into the meat of the article and this post, RJR.

What is RJR? It’s remote judicial reporting. It’s the idea of having a stenographer attend proceedings remotely. I happened to have had the privilege of talking with Esquire’s General Counsel about their efforts to bring remote reporting to the freelance field in March, and I was overall impressed with its potential applications and the amount of work they’ve done in figuring out where it’s legal.

So on its face this sounds like a great opportunity. Decrease the amount of time reporters have to commute and increase the amount of work they can take. It’s simple math. Here is the flip side of the coin and why Frank is cautioning people about this: If you open up these remote proceedings and make them more commonplace, we will become more distant and faceless, and therefore easier to replace in the market. Today, a lot of markets demand a stenographer. That may not be so if we get a good ten years of reporting over the phone and no face time with what are essentially our customers. Remote reporting is a great idea, but it needs to promote stenography.

The second issue that Frank puts out is this idea of the national notary. The national notary idea would effectively create a national notary that could swear in people over state lines or swear people remotely, something forbidden in some states and allowed in others. This too is an idea that could be both beneficial and harmful to stenographic reporters. On the one hand, allowing people to travel seamlessly and without restriction to cover work would be a boon to many. On the other hand, there is a very real concern that stenographers in locations with a lower cost of living could undercut stenographers in markets with high cost of entry and cost of living.

All that said, Frank’s ostensible paranoia with the idea may be unnecessary. National notary does not seem to be a big topic from all I’ve been able to gather. In an exchange with a boot camp attendee that spoke on the condition of anonymity, when asked if the national notary was on the agenda, the attendee stated, “I do not remember that at all. It may have come up, but if it did, I was completely entrenched in our legislative task, so it went in one ear and out the other. I certainly do not remember that being the focus of any discussion. Or my focus, I should say.” A second attendee, writing to me under the same conditions, stated, “I don’t even remember the term ‘national notary’ coming up at all…” In my view, if two people who were there and care deeply about this field can hardly remember that coming up, it’s probably not going to be a major initiative unless and until we’ve worked out the problems I have described. As I have been told, the focus of boot camp, NCRA’s 2019 legislative boot camp, was the inclusion of court reporting schools in the Higher Education Act.

NCRA is in a tough position when it comes to these WUNCRA posts. On the one hand, if it comes out with a counter to each and every one, it ends up giving airtime to someone who just hasn’t been all that friendly towards the organization. I too worry about that. But I worry more about the cost of ignorance. If we do not take the time to introduce these ideas with some pros and cons laid out for brain food, we risk students and reporters stumbling across these ideas with no other reference or perspective. I’m happy to let my blog serve as one of many in the long run. And my personal conclusion? NCRA for sale? Not likely!

Indeed, if we are not somewhat careful in how we approach the issues, we may find ourselves in a hard position. Taking the time out to educate each other on the issues is always worthwhile, and it is important for all of us to weigh the pros and cons, and come up with ways we might influence the market, keep our skills sharp, and our customers happy. If I can pull a little bit off of Wenhold’s article, I’d say change is coming, not all of it bad. But I’d say this: We can all, in our markets and profession, be agents of change, and work to ensure change is for the better.

WUNCRA, Knowledge Is Power, Spitballing Is Weak

Wake up, Wake Up NCRA?

It’s that time again to come out and talk about our friends at WUNCRA. Archived here. Though, begrudgingly, we’re going to have to bring out some harsh words. First the good stuff: We love information and we love rhetoric. We want an end to the secrecy that has damaged this field. We want the stenographic modality to be and remain the principal method of reporting nationally. There are legitimate things that Frank N Sense writes about, and we would like that to continue. We have made interesting connections and asked questions ourselves to specific people in the field, and we have had our concerns answered quickly. We want facts and knowledge whenever possible.

Our major problem with the way that Frank N Sense is doing business is that there is often nothing in the way of evidence. It devolves into mindless bullying and name-calling sometimes, as with the Lipstick on a Pig post. He or she denounces secrecy and wants there to be more open policies, but has a very closed gate when it comes to comments. Even in the post, which more or less accuses Stephen Zinone and his company of being an AAERT sellout, there’s a lot of words there, but there is not a single copy of this email. There’s not even proof that Stephen Zinone is a member of AAERT posted at WUNCRA, we had to find it ourselves. The author does not even offer Zinone’s full name, instead referring to him as Steve Z. The post fails to name the two or three past presidents allegedly going to the AAERT convention.

The site isn’t informing the reader what’s going on or what’s happened. This isn’t helpful to anyone who isn’t acutely aware of the immediate topic. It’s doing little more than leading its readers and followers down a dark road of negativity. We’ve hit this trap a time or two on Stenonymous where we expound on an issue that we haven’t explained for newcomers. Listen, none of us are perfect. But we need to face the truth: We have no idea where information is coming from post after post at WUNCRA. As a very astute reader told us about our own posts, without some facts and sources, it’s just words on the internet. We urge WUNCRA to put up this information every time instead of making us search for verification ourselves. This information-vacuum reporting is just a continuation of the old reporting zeitgeist of gatekeeping information. Worse still, there may be a troll at the gate. The writing is so one-sided and bleak that readers are left with hopelessness instead of solutions to move forward.

For the record, we reached out to Stephen Zinone. The response will be linked here. He rightly points out Frank’s trolling nature and explains a bit about what he’s doing. He uses steno reporters and QWERTY transcribers to provide for the consumer. He’s put out ideas about bringing down barriers to entry for steno. He makes an honest case for the fact that people who may have testing issues or inability to compete stenographically should still be able to make an income doing what they love. We believe stenography can remain the dominant method for taking the record, and should even be the only method, but there’s always likely to be at least some market share taken by the other ways. We on Stenonymous encourage stenographers to compete hard! We get the words in four or five times faster than the average typist, and have a rich history and institutional knowledge that goes unmatched by others. Even our most stinging articles against companies were not so much about the usage of recording itself, but the perceived pushing of recording over stenographers even when steno should be first. As best we can tell, Stephen Zinone isn’t doing that here.

I suppose we either will or won’t be convincing to Frank N Sense to release “more better” info in the future. Maybe we’ll convince some readers to think critically and ask questions. Maybe anyone feeling demoralized by Frank’s writings can look at this and feel ready to go out and make steno shine. We are sensitive to that writer’s position of being an anonymous person that may want to redact certain sources for any number of reasons. That admitted, we’ve had gripes in the past too. We are worried that this constant negative droning combined with the diminished effervescence of the status quo steno supporters are going to harm stenography more than help. In plain English: Offer up some real solutions or suggestions. We know you have that power to empower your audience. Give people ideas to fight and win.

In that vein, here is our own message to Zinone, Hunt, and any business owner who may be a steno ally but has decided to join AAERT to see how it might impact your business or shape the landscape: Pass us back some info. We’ll redact pretty much what you want. You can pass it through an email proxy, anonymous Imgur links, audio recordings, whatever makes you happy. But if you’re truly getting an understanding of these things and how they might impact the field, share that knowledge. Make us powerful. I’m sitting at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. We’ll get the message out.

And to the NCRA: While we have a very different take on your message than Frank, and we don’t agree in breaking down what’s left and distributing it to members, we do think there are things to learn in terms of communication, outreach, and transparency, but you are off to a powerful start in 2019. Keep up the transformation. Don’t be afraid to admit past mistakes. Don’t be afraid to say here is a roadmap and our ideas for fixing XYZ situation. Perhaps even consider coming up with a few major initiatives, creating a board’s recommendation, announcing you’re doing all of this so people buy a membership so that they can vote, and then letting the membership vote direct on those initiatives. Make membership feel powerful, and I have a very strong feeling that membership will empower the organization. It’s a symbiotic relationship dependent on leaders solving the age-old question of how to motivate people to act. Specifically, how to get people to open the wallet and fund the future of steno legislation, education, and awareness.

To the newcomer: Welcome to the family. Steno is a huge field with a lot of opportunities. We’ve had some issues in that past leaders of steno and NCRA have thrown their support behind recording technology. Note that the NCRA’s bylaws state it is a promoter only of the stenographic medium of record making. Frank’s message is about exposing the fact that we may have obstacles to overcome. Let mine be about what you can do about it:

    Join professional steno organizations. You matter.
    Identify issues in your market and community.
    Discuss these issues, propose solutions.
    If the association is not helpful after a proposal, identify why they’re not helping. Suggest ways they can improve or identify ways to improve the proposal.
    If no improvement is forthcoming, consider forming a new trade association or group for the purpose of education, representation, and leading the field. Consider having transparency, such as NCRA’s public posting of its bylaws

Look at Stenonymous. It started as a stopgap to answer student questions and preserve information and has built up a following of hundreds. Lots to improve upon, but the point stands: If we could do this, anyone can do this, and if a lot of us take a stand, we will see an incredible renaissance in this field. Be a part of that!