on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
State of the Field
In Which Stan Sakai Talks About the Future of the Court Reporting Field
Have you heard them?
You know, all those folks that are telling you that the field of court reporting is dying, how your job can be done better by a guy with a computer and a few tape recorders, how schools are closing for lack of participation, etc., etc., etc. ...?
Yes, me too ... and so has Stan Sakai, and he shared his thoughts about those things in a rather lengthy post on his Facebook page ... and it had such an impact on everybody that read it, I asked him I could publish it here on Cheap and Sleazy, because, as you might have heard, not everybody is on Facebook!
Yes, I know ... hard to believe, but apparently it's true!
So for those of you who are not on Facebook and find yourself a bit nervous about the future of the field, take a few minutes and see what Stan has to say about it.
Dear stenographers/court reporters/captioners/STTRs/whatever you prefer to call yourselves:
In the wake of numerous posts lamenting the declining numbers of reporters and AI taking over our jobs, I felt the need to chime in. Disclaimer: I'm coming from a captioner's perspective, and, yes, I'm very blunt.
This may come off as harsh to some but I'm going to say it anyway. This field is changing. Computers are getting better and better at the bare-bones of our job: getting a lot or most of the words in real-time, albeit in one long incoherent sentence.
Reporters need to understand that just getting faster and faster, and doing the same-old same-old isn't going to cut it anymore. Maybe it did in the era when audio recordings were in its infancy or paper-based transcription was still a thing but not now when the quality of a good speech-recognition system is fast approaching the level of a mediocre realtime reporter.
Yet, our steno schools still teach using paper, do read-backs, and teach long theories which, in bygone days, ensured a reporter could go back to piles of receipt tape and re-transcribe their notes from '83 without the aid of a translated transcript.
But this makes no sense now that we're writing to ... COMPUTERS.
We tell our students that realtime comes later once they've reached some uncertain arbitrary level in a nebulous, unicorn-land future and instill doubt in their capabilities: "You can't do realtime yet! You haven't even passed the RPR!"
No. Technological competency should be the TOP priority. Take those stacks of steno paper and head to the nearest bonfire (or preferably recycle bin).
I think that's the crux of why the stenographic field is where it is right now in terms of high attrition and not recruiting enough young people.
We, the younger generation, have fundamentally different values.
The way we teach steno is antiquated. The way we structure our profession is antiquated. With every inch technology moves forward, the scope of our responsibilities has grown -- and yet, our schools and professional organizations continue to be run as they were in decades past.
We could be teaching steno as if it were a really challenging word-based video game. There are thousands of kids in arcades playing virtual instruments, dancing on buttons, and making ridiculously coordinated movements based on pattern recognition. Isn't that kind of like what realtime stenography is? I don't know about you, but I'd say watching words pop up instantly on screen as they're heard is way more engaging than watching a typewriter stamp out a strip of paper to be handed in for grading. Why do we keep teaching stenography via the secretarial route? The younger generation is impatient and wants instant gratification.
Exploit these traits.
Also, we have to stop using licensure(s)/tests as an absolute metric for competency. It's elitist and exclusionary. And let's be real: passing most steno tests just means you're good at one thing: transcribing really fast, predictable, plain-English-words legal dictation. Sorry, not sorry. Gaining more and higher certifications is a great goal to have but it's frequently used as a status symbol and a disqualifier, and to a lot of us, it's alienating.
I've heard people refer to me in backhanded terms like, "He's not even an RMR," or "He's good but he doesn't have his RMR yet," as if the letters after my name guarantee my skill level as a reporter.
I know for a fact that a SUBSTANTIAL number of RMRs would straight-up nosedive and burn on the runway five minutes into some of the talks my colleagues and I do projected, for audiences sometimes numbering in the thousands.
Take a look at some of the screenshots here. Those are all samples of my realtime.
I don't have an RMR because I don't do/really have no interest in legal reporting.
Could I pass the RMR right now if I tried?
Is it relevant at all to what I'm doing?
Tests only tell one side of the story. Why do we keep dividing ourselves?
By pushing this agenda that equates higher/greater number of certs to competency, and forcing students to first become court reporters before anything else estranges a lot of us who do not fit into the traditional court-reporter mold but would otherwise embark on a stenographic career. No doubt this is a major cause of student attrition for those trudging away in CR school, thinking they'll be writing "can you please state your name for the record" a bajillion times for the rest of their lives.
To be successful in this field in today's world, you have to not only have the technical grit to volley whatever's thrown to you while a thousand eyes are on your screen, but also the ability to use your humanity as an advantage: follow up with people when they ask you on Twitter about the open captioning, and put yourself out there. Be funny. Show off your equipment and the complexities of what it takes to actually write on a steno machine and being enthusiastic about it.
KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT AND SOFTWARE so that if the client needs the text on the projector and on two other devices, you'll be ready to connect up instead of standing there looking all deer-in-headlights. Be easy to work with. And most of all, be curious. Learn what Flask, Django, Node.js, React, Balsamiq, GroEL/ES or whatever the heck they're talking about are so you know how they are used and can leverage crucial missing elements the SR systems lack: human instinct and cultural/contextual cues.
So many captioners I meet tend to pack up and leave as soon as an event is over. Sometimes that's okay. I get it. I get drained after long jobs, too.
But why not stick around if they invite you?
Meet the people who hired you and be a real person. See what inspires them and listen to them talk about what they're experts in. This will not only make you a better reporter that can beat any SR system out there currently, but they will put a face to the product (your captions).
Yes, machines are getting better and better every day at capturing words from audio, but a computer will lack that final polish that makes our writing uniquely human: adding stylistic punctuation, injecting random bits of humor, knowing how to format "codespeak" so it looks as it does on the PowerPoint.
Most of all, it sure as hell won't ever be coming to the afterparty/happy hour (yet).
I realize some of the above won't apply for a lot of reporters in the legal arena but the point is LOOSEN UP and have fun. Even those alone will create professional value.
There are things we do that computers can do. But there's still a lot of things we've got going that computers don't. Leverage those and stop stagnating. If you don't know something, ask, find resources, have an open mind, and learn. But saying "I'm not good with technology" is tantamount to saying "I'm not good at my job."
OUR JOBS INVOLVE OPERATING TECHNOLOGY.
Yes, computers are evolving but so can you. Be different, be excellent, and make an impression. Do those things and you will create value. You are so much more than merely the ability to transcribe verbatim. And if you truly create value for your clients, they'll keep coming back for more.