Realtime: It’s worth it

By Keith Lemons

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. That’s a saying for just about everything nowadays. As court reporters, we know that it is real every day, all day long. When I was a puppy reporter, I had a judge who used to tell me, “Don’t interrupt anymore. Just throw up your hands when they’re talking too fast or on top of each other.” The problem with that is that whenever she said that in a transcript, the appellate court would naturally wonder what I left out. So I decided that I had to get better. I concentrated on learning how to brief on the fly, get longer phrases in one stroke, and write for the computer instead of myself.

I started out my career with the wonderful world of court reporting computers. All of them were written in dedicated computer systems that did not cross over for any other CAT program. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t even search the Internet or type a Word document or run an Excel spreadsheet because none of that had even been thought of yet. But we, the court reporters, had a marvelous new toy that made our work both harder and more meaningful. Imagine, if you will, being able to type two pages a minute when you used to only get one page per five minutes.

The struggle was real to try to figure out how to load a dictionary, how to write a dictionary, how to use a dictionary, how to edit a dictionary — all on a 2-megabyte disk — how to remember to plug in the machine, how to figure out if the cassette reader was really writing or reading that 300-page medical malpractice trial day you just had. But we learned. We adapted. We had to if we wanted to help our agency pay for that $50,000 Baron Data Center.

Later, when I became an official, I wrote for my newest piece of technology, the Baron Solo. It had 5-½-inch, dual floppy drives. The struggle was real to remember how to use this new technology and never, ever, ever use your magnet in the same room as your computer. (We had an electronic magnet system that bulk-erased our cassette tapes for the machines. If you used it near the computer, you risked either wiping out your floppies or causing damage to the electronics in the computer itself.) Then came the Microsoft revolution. We had yet one more machine to buy and one more operating system to learn. This one came with WordPerfect and learning the wonderful works of macros. No more Cardex! The struggle was so real that I accidentally wiped out my entire operating system trying to clear a message that popped up on my welcome screen.

Now we had to buy a new machine with a floppy disk drive in it. The struggle was real. In the early days of these marvelous inventions, we spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading, upgrading, upgrading, all with no such thing as a legacy fallback.

The 24-pin dot matrix printer revolutionized multiple copy printing — that is, unless you figured in the hours spent trying to separate those carbon pages without destroying your clothing in the process. That struggle was real. So was ink in the machine. Try changing a ribbon without making everything around you purple.

Then the struggle became really, really interesting. In the latter half of the 1990s, a CAT program made real-time court reporting a reality. I got to watch a reporter write from her machine and have real words show up within seconds on a computer screen. I have no idea if her writing was pristine or 1 percent or even 5 percent untranslates. All I knew is it was beautiful. Music filled the skies; my heart was full. For the first time in a long time, I really wanted to be a part of something. It wasn’t just about the money anymore. It was something so new and so grand that I couldn’t even envision the possibilities of the future with it.

So I learned it. I bought more equipment, and I learned wiring and splitting and sending and receiving. It was a real struggle. I showed it to my boss, the judge. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But I was enthusiastic about it, so I kept asking her if I could just put a computer on the bench to see if my wiring was correct. She relented, but she made me turn the monitor to where she wouldn’t have to look at it. But she didn’t ever tell me to take it down. Pretty soon, she wanted me to angle the monitor so it would be more visible when she wanted to see the attorneys’ objections. Then she wanted to learn how to scroll backwards, then to search, then to write notes. Eureka!

Realtime (without the hyphen) had come of age. Next struggle was to get other court reporters to accept that our future was in realtime reporting. I felt like the most hated court reporter in the state at times because I provided something that 16 other judges in Wyoming weren’t getting. But when they saw it, they wanted it. (Without extra compensation, of course.)

Little did I know that this struggle would become the thrust of my presentations and seminars for the next 16-plus years. Of course, I’m talking about realtime for the average reporter.

Now the struggle is real because in order to become a realtime writer, we need to put away the things that we learned as a new reporter, that we thought as a new reporter, that we expected as a new reporter. We need to remember that the struggle is not with the machine, it is with our own expectations. We need to struggle to get to the next level of court reporting to make a difference, either in writing realtime or captioning.

The struggle is real; the rewards are great. Two months ago, I was taking a medical malpractice jury trial with several prominent attorneys, one of whom was intensely hard of hearing. I’ve been gently suggesting to him that realtime could help him. Finally, I just did what I did with my judge those many years ago. I put the realtime on his table and told him that it was free; but if he liked it, I would start charging the next day.

During the trial, this attorney would bring the iPad to bench conferences so he could see what was being whispered — something he hasn’t been able to do for years. Both attorneys used their iPads during the instruction conference to see what the construction of their sentences would look like on their jury charge. That reluctant attorney? He now has set two jury trials with me for the beginning of the year — with realtime. Two weeks ago, I did a realtime feed for a woman who was profoundly deaf, deaf from birth, who read lips but never learned American Sign Language. She read lips, but watched my screen like a hawk. She even got a kick out of a mistran or two that I made.

I know the struggle is real. This job can be the most difficult struggle day in and day out. But with our own self-improvement, learning realtime and becoming accomplished at it makes that struggle turn into satisfied accomplishment. I’m loving that struggle. You will too.

JCR Contributing Editor Keith Lemons, RPR, CRR, can be reached at This article was written on behalf of NCRA’s Realtime and Technology Resource Committee, of which Lemons is a member.

TESTING: When it doesn’t work

By Marybeth Everhart

“It doesn’t work.” That’s a sentence I’ve heard many, many times over the years, as a teacher, long-time CAT software trainer (and user), and marketing manager for Realtime Coach. This phrase, in general, refers to something mechanical that is broken or that has a function that is, well, not functioning. When a technology does not behave as we anticipate, we tend to say, “It doesn’t work!”

I used that very phrase myself recently when driving my new car. One of the features didn’t function as I anticipated, and my first reaction was to fuss about a brand-new car that “doesn’t work.” Okay, there were a few choice words mixed in with my “fussing,” but you get the picture. Fortunately, I read up on the function before calling — or worse, pulling into — the dealership and complaining about the vehicle. Turns out I misunderstood how that particular feature worked. It wasn’t broken at all; it simply didn’t meet my expectations. Once I understood how the feature was supposed to work, I realized “it” wasn’t broken but rather worked just fine. I guess you could say my understanding of “it” didn’t work.

That phrase is also one I hear, and occasionally read on social media, relating to online testing; and I often wonder if what generates the comment is a lack of understanding of the testing process or the process doesn’t meet the test candidate’s expectations. So this article will explore, in detail, who each of the players in online testing are, their role in the process, and what may cause “it” not to work or to meet your expectations.

The players

As has always been the case, NCRA (staff and volunteers) write and record the tests, handle registration, and communicate with test candidates. Realtime Coach is the practice and testing delivery platform, which means is where you will go to practice and prepare for, take a skills test, and receive the immediate, electronic feedback. ProctorU is the company providing online test proctoring, which includes verifying and authenticating the test candidate, securing the testing location, and maintaining test security.

Once you register for a test through, you’ll receive an email from Realtime Coach. That email contains some very important information: a link to the testing site, your user name and password, and instructions for how to practice and prepare for a test. Answers to questions you have about registration, cost, frequency of testing, and so on can be found at

There are several reasons why you may not receive the email: One is it ended up in your spam or junk email folder, so always check there before reaching out to NCRA. The other is you may have an old email address in your NCRA member profile, so double-check that the correct email address, and one you check regularly, is included in your profile. You will have an opportunity to review and/or change it at the time you register for a skills test.

Once you receive your login to, you’ll want to begin preparing for the test by practicing the testing process, hopefully many, many times. There is one practice test for each type of certification, and there is no limit to the number of times you may access it, so walk through it as many times as you need to. This will help you feel more comfortable on test day. You’ll need to know where to find both the steno note and transcript files on your computer, for both practice and testing. If you don’t know where your particular CAT software houses files on your computer, you’ll find that information in the document “Taking an Online Skills Test with Realtime Coach and ProctorU.”

Once you have practiced the process on Realtime Coach, you have two free proctored practices available before taking a test. Use them! ProctorU requires you download a small applet that will allow your computer to connect to the proctor. You’ll also be using more of your computer’s resources, as well as internet bandwidth, to connect, so it’s better to find out ahead of time what corrections may need to be made.

Possible hiccups

Stuttering or no audio. Let’s say you hear the words “Ready, begin” but nothing after that. Stuttering or choppy audio or video playback is most often a computer performance issue, but it can be any one of the following:

Poor internet connection speed: Your internet connection should be at least DSL/cable or equivalent. It might be helpful to test your connection speed at a website that provides this service, such as You might also test the playback when no other programs are running.

Computer performance: Even if your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements, it’s still possible that the choppy playback is the result of poor computer performance. While capable hardware is required, performance is governed by how efficiently the software makes use of the hardware’s resources. Having multiple applications or processes running simultaneously will consume your system resources (particularly CPU and RAM usage), sometimes to the point of degrading overall performance. Most computers will have dozens of processes running silently in the background that each consume available memory and processing power.

To view the impact of the various processes that are running, begin playing an exercise — one of the practice tests will do just fine — and press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Windows Task Manager. On the Processes tab, you will see everything currently running, along with the percentage of CPU power being consumed by each process at any given time. If you suspect that your computer’s performance is being degraded by running processes, you will want to disable all unnecessary or unwanted applications and to remove them from Startup when your computer boots up.

If you are unfamiliar or not comfortable with identifying and disabling background processes, ask someone appropriately knowledgeable and qualified to assist you. Once a process is identified and disabled, be sure to remove it from Startup so it does not load the next time your computer boots up. Another very helpful tip is to reboot your computer. If you’re like me and you put yours to sleep rather than turn it off, you’ll notice over time that things begin to run slowly and, in technical terms, it’s just not very happy. Go to the Start menu and choose Restart, which will shut down everything that’s running and start anew.

The test won’t load.

Check your browsing cache: The first time you visit a website, the browser will save pieces of the site because the browser can display the files stored in its cache much faster than it can pull fresh files from a server. The next time you visit that site, the cached files will help cut down the page load time. Sounds helpful, doesn’t it? Yes and no. Helpful, yes, if there have been no changes to the site or in what you are to have access to. Not helpful if any changes have occurred. For example, perhaps you’re taking your second online certification exam, the first being the RPR and the second being the CRR. The cached version of Realtime Coach may show you enrolled in only the RPR, so there’s no CRR for you to take, even though you’ve registered and paid for it. Clearing your cache is the first place to start. If you don’t know how to clear the cache in your browser, simply perform an internet search on clearing cache in Chrome, Firefox, or Edge — whatever browser you use — or refer to this section of the Realtime Coach website.
Update your antivirus software: Run the update procedure, and fully scan your system for viruses. Take the course of action recommended by the software if any infections are found. If you don’t have an anti-virus program, get one as soon as possible. There are several high-quality free programs out there — just do your homework before you select one. Scan your entire system with one or two reputable anti-spyware programs. Be sure to run the update procedure before scanning so that the software can detect the latest threats. After scanning, perform the recommended actions if anything is found. You’d be surprised how many people have viruses or malware on their computers without even realizing it.


As mentioned previously, ProctorU’s role is that of test security. They proctor hundreds of thousands of exams each year for hundreds of institutions, so don’t expect them to understand what it is we do. That’s not their job. Their job is simply to verify that you are, indeed, the person who registered to take the test, to secure the test site, and to monitor the testing process to ensure no one cheats.

Know that they will ask to see your driver’s license to confirm your identity. It is helpful to have a second form of ID handy just in case you do not pass the authentication quiz. They will also ask you to perform a 360-degree pan of the room using your external webcam. What they’re looking for is other people in the room with you, any paperwork on your desk that might assist you in any way, even what cables are attached to your computer and what devices they are connected to.

Once the proctor is comfortable that you are who you say you are, that you are alone, and that you have no outside assistance, they will ask you to set the camera at an angle that allows them to see both your face and your hands on your machine as you write. It’s helpful to have a camera with a built-in, adjustable stand for this purpose. Knowing this, you can practice setting up your camera that way when you use Skype or Zoom, once again raising your comfort level when the actual test rolls around. You should know that connecting to the proctor, passing the identification and authentication process, and preparing for the skills test can take some time — perhaps even 30 minutes or more — so be patient.

A lot of the testing stress has been eliminated by allowing you to take it on a day and time and in a location that suits you best, and by reducing the distractions, like other test candidates in the room. That said, you’re still likely to be a bit nervous, so just remember to practice, be patient (with yourself and your proctor), and be persistent. Data shows that pass rates have increased since moving tests online, so the odds of passing are increasingly in your favor. Ready, begin!

Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, is the national marketing manager at RealtimeCoach, a realtime trainer, and a former court reporter. She can be reached at

High-profile trials in a high-profile city

By Monette Benoit and Anthony Frisolone

They say, “The lights shine brightly on Broadway.” Those people have obviously never been inside a courtroom in New York City where on most days, high drama plays out across the city, and the official court reporters of the federal and state courts are there to cover every word of the action!

Just south and east from the stages of Broadway, in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, sits the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), where many high-profile cases have taken place. The variety of cases heard there are as diverse as the city itself — organized crime, terrorism, securities fraud, and complex civil cases — and have resulted in many thousands of pages of transcript produced by EDNY’s court reporting staff. Open the local papers or scan the headlines and the names are familiar — Martin Skhreli, John Gotti, Peter Gaitien, Najibullah Zazi, and many others who have all come through these doors of what was once described as a “little country court.”

How does an official reporter or a staff of reporters handle a high-profile federal trial proceeding? Let’s explore some of the procedures that are employed by the EDNY reporters to ensure a successful trial. Initially, after a criminal defendant is charged and arraigned, or a civil case is filed, a district judge is assigned the case via “the wheel.” The wheel is a random selection process to spread the workload amongst all members of the Eastern District Bench. Federal courts also employ magistrate judges who work with the district judges. Their role is to handle discovery issues for the district judge. Magistrates can also take change of plea proceedings and may conduct evidentiary hearings.

The reporters in EDNY work on an approximate 20-week rotating basis, meaning each official serves with a judge for five days, then the reporter moves to the next judge in the schedule. In the context of a trial, the reporter assigned to the court is the principal for that week, who is then assisted by members of the court reporting staff who may have a light calendar and may be available to help the principal.

In EDNY, the staff works in teams of three reporters. Each reporter takes a one-hour portion of the trial, is then relieved by the next reporter, and then the next. This allows the first reporter, the principal, one to two hours to transcribe their portion — depending on how the trial day is divided. Relief times are adjusted according to delays in the proceedings or a shortened or elongated trial day. The goal is that each member of the trial team gets a close-to-equal share of the trial as the other members of the team.

The duties of the principal reporter for the case include: keeping track of each assisting reporter on a case, tracking everyone’s pages using a tally sheet, and communicating with the parties to obtain correct ‘order’ information. A majority of the trials that the reporters cover are ordered as a daily or an immediate copy, so teamwork and communication are the keys to success. The reporters also handle their own production of transcripts, which includes printing and binding of transcripts as well as emailing, troubleshooting realtime connections, billing parties, and paying the assisting reporters. It’s not unusual for one reporter to be underneath a desk troubleshooting a connection while another reporter is writing.

Preparation for a high-profile trial, or any trial, begins with solid preparation. Usually, on Thursday or Friday before each case begins, the principal reporter will create a glossary of terms for the case by scanning the Electronic Case Filing system that the federal courts employ.

We also try to work with the attorneys on each case to get a witness list and possibly a CD or any bindings of any exhibits that will be used during trial. In criminal cases, we understandably won’t receive that information until the day of trial due to rules that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has set as well as the Section 3500 obligations. Once the glossary is complete, it is then distributed amongst the staff members. In cases where technical terms or foreign names will be mentioned, we will research and double-check for the correct spelling.

Sometimes, additional research is required to ensure transcript accuracy. Preparation is made easier thanks to some of the case preparation features now found in our CAT software. These functionalities allow for the analysis of transcripts, and then from the lists, we can build those words into our job dictionaries.

Since the EDNY has the largest terrorism docket in the United States, this is especially important since a majority of cases involve military terms, foreign names, foreign locations, and other foreign terminology. Just as an example, there are at least six ways to spell Mohammed. In one trial, there were two defendants named Sayed and Said as well as a witness named Sayeed — all of them pronounced SIGH-eed.

In terrorism cases, it is required that district official reporters also obtain TS/SCI security clearance in order to report classified proceedings under the Classified Information Procedures Act. TS/SCI stands for Top Secret/Secured Compartmentalized Information. The process for receiving this clearance requires an extensive background check, as well as interviews of each candidate, friends, and past employers.

When realtime is provided, we use a switch box with four connections for the officials to connect their computers and equipment. At the beginning of each day, at least two reporters connect their computers to the switch box. Now, when switching takes place, we do what’s called
a “silent switch” where the switch occurs on the next question. The switch is signaled by a nod of the head or even a tap on the shoulder. When this occurs, the first reporter stops writing and the second starts. In the realtime context, the first reporter then moves the switch box to the letter on the box that the relief reporters have assigned themselves. You know that the switch is truly silent when no one notices us entering or leaving the courtroom!

This is just a quick sketch of how one courthouse handles big cases. The truth is that we handle every case like it is a big case because that’s what we require of ourselves.

Monette Benoit, CRI, CPE, B.A., who is based in San Antonio, Texas, is a captioner and agency owner as well as an author of several books. She can be reached through her blog at

Anthony D. Frisolone, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, is an official court reporter in the Eastern District of New York. He can be reached at He expresses his appreciation of the 25 official court reporters in the Eastern District of New York who, he says, “are some of the most talented and hard-working reporters I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, and this is why I keep showing up to work every day!”

MANAGING: Inspiring your team

By Judy Stevens

If any of you have heard Anissa R. Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, speak at either a state or national conference, you know the value in her wisdom and the easy manner in which she delivers that wisdom. Years ago, I invited her to speak at a Colorado Court Reporters Association symposium, and even then I was impressed by the way she captivated the audience of freelance and official court reporters when she has never, herself, edited and finalized a deposition or trial transcript. However, the techniques and tips of shorter and cleaner writing are, indeed, the same as those she’s mastered in her CART career. After having watched her work her magic in that room, I knew I had to reach out to her when I wanted to provide additional training to my reporting staff.

Before doing that, though, I talked to a few reporting firm owners with whom I’m associated and told them about my desire to provide additional training in-house to my employee reporters. I was told by one that (1) it wasn’t my responsibility to provide training to them; it was their own responsibility to get their own training, and (2) no one would come to training on a Saturday that wasn’t mandatory.

With those viewpoints, which were almost 180 degrees opposing to mine, I called Anissa. “Anissa,” I asked, “what would you think about offering your ‘Tackle Transcript Turmoil’ program to my staff on a Saturday via teleconference?” We discussed many of the logistics then set a date. I sent out an e-blast to my staff and almost immediately had 13 people who RSVP’d. All of them showed up on Sat., June 17, to hear Anissa and to improve their writing style so transcript preparation became easier and more streamlined through better dictionary entries.

Now, these aren’t new reporters. Some of these reporters have been with my firm for five or more years, and some have been reporting for more than 15 years. They each learned something through the training, all stayed after the conference was over to discuss ways to make highly functional new dictionary entries based on their individual software programs, and they bonded with each other on a Saturday morning. Now, does it really get any better than that?

My point in sharing this information is to suggest that you look outside the box for assisting your staff. Gather clues on what they might need from conversations with them. I noticed that one reporter was taking one day off for every one-day assignment so she could edit that assignment. One day to edit one day? Having been a reporter, I knew that there had to be ways to assist her, short of getting her a scopist, so that she didn’t spend that much time on editing. Another reporter wasn’t using locking suffixes and prefixes to her advantage, and her rough drafts had words which, although they should be readable by most attorneys, had things like in-form-ation because she hadn’t appropriately entered each of those syllables in her dictionary. Yes, they tranned correctly, but didn’t attach correctly to make the appropriate and complete word. These were two women who I recognized immediately could benefit from Anissa’s dictionary wizardry!

Don’t think that it’s the reporter’s sole responsibility to get additional training. They don’t know what they don’t know. This was more in-depth than their previous training with their software had been and also more personalized. Anissa asked them to ask questions — specific questions to their situation — and then answered them one by one. Yes, it is their responsibility to get the training they need, but it’s your job to listen to them and to hear what’s keeping them from absolutely loving what they do. If that one thing happens to be editing, then pick up the phone and call Anissa or whoever else you might think might benefit them. Talk with your team, and you might be totally surprised at how willing they are to learn if you’re willing to make it happen for them.

What it cost me was a catered breakfast, orange juice and champagne (for mimosas, of course), a very reasonable fee for Anissa’s time, and access through our video-conferencing system. What it brought me was a team of reporters who learned something from Anissa and from each other, who might just have cleaner strokes in their files, and who might, just might, quit spending so much time editing. They shared ideas and thoughts, exchanged some phone numbers, and discussed Facebook and additional “groups” for software-specific information.

I love and value the closeness within our team. I wish all the reporters could have attended, but it was a Saturday, and it was the middle of June –one of those amazingly beautiful days that can happen in Denver.

I also wish more firm owners felt connected to their staff on a one-on-one basis to the point that they hear their transcript struggles and they feel their writing pain. I often can see it on their faces after a job. When they left this 1.5-hour training, I saw smiles and laughter and heard comments about spending the rest of that afternoon making some of the changes to their dictionaries. Now, tell me. What is that worth to you as a firm owner? Step up and be their leader.

Judy Stevens RPR, CMRS, CPE, owns Stevens-Koenig Reporting in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at


REALTIME: Taming your fears

By Kathy Cortopassi

The worst fear, believe it or not, was the first time I ever captioned the Business Meeting for the NCRA Annual Convention. Not captioning the speeches of the President of the United States. Not captioning any live U.S. Senate or House speeches. Not providing CART for hundreds or thousands of people for hundreds of events over these 30+ years I’ve been doing this job.

The NCRA. My peers. Fellow captioners. Fellow realtimers. Fellow CART providers. People who could “read through” my mistakes. People who could understand when I fingerspelled or when I had a phrase pop up (Oh, she must have a brief for that!), people who would be “air steno’g” what I was writing, people who would be able to tell how fast/slow the speakers were speaking.

But I prepped. And prepped. And prepped some more.

I had Pat Graves by my side to help point out people or names or slip me her own brief for something.

So I began writing. Nervous as all get out, but I began. I got into a rhythm.

As I always do, I “zone in” on the speaker at the time. And hence comes my Lesson #1 for others on overcoming their fear. Think of yourself as a camera. “Zoom in” to the speaker. When a camera zooms in, it “blocks out” much of what is in the room, in the area, around the subject and brings the focal point closer into view. Zoom in to the speaker’s mouth. “Focus” (another photography term) on what’s being spoken and “blur out” any extraneous thoughts or movements around you and the subject. Anticipate what will be said next and be ready for it. The phrase, “Do I have a motion?” would probably be followed by “Yes. Motion by ____.”

So, back to the NCRA Business Meeting. Lesson #2. Imagine yourself in a war zone. You are a soldier with a rifle. You are in your “zone.” Call that zone your “groove,” a safe spot where you are comfortable, sheltered, protected from attack. Soldiers may be in a trench. Prepare that trench ahead of time. Align yourself where you can see and hear the best and see all parties necessary. Get as comfortable a chair as possible and set your prep and gear where you need it. For me, I’m blind in my right eye, so all prep is to my left. All liquids are in cups — with lids — to my left. I think we can all relate to the reason for the lids! But pens, markers, and protein snacks would be to my right since I’m right-handed. When you’re comfortable and prepared, it is easier to get into your groove and out of the Fear Zone, to relax and do the job you are trained for and that you prepped for.

Was I still scared? Of course! But how did I overcome this, my greatest fear? NCRA members themselves. When they started shouting from the audience, “Slow down! You’re going too fast!”, I knew they had my back. They were helping me. They were encouraging me. They wanted me to do a good job and to have an easier time doing it!

The funny thing is it seemed fast to them, but I was not struggling at all or felt they were going fast at all. Captioners can attest to this. We write at such high speeds for such long periods of time that it becomes natural for us. We don’t even notice that it’s 280 or 300 words per minute. We just do our job. We listen. We write what we hear. Rinse, repeat.

When I knew they “had my back”, I could feel the stress level go down. I had been tensing my neck, shoulders, and jaw. I was able to take a deep, cleansing breath and smile, inwardly and outwardly. Knowing me, I probably teared up (like I’m doing now as I write this) knowing that they cared about me.

So, I survived it and evn went on to caption/CART other NCRA events. Do they still scare me to that same level? No. Now I go into them knowing that my audience – my peers, my friends, my cheerleaders! – will have my back again. But it doesn’t mean I don’t prep like crazy, make lists and briefs, prepare my trench, get into my groove, zoom in on my speakers and focus on the words and their mouths, and blur out the distractions. It doesn’t mean I don’t tense up and need to remind myself to relax and breathe. But my NCRA peeps helped me through my most fear-filled captioning event ever, and this is only one of the thousands of reasons I love NCRA and my NCRA peeps. So if I get asked again to caption anything for NCRA, if I’m still alive and able to, my answer will be yes!

Kathy A. Cortopassi, RPR, RMR, CRR, CCP, CBC, who has also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator, is president of Voice to Print Captioning and QualCap. She is based in Crown Point, Ind., and can be reached at

Last call for JCR Awards nominations

Nominations for the 2017 JCR Awards are closing Oct. 31. Nominate yourself or another noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager for recognition through the JCR Awards.

Conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards is a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. In addition to nominations for several subcategories, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Self-nominations are accepted. Firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs may be nominated as a group as long as they meet the criteria for membership for one of the definitions in the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To nominate yourself or someone else, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered by the JCR editorial team based on the best fact-based story.

Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31. Read more about the JCR Awards.

A broadcast captioner sees the future in realtime

A woman sits in front of a steno machine, set up to work from home. On her desk is her laptop and paper notes propped up for easy viewing. On the wall is a television screen with a news show.By Cathy Penniston

I live in Iowa, but I make my living listening to the Canadian news. I work for The Captioning Group, Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta, as a remote broadcast captioner four days a week. But every Thursday, I take a break from the news and travel to Newton, Iowa, to teach court reporting students at the Des Moines Area Community College. My goal is to share my wealth of experience with my students. I have worked as an official shorthand reporter, a freelance reporter, a CART captioner, and a broadcast captioner, and I bring this real-world experience to my classes.

As a busy broadcast television captioner and an instructor of court reporting students, I encourage my students to embrace realtime. If my students comment that it is difficult to learn realtime, I remind them that when I went to court reporting school, there were manual Stenograph machines and typewriters. Long vowels? That would be taken care of when reporters sat down at the typewriter to type each page into English from their paper shorthand notes. Nowadays, this is all done instantaneously through high-tech machines.

But more so, I believe that realtime is vital to the continued successful future of the court reporting profession. A digital recording in a courtroom cannot accurately provide a real-time speech-to-text feed of the live proceedings to the judge. And a digital recording cannot provide live captions of breaking news or emergency information broadcast over television stations where realtime captions are needed to save lives.

At first, realtime stenography can seem quite daunting. But excellent instructors and programs can get students on the path to achieving their goals and becoming successful in the field of realtime captioning. Here are seven tips from a broadcast captioner and court reporting instructor to get started on your journey to learning realtime.

  1. Enjoy realtime and the great feeling of success when steno words translate into English correctly. Do not be afraid of realtime.
  2. Analyze and correct every word that does not translate from steno to English correctly. There is a reason for every untranslated word. Why did that word not translate? What can you do to correct that word to make it translate properly for your next transcript? Do not ignore untranslates!
  3. Know your dictionary and how words are going to translate with your dictionary. Finger combinations that work well for one student may not work well for another student. Try the suggested way to write the word. If the finger combination does not work for you, try writing it in a way that will translate for you. Define the word in your dictionary that way and write it down. Practice that word until you have memorized it.
  4. Briefs are good only if you memorize them and remember them quickly. A bad brief is worse than no brief at all. Your goal is a good realtime translation.
  5. Write out every word and add it to your dictionary for the time when you forget your brief. Do not hesitate to remember briefs.
  6. Your goal is great realtime translations, not winning a race for having the most briefs and then hesitating during speed tests trying to remember those briefs. Briefs can be your best friend or your enemy in realtime reporting.
  7. Back up your dictionary every week. Email a copy of your dictionary to yourself and back it up in the cloud.

Realtime reporting is the key to the future of our profession. Embrace realtime as you strive to achieve your goal of graduation from school.

After working for many years as an official shorthand reporter in the State of Iowa, Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, CSR, “retired” to pursue her dream of completing her master’s degree in teaching and working as a remote television broadcast captioner and teacher. She can be reached at This article was originally published, in a slightly different format, on the blog for The Captioning Group as “7 Things Your Instructor Wants You to Know About Realtime Writing!”

Overcoming your fear

By Linda A. Kaiser

What is fear? Webster’s defines fear as an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. In the verb tense, fear is defined as to be afraid or apprehensive. I’d like us to focus on two words in each of those meanings: anticipation and apprehensive.

When you anticipate something, the outcome of that event can either be good or bad. At the conclusion of that event, the anticipation dissipates. To anticipate is to be active. You can either anticipate something with excitement or anticipate something with trepidation. You are in charge whether you put a positive or a negative spin on your anticipation. I suggest you go forward with an expectancy versus an expectation, thereby alleviating a possible disappointment due to your expectations.

To be apprehensive puts you in a position of being afraid, reluctant, thus holding you back and ultimately aversive.

I would like to help turn your fear and apprehension into motivation. Fear can be highly effective. We are taught at a young age that fear is something to take heed of, as in the instance of don’t touch the stove top or you’ll get burned. You are motivated to not touch the stove top so you don’t get burned.

I propose to you that the fear of realtiming is a fear you can overcome. Here are some basic steps that I utilize, even to this day, in my fight to overcome fears of realtiming.

I first start the day out with some “self” talk. I focus on my strengths and my abilities instead of focusing on where I perceive my weaknesses are. I spend ten minutes, before even rising, to pronounce to myself that I can conquer whatever may come my way that day.

As I enter whatever arena I am writing in that day, I am reminded of my “self” talk that morning and that I can proceed with confidence to tackle whatever comes. This confidence also encourages me to continue to educate myself about the ins and outs of realtiming. If I encounter a problem while setting everyone up, I then put into play the education I have about troubleshooting. While I am writing, I focus on what is translating correctly, but also take note on areas that may need some improvement. It’s at that point that I incorporate some of the tricks I’ve learned and incorporate those in helping me achieve a better translation rate. My improved skill set has opened up a vast amount of opportunities to stay alive in our great profession.

There is a method to this madness. To sum it up, “self” talk has built my confidence. It has built my desire for knowledge, which has built up my abilities, which has moved me into new opportunities.

Your method of madness may be slightly different. The key is to keep striving to find what works for you and to stay motivated to overcome fear.

Lastly, fear isn’t an emotion that will ever go away. You have the power to either let it reside in you or use the powers in you and work to conquer it. See where your empowerment will lead you.

Linda A. Kaiser, RMR, CRR, is an official in Cedar Hill, Texas. She can be reached at

Conquer your realtime mountain

If fear is what is stopping you from becoming proficient in realtime, all you may need is a little inspiration to conquer your fears. A quote frequently attributed to sales guru Zig Ziglar is: “F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” Let’s customize that for us to “Face everything and realtime.”

To help you do so, six reporters offer their takes on how to scale the heights of realtime and overcome your fears.

The fear factor, by Debra A. Levinson

Rise to the occasion, by Kristy Clark

The no excuses guide to conquering your fear, by Tammy Clark August

The thrill of the chase, by Mary B. Bader

Is your fear real or imagined? by Ron Cook

 Overcoming your fear, by Linda A. Kaiser

Is your fear real or imagined?

By Ron Cook

Providing realtime for the first (and second, third, fourth, and so on) time is extremely uncomfortable. It was for me and for whoever I’ve ever talked to about their first attempts. I have never heard of anybody providing realtime for the first time and being completely confident and comfortable.

The fact of the matter is that the first days and weeks of realtime will be uncomfortable. However, the same can be said of the first days at any job. I can remember long ago, before learning about court reporting, when I became a recreation leader at an elementary school. I hadn’t been a recreation leader before; I was totally out of my comfort zone. As the days passed, as I got more and more experience and started to get the hang of it, I became more and more comfortable.

Mind you, I still have twinges of anxiety when an attorney looks at his screen and I think I may have made a misstroke (or more than one). It’s at that time that I need to remind myself that I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be perfect, and I need to just keep writing. In fact, there have been numerous times when I’ve messed up, and the attorney needed the testimony right at that spot, and it either wasn’t there or wasn’t there correctly. Every single time that has happened, the attorney was able to read through it and figure it out or rephrase the testimony to verify it with the witness. Never has an attorney turned to me and suggested that I messed up and/or that I was incompetent.

As with any job, as I’ve gone from a new realtime reporter to an experienced realtime reporter, the anxiety has lessened over time. One reason for that is that I always strive to write to the best of my ability and look for ways to improve my realtime. Another reason is the realization that attorneys typically aren’t mesmerized by the realtime screen any longer. It used to be so novel that they would just stare at the screen as the words would come up. In fact, early on, I had one client that almost fell off his chair, he was so entranced! Nowadays, most attorneys have experienced realtime, so it’s not novel, and they’ve trained themselves to look at the screen only when needed.

In fact, if I have an attorney who is trying realtime for the first time, I recommend that he or she put it out of the direct line of sight between him/her and the witness. If it is located out of the direct line, then the attorney has to actually make the effort to turn away from the witness to read the screen, thereby not allowing him/her to read the screen word for word throughout the deposition. The added benefit to that realtime screen placement is the comfort I get in knowing that the screen isn’t going to be stared at.

It is pretty clear that realtime is our future. I heard a saying once, long ago, that so pertains to our court reporting industry: Dig the well before you need the water.

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at