NCRF announces 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship and New Professional Reporter Grant recipients

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) has announced that Valerie Melkus, RPR, Charleston, S.C., was named recipient of the 2017 New Professional Reporter Grant. The Foundation also announced that Laurel Stalnaker, a student from Sumner College in Portland, Ore., is the recipient of the 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship.

“I am honored and thrilled to be the recipient of the New Professional Reporter Grant, though I’m certain that every person who applied is just as deserving. Starting out as a new reporter is tough. Anyone who’s made it this far has been working his or her behind off,” said Melkus. “I’ve been using an old, noisy, slow, refurbished laptop for work. This grant will enable me to not only pay my bills, but I will finally be able to get myself a new computer. I am beyond grateful.”

NCRF awards the annual New Professional Reporter Grant to a reporter who is in his or her first year of work, has graduated within a year from an NCRA-approved court reporting program, and meets specific criteria, including a grade point average of 3.5 or above, a letter of recommendation, and active work in any of the career paths of judicial (official/freelance), CART, or captioning. Melkus, a graduate of the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., is the 13th recipient of NCRF’s New Professional Reporter Grant. She was recommended by J. Lynn Clark, RMR, president of Clark & Associates.

“I have been reporting and training new reporters since 1979. Valerie has been the most impressive new reporter I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Clark wrote in her recommendation. “I feel like I have hit a court reporting home run with [Valerie]. She loves learning new things and implementing them in her writing. Her enthusiasm for court reporting is contagious!”

Laurel Stalnaker

Laurel Stalnaker

The $2,000 Robert H. Clark Scholarship is named for the late Robert H. (Bob) Clark, a court reporter from Los Angeles, Calif., who was dedicated to preserving the history of the profession. Stalnaker is the third recipient of this scholarship.

“I am humbled to have won this scholarship, and I am grateful to have been nominated by my instructor. It will allow me to invest in myself in my new profession,” said Stalnaker. “I have been in school for two years now, and since day one I have been using an older student steno machine. Lately it has been having connectivity issues during class and, even worse, during tests. Recently I have been looking to buy a newer model for reporting professionally since I am only three tests away from graduating, and this scholarship will allow me to start my career on a positive note. I am eager to invest in a newer model and to excel in my last exams before I graduate.”

Students are nominated by instructors or other officials at their schools. To be eligible, nominees must be NCRA members, enrolled in an NCRA-approved court reporting program, have passed at least one of their program’s Q&A tests at 200 words per minute, and possess a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, among other criteria.

“Laurel has been, from day one, nothing less than a very devoted student. Her attendance has been superb, and her commitment to this program has never once wavered,” said Jacqueline Butler, CRI, who nominated Stalnaker. “She has stayed focused on the end result. I have no doubts whatsoever that she will make a great reporter. She takes her work very seriously and makes sure she learns all she can along the way. It’s wonderful to see her win this award!”

To learn more about NCRF’s scholarships and grants, visit NCRA.org/NCRF/Scholarships.

What to do with those old steno machines

Steno machines are no different than anything else in life. At some point, they need to be replaced. But what’s a reporter or captioner to do with their old machines? For some, the answer is to donate them to a court reporting program.

Three 1980s models of steno machines grouped together“A donated machine is very much appreciated by a student,” says Mary Beth Johnson, CRI, a professor of court reporting at the Community College of Allegheny County.

“Our school is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We live in an area where court reporters are very generous. Our students have been the beneficiaries of donated steno paper, machines, and thousands of dollars in scholarship monies. As a teacher, I am always appreciative of the largesse of court reporters,” she adds.

State court reporting associations also recognize the importance of donating old steno machines and other items to benefit students. Recently, both the California Court Reporters Association and the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association (WCRA) issued calls to their members to donate old machines to schools and to volunteers who are leading the A to Z Program, a free introductory course of basic steno for those who might be interested in pursuing a court reporting or captioning career.

“In Wisconsin, I know of several reporters who donated their steno machines to the court reporting schools and also to the A to Z Program,” says Sheri Piontek, RMR, CRR, CRC, an official from Green Bay and president of WCRA.

“The A to Z Program is what prompted Wisconsin to request donations of machines as a means of trying to increase the number of students in the court reporting profession. The only way this program is successful is by asking the reporters to donate their older models to the students,” she adds. To date, WCRA members have hosted two A to Z Programs within the state and have a third planned for the fall, Piontek notes.

Donating old machines to court reporting schools can also help offset tuition expenses for students. In some cases, donating a machine can be used as a tax deduction.

“When I decide to recycle or toss my steno machine, I give it to a court reporting student,” says Laura Lynn Murphy, RMR, a freelance court reporter from St. Louis, Mo.

“Many of them are renting a machine. I like to think that if they don’t have the rent to pay, they will be more inclined to join Missouri Court Reporting Association or, perhaps, NCRA as a student because they have to pay dues to join,” says Murphy.

“If there isn’t a need from a student, I donate the steno machine to Ranken Technical College. The students there are learning how machines work and when they tear down, hopefully, learn the machinations. I also give them old Dictaphones or digital equipment, anything that would help their training and not go into landfills,” she adds.

Murphy also suggests offering an old machine to companies that sells new ones in exchange for credit toward a new purchase. Many times, she notes, companies will use the old machines for repair parts.

Donating an old machine to a student is invaluable, according to Kelly Moranz, CRI, program manager and adjunct faculty at Cuyahoga Community College’s captioning and court reporting program in Cuyahoga, Ohio.

These machines are distributed to students in need, and it can sometimes mean a difference as to whether they can begin the program or not,” Moranz says.

“Professionals typically reach out to us if they have a machine to donate. Through the grants we have received in the past, we have machines for campus students that cycle through the program. We are able to supply online students with the same opportunity with the machines donated by professionals. Additionally, for students mentioning they have spoken to a professional, I encourage them to reach out and see if they have an extra machine available,” she adds.

Johnson notes that she and her staff are not at all shy about asking for donations of old machines and other items, especially since working professionals have been consistently very generous with the program.

“Donations are critical to the success of our program. Please know how grateful we are for decades of donations, not limited to machines, but also including guest speakers, mentors, and scholarship donors. In Pittsburgh, professional reporters donate their time, talent, and treasure consistently,” she says.

Advance your legal video skills at the NCRA Convention & Expo

VideographyNCRA offers legal videographers the opportunity to complete several steps toward their Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS) certification at the NCRA Convention & Expo. Work toward the CLVS certification through the three-day CLVS Seminar and Production Exam while networking with both up-and-coming and highly regarded CLVSs and court reporters. There is also a ticketed Legal Videographers Reception on Friday from 6-7 p.m.

Robin Cassidy-Duran, RPR, CLVS, a freelancer and firm owner in Eugene, Ore., offers this advice on becoming a CLVS: “As a court reporter, I had observed many videographers over the years, and I sometimes envied their job as I struggled to get every word down on my machine. I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to be taken seriously when I walked into the deposition. I decided to begin with the Certified Legal Video Specialist program.”

Put CLVS after your name

Videographers new to legal video can take the three-day CLVS Seminar. If they have already completed the CLVS Seminar, then they can sign up for the CLVS Production Exam on Friday or Saturday.

Craig F. Mitchell, CLVS, states: “Had I not studied the CLVS standards, invested in top quality professional equipment, practiced, and intensely tested every aspect of what was expected, that first deposition certainly would have been my last.”

Legal videographers with sufficient deposition-taking experience may apply to take the CLVS Seminar and CLVS Production Exam concurrently. Once approved by the CLVS Council, experienced videographers will be notified that they can take the CLVS Seminar on Saturday and the CLVS Production Exam on Sunday.

CLVS candidates are encouraged to take advantage of the NCRA room block while in Las Vegas.

Longtime court reporter considered icon to retire after 53 years

JCR logoThe DecaturDaily.com posted an article on May 11 about the retirement of court reporter Morris Anderson after 53 years on the job.

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Groups seek captioning assurances from FCC

JCR logoMultichannel.com reported on May 12 that a host of groups serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing community have asked the Federal Communications Commission to make sure that closed captioning requirements carry over to the voluntary rollout of the ATSC 3.0 next gen transmission standard.

Read more.

New webinar to help freelancers get organized

NCRA has announced that Rene White Moarefi, RPR, CRR, Houston, Texas, will lead a webinar on June 8 designed to help freelancers get better organized, especially when taking assignments from numerous agencies in any given year. A freelance realtime reporter for 31 years, including covering assignments for a multitude of agencies over the past seven years, White Moarefi will share her system to stay organized when she presents The Organized Freelancer: For the Busy, On-the-Go Freelance Reporter in Today’s Market.

The one-hour webinar, scheduled for June 8 from 7-8 p.m. ET, is available for a cost of $79. Attendees will earn 0.1 CEU.

Make your Convention & Expo magic by staying at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino

Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

NCRA members attending the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., are reminded that, by booking their stay at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, they not only receive a specially negotiated room rate as well as a lower daily resort fee in a four-star hotel but they are also supporting their Association.

When NCRA negotiates special room rates at hotels serving as the host site of its meetings, it also is able to secure valuable savings on meeting rooms and exhibit space. Such negotiations are standard practice in the association-meeting world. Another standard practice is that the hotel negotiates that the group holding the event is responsible to incur the costs of any unreserved rooms. The reason is simple. When hotels negotiate with groups for sleeping and meeting space, the sleeping rooms are held in a block, which means they are not made available to other guests. Rooms unfilled in a hotel’s room block can often create a financial burden on the organization holding the event because the hotel’s loss is commonly passed along to the hosting organization, and that, in turn, typically causes the costs of future events to increase.

Great savings on a four-star hotel is just one major benefit to staying in a host hotel when attending an event. Other benefits include convenient access to meeting rooms, the expo site, networking opportunities, and a guest’s reserved room. For the Planet Hollywood venue, guests will also enjoy the convenience of nearby shopping, top-rated restaurants, spas, and more.

The bottom line is that staying at the conference hotel gives attendees a better conference experience and helps keep registration rates low. Do your part to support NCRA and to help ensure costs of future events are kept at the lowest rate possible, not just for you, but for others in your profession who also attend them.

“NCRA is committed to supporting its members by providing the best value possible. One such member benefit includes lower lodging rates and registration fees related to annual events,” said NCRA President-elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC. “We appreciate our members who are committed to supporting their Association by taking advantage of the special room rates negotiated on their behalf with Planet Hollywood. The 2017 Convention & Expo — ‘Magic at Your Fingertips!’— is sure to be an exciting and fun-filled event.”

Top five reasons to stay at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino during the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

  • Opportunity to win — NCRA is offering prizes to those staying in the discounted room block at Planet Hollywood, including a refund of your entire convention registration and a Kindle Fire tablet to those who additionally download the app.
  • Organic networking opportunities — There are always convention attendees in the lobby, at the coffee shop, or in one of the several restaurants located in Planet Hollywood, providing additional chances for networking outside of scheduled events.
  • Fast commutes — Staying at Planet Hollywood means a quicker trip to meeting rooms and networking venues as well as the ability to zip back to your room for a quick break without missing all the magic the convention has to offer.
  • More time on the expo floor — Attendees who stay at Planet Hollywood will spend less time walking or taxiing to off-site lodging locations and more time on the expo floor.
  • Shopping and dining at your fingertips — Planet Hollywood offers its guests easy access to top-rated restaurants and exciting shops all under one roof.

Book your hotel and register now.

NCRA member earns award for service to the disability community

Karla Martin poses with Mayor Mark Mitchell after receiving her award

Karla Martin poses with Mayor Mark Mitchell after receiving her award

On April 25, Karla Martin, RPR, was presented with the Business Leadership Award at the 29th Annual Mayor’s Disability Awards in Tempe, Ariz. She was recognized for her work in CART captioning, including covering deaf and hard-of-hearing events and for her volunteer work with the emergency responder interpreter credentialing pilot program. Martin answered a few questions for the JCR Weekly about her background in CART captioning and what the award means to her.

Tell me about what kind of work you do and who some of your clients are.

I provide CART captioning services for several state agencies in Arizona, and I have provided services on-site and remotely for Arizona State University (ASU) and most of the community colleges in the Phoenix metro area. I also work with the Arizona Superior Court providing CART captioning for parties in civil and criminal cases. One of my most fun gigs is captioning live theater on cruise ships. I know it sounds so fun, but it can be challenging showing up and not knowing exactly what the setup and demands of the job will be.

Even though my focus is on CART captioning, I still take medical malpractice depositions that comprise possibly 10 to 20 percent of my total business. It’s true that real life can be so much more interesting than fiction, and I love what I learn every day on the job. I think it’s ironic that I have learned so much about working in court as a CART captioner. I worked as a freelance reporter taking depositions prior to transitioning to CART captioning.

How were you nominated for the Business Leadership Award?

I was nominated for the Community Service Award by Michele Michaels, who is the hard-of-hearing specialist for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. I have been providing CART services for several of the local Hearing Loss Association of America groups for a number of years, and I believe that is one of the reasons Michele nominated me. When the decision was made, I was awarded the Business Leadership Award. I feel like I do fit in both categories.

The mission statement of the awards event is: “Since 1988 Tempe has proudly presented the Mayor’s Disability Awards honoring excellence in individuals with disabilities, employers, and others who have shown dedication to the equality, inclusion, and commitment to improving the quality of life for all Tempe residents. The goal of this annual event is to encourage everyone to work towards a fully inclusive and accessible Tempe.”

I live in Tempe, and I have played flute and piccolo in Tempe Symphony since 1990. This is a community symphony, and all of the players are volunteers. My first CART work was at ASU, also located in Tempe. I am also an advocate for animals, and I have served on boards of animal welfare organizations.

What does it mean to have been recognized for your work within the community?

I’m honored to be recognized by the City of Tempe. I’ve been committed to providing services for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community for over 20 years. I took four semesters of American Sign Language so I could better communicate with clients and colleagues who were Deaf. One of my favorite things about CART work is the appreciation expressed by clients. It’s so rewarding when someone randomly thanks you for the service they received.

Did you have any idea you were being considered?

Yes, I knew that I was being nominated. Michele requested information from me to assist her in the nomination process. I had attended the event a few times in the past, and I had secretly hoped one day I would receive an award.

Why is providing CART to those with hearing loss so important to you?

There are many reasons providing CART is important. It’s an accommodation for a protected class of individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our services provide communication access for our consumers’ safety, health, education, training, legal matters, and entertainment. Some days the importance is to raise the awareness of our services to administrators and disability resource managers of high schools, colleges, and hospitals. Other days it’s demonstrating to consumers what is possible with CART captioning technology to enhance their lives by receiving equal access to communication at their workplace.

How long have you been a CART captioner? Were you a freelancer or official court reporter prior? How long have you provided CART services?

I started providing CART for ASU in 1995. At the time I was working as a freelance deposition reporter. I started with some evening classes because I didn’t want to turn down depo work. After that it was a transition process. In 2005, I took a part-time staff position at ASU for a few years.

How did you enter the profession? How long have you been in the profession?

My first job as a reporter was at a freelance agency in Rochester, N.Y., in January of 1979. At that time I had been out of school for four months and passed part of my Illinois CSR. I was working as a legal secretary in Decatur, Ill. I moved to New York for the opportunity to work immediately since they didn’t require certification. It was a really busy firm, and I started taking medical malpractice depos six months after starting work as a freelancer. I had a great mentor reporter there. The firm was one of the first to embrace computer-assisted translation, as it was called then. After two years, I moved to Arizona for warmer weather.

Where did you go to school?

I decided to pick up court reporting as a “minor” while I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in applied music at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. Between the flute and my machine, I spent the majority of my last two years of college in a practice room. I didn’t know what court reporting was until I had two roommates at college one summer who were finishing their internship and told me when they got out of school, they were going to “make a lot of money.”

What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

It’s rewarding for me when I work with someone who is going to school, and then later after they graduate and are working in their chosen field, we end up working together or see each other at disability-related events. It’s always rewarding when clients graduate from their programs of study, especially when I attend or work their graduation ceremonies. I like to believe I contributed to their success.

Please add any additional information you feel would be helpful to include.

Several government agencies in Arizona partnered in 2016 to create the Arizona Emergency Response Interpreter Training for ASL interpreters and CART captioners. The agencies are the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, Department of Forestry and Fire Management, and Maricopa County. I am one of three CART captioners in Arizona who were selected, trained, and received the emergency response interpreter credential. The program is a pilot, and the sponsoring agencies are hopeful other states will follow Arizona’s lead and create emergency response training programs for interpreters and CART captioners in their states.

STUDENT REPORTING: The race is on

By Madelyn Jones

The green signal flag is down — the race to the finish line is underway. Things are going along very well along the speedbuilding raceway; no speed bumps in sight. You manage to navigate around a series of small undulations. You are starting to get your cruise on. And then, out of the blue, your speed plateaus. The yellow caution flag drops. You find yourself in the same speed for over six months. You know that you at least avoided the red flag, but the yellow flag is warning enough to do more than just avoid hitting the wall. What should the speedbuilder take away from this lesson? One lesson learned must be “how to win the race,” not simply mastering “the course of least resistance” down the runway.

Any reporter or student will tell you what a challenge this process is. We have all been there. What can you do? We know perseverance and hard work is the key, but what should you work on to shake things up? You know that you could cruise along at the same measured pace and ultimately reach the finish line. But as you drive along, you know you cannot simply coast. What are some ways of successfully reaching inside yourself, summoning forth strengths you know are already there, waiting to facilitate your quest to go the extra mile?
Every speed instructor you have ever had probably has suggested the following at one time or another, but perhaps it’s time to revisit some techniques. Part of the secret to success is internalizing the “tried and true” techniques — whether you are behind your court reporting machine or racing to beat the clock.

Consider what your first speed instructor warned against: If you do not warm up your drill-writing fingers, they will not necessarily be in position to operate at their best capacity as you go down the long runway. Just as the race car driver behind the wheel has to call upon carefully practiced scenarios, so, too, should you enable your skill sets to include carefully rehearsed practice sessions that will seemingly spring to your aid in the final stretch.

Thus, your number one goal in support of the race to the finish line, going full-barrel down the straightway, is to take a page out of your speedbuilding instructor’s success manual: The first skill that will need to be rehoned is perhaps one of the most basic in court reporting, yet often one of the most overlooked: exercise.

Hurdle Number One: Exercising those fingers. Warm up every day for 15 minutes by writing finger drills. Many working reporters do this to keep their fingers limber and strong. Work on the ones that are more of a challenge for you. A very good book to refer to is Sten Ed’s Ultimate Finger Drill Book. In the long run, keeping up flexibility and speed through regular exercise is as necessary to building speed for court reporters as fast reaction time is to race car drivers. The winners, in either case, have their most essential, most basic skills on which to automatically rely when push comes to shove.
Likewise, several other crucial skills must be put into one’s tool box, to be drawn upon in the final stretch.

Hurdle Number Two: Reading and analyzing: Noting the old adage, “A word to the wise is sufficient,” here, then, are three words to the wise court reporter-in-training from one seasoned speedbuilding instructor: Read and analyze. No matter how many times you have consulted your notes to see where your fingers may have gone astray, it is of supreme importance to read and analyze your notes. This is very important.
Be sure to print out your vertical notes if you don’t have paper notes. Don’t hesitate to review and then once again proofread any notes you have taken, whether on paper or otherwise. Plan to incorporate this practice as well into your regular routine.
This form of self-monitoring will become another one of your most important tools to tune up for your race to your ultimate goal. Becoming proficient at identifying any areas of weakness is a strength — not a weakness. The most successful pros are those most adept at studying any errors and seeking ways to avoid repeating them.

Hurdle Number Three: Categorize and correct mistakes: While it may be self-evident to some, experienced speedbuilding instructors still have a most valid point when they remind us to “Use a pen to correct your notes.” This will aid in avoiding such errors in the future. In the process of dissecting your notes, you should have the following objectives:

a. Correcting speed-bump flaws: Look for how many times you are asterisking to correct an error. If you see you are correcting a word two or three times, stop this. This slows you down.
b. Reduction in hesitations: Look for words where there are hesitations in your writing and where you dropped as a result of the hesitation. Next, look for phrases and brief forms you could have used. If you learn new briefs, be sure to know them well enough to write them without hesitation. Practice those words. Such hesitations contribute to slowing you down.
c. Strategies to address misstrokes: Look for any pattern of continued misstroking. Identify your weaknesses. You may be dropping word endings; mark them and learn from them. Journal your misstrokes and log the corrected outline. You may want to eventually change how you write a word in your dictionary if it is something that repeats itself. But be careful not to create any conflicts.
d. Add to your brief toolkit: Look for phrases and brief forms you could have used. If you learn new briefs, be sure to know them well enough to write them without hesitation. Knowing additional briefs to draw upon when the road gets tough is another tool to facilitate your race when you may be flagging.
e. Incorporating corrections into your internal files: Take a stack of corrected notes and read them out loud as often as possible. The more you read your notes, the better you will be. This will help to rev your internal combustion engine when you need that extra spurt to the finish line.

You have already made it down the runway and you are now close to the finish line. You say to yourself, “What else can I do? I’ve given it my all.” These last few pointers help signal the way to career success. Don’t be left straggling so near the finish line. Speedbuilding instructors finally recommend the following tasks.

1. Transribe those tests: Transcribe as many as you possibly can. This is another opportunity to read your notes. So much is learned from the transcription process. You will avoid repeated spelling and punctuation errors. If you find you are dropping toward the end of a five-minute test, be sure you add more time to your practice takes.
2. Slow your roll. Take a good look at how well you know your theory. Go back and revisit those chapters you disliked writing the most. If you don’t analyze and resolve these issues, they will continue to slow you down. Be sure to work on accuracy as well as speed. Slow down and focus in order to speed up and write well.
3. Focus. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Take the time to practice mindful listening and stroking. You need to develop total concentration. You can practice for hours on end, but if your mind isn’t with you, your fingers, and your machine, little progress will be made. Take the time to notice when your attention has drifted off, and redirect it back over and over again to the task at hand. Make this a habit. Strive for getting into the proverbial “zone” where your brain and your fingers are working simultaneously.
4. Establish a specific daily plan. Set goals to practice a certain amount of hours outside of class. Literally, plan every hour of every week out. You will be surprised at how much more time you really have to practice if you stick to a schedule. Mix your practice up. For example, work on speed, numbers, word drills on one day. Work on accuracy, Q&A, brief forms the next day. Another part of your goal is to keep up the habit of regular practice, making your time management part of your clear pathway down the final sprint to success.
5. Do not look at your screen while writing. This will slow you down.
6. Keep a positive mindset. Since you will fail more tests than you will pass, you absolutely need to keep a positive mindset. Remind yourself what it was that inspired you to become a court reporter. Continued maintenance of a positive mindset is another key to remaining both self-confident and prepared at all times.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

The mark of a true professional, likewise, is one who does not hesitate to set goals and take the time to train to reach them, at last coalescing all efforts into a successful pattern of attaining the goal waiting at the race’s end.

And so, you are on your way again. You are writing cleaner and quicker. You can see the checkered flag at the finish line. It’s all you! Yes, you crossed that finish line with an abundance of hard work, perseverance, and passion.

Madelyn Jones,CRI, is a court reporting instructor based in Granite Bay, Calif. She can be reached at maddy8181@hotmail.com.

Court reporting explained

JCR logoOn April 20, The Ledger, Memphis, Tenn., posted an article that explains how stenographic reporters work and what separates them from typists.

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