The fear factor

By Debra A. Levinson

Facing fear is a given as a court reporter. No matter how credentialed you are, no matter how many letters you have attained, there will always be some level of fear prior to any job. Why? We are not taking down a prepared script. We are writing words on the fly and rightly fear the unknown. We fear not hearing clearly or fear speakers testifying at near-lightning speeds. We fear having to process unfamiliar vocabulary or garbled speech or technical matters in nanoseconds.

What we really need to focus on is self-confidence. We have an amazing skill set that impresses the masses, and yet that’s still not good enough. So please allow me to share my favorite adage to accept and adjust. Simply put, accept the fear and imperfections of what we do. Make adjustments and change what is not realtime-friendly. Then proceed forward.

The result of not taking chances or pushing ourselves beyond the comfort zone is tantamount to being stuck in a rut. Remember that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

Writing what I call readable realtime requires practice and commitment that will pay off both literally and figuratively. Here are some basics to add to your practice. You will gain that confidence and begin refining your skills to help accomplish your goals and eliminate that fear factor.

  1. Begin by identifying your problematic translation areas (such as speed, conflicts, word boundaries, and prefixes and suffixes), and you will become empowered to change.
  2. Maintain an ongoing commitment to retrain, and you will write faster and cleaner and shorter.
  3. Stay focused and write realtime on every job, and you will challenge yourself to translate at higher and higher percent rates.
  4. Input proper case names and designations prior to start time, and you will save time later.
  5. Purge and modify entries and edit on the job, and you will ensure what’s in your dictionary will translate properly.
  6. Make weekly revisions, and you will feel accountable having set goals.
  7. Brief repetitive words and phrases and use Auto-Brief or Brief-It, and you will save valuable energy.
  8. Monitor your screen throughout the proceeding, and you will identify where to check trouble spots.
  9. Use the Internet to research proper names on the job, and you will have gained an edge.
  10. Learn how to finger-spell, and you will eliminate puzzled looks when nonsensical words appear.
  11. Sign up for the free Word-of-the-Day (my personal favorite is from, and you will become familiar with many esoteric words without having to wait until you’ve heard them for the first time.

Debra A. Levinson, RMR, CRR, CMRS, CRI, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from White Plains, N.Y. She can be reached at

Eileen Beltz from College of Court Reporting honored with 2017 CASE Award

Jeff Moody, president of the College of Court Reporting, accepted the award on Beltz's behalf.

Jeff Moody, president of the College of Court Reporting, accepted the award on Beltz’s behalf.

Eileen Beltz, CRI, CPE, an instructor at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., was honored with the 2017 Council on Approved Student Education (CASE) Award of Excellence. The announcement was made at a special awards luncheon held during the NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 10-13. Beltz is from Avon, Ohio.

NCRA’s CASE Award of Excellence recognizes the important role student education plays in the court reporting profession and honors educators for their dedication, outstanding achievement, and leadership. Recipients are nominated by an NCRA member.

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Past President Nancy Varallo named 2017 NCRA Distinguished Service Award recipient

Nancy Varallo recognized with NCRA Distinguished Service Award

Nancy Varallo recognized with NCRA Distinguished Service Award

Past President Nancy Varallo, FAPR, RDR, CRR, from Worcester, Mass., was honored with NCRA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award (DSA), on Aug. 11 at the Premier Session held during the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. The event runs through Aug. 13 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Varallo, the 56th recipient of the DSA, is owner of The Varallo Group in Worcester, Mass. She is a 30-year veteran of court reporting and a past president.

NCRA’s DSA recognizes the distinguished work and service by an individual member for the benefit of the court reporting profession, including service to NCRA as a member, a committee member, a director, or an officer of the Association. Other displays of distinguished work include contributing to the JCR, or service at the state or local court reporters association or in the field of public relations or public affairs. Award winners are nominated by their peers and are recognized at the NCRA Convention & Expo.

Atkinson-Baker provides legal videographers

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting,, JCR WeeklyAtkinson-Baker, Los Angeles, Calif., announced in a press release issued Aug. 4 that the firm now has legal videographer services for depositions.

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Court reporting as a second career

The JCR reached out to several members of NCRA who made the decision to switch careers and enter court reporting profession and asked them to share what they did before, how they decided to make the change, when they knew they made the right choice, and insights they would share with others considering making a change.

Abby Cook, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Student at the Community College of Allegheny County
Plans to work as a freelance reporter upon graduation in July 2017, currently interning with Planet Depos
Previous career: Master’s level mobile mental health therapist for about 18 months

I was not happy with the company I was working for. I was doing anything and everything for them, even sitting as a secretary, but it still wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t being recognized or rewarded for going above and beyond. So I told them I would sit as a secretary for two weeks and if they couldn’t fill my client schedule I was done. They did not fill my client schedule so I left. I interviewed at another company for a similar position, and they informed me they needed someone with their professional license, which I was working toward, but in order to sit for the exam you had to complete direct client contact hours, which I couldn’t fulfill sitting as a secretary or not working at all. I knew I needed to do something that wasn’t dependent on what others thought I could do or doing something that others had to help me fill my schedule.

My cousin is a court reporter and currently reports on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I contacted her to get more information because I knew she was making a good living and I knew she enjoyed was she was doing.

I am one of three girls, and my cousin tried to talk all three of us into going into court reporting after high school. It was always sort of in the back of my mind, but I never really knew much about it and once I was in the field for what I wanted to do and realized it wasn’t fulfilling or particularly fruitful for me, I decided to look into it further.

I do think some skills from my previous work transfer. I continue with the need to listen to people, I continue to provide a service for people, I continue to be mobile with that service, and I continue to hear stories about people (some more awful than others, but I feel my previous experience has prepared me for such things and to not be shocked).

I think I am most excited to be entering a field that is highly valued, highly in-demand and highly respected. I look forward to having a full schedule because of a proven, black-and-white skill that I possess.

I would say to look at all the options, talk to some people in the field (both new to the field and seasoned vets), and learn as much as you can. I continued to work in my first career when I started school for the career change and if it didn’t work out I would’ve stayed with that job and pushed harder for my chance and what I wanted. It never hurts to try something new and make yourself more marketable.

After the first few weeks in school I knew that making this change was going to be a good, positive, life-changing choice. I was picking up on this new (steno) language and all the working court reporters that came to speak to us about the field only had great things to tell us. Students ahead of me were getting their speeds and passed on advice. There is so much encouragement and happiness and excitement in this field. I can’t wait to get out there and working!

Carolyn Kerr, RPR, Buffalo, N.Y.
Court reporter since 2001
Currently working as an official court reporter for the State of New York Unified Court System, family court in Niagara County
Previous career: Worked in radio and television

I’ve actually had two careers before court reporting. I have my B.A. from the University at Buffalo in Communications. Because of my love for music, I became involved with the campus radio station and was soon the program director. I also interned at a local radio station and, while still attending college, was hired full time as a disc jockey and promotions director at that radio station. The radio and music industry is very volatile, and I discovered that while I loved music and the fun of working at a radio station, I wasn’t enjoying the people I worked with very much. Many of my coworkers had drug and/or alcohol problems, had multiple marriages, were not particularly well educated, but they had huge egos. I was 23 years old and decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by people I didn’t respect. But being in radio did give me a very important skill that I believe carries over to court reporting. That skill is the ability to perform.

I lucked out and got kind of a weird job next, one that combined my skill in performing with the stability of a real job. I was hired as a traffic reporter, working for the local public transit agency. The bus drivers on the road would call in the traffic delays they saw, and I would compile traffic reports and provide them to most Buffalo area radio stations and one TV station during morning and afternoon drive times. In return, the public transit system got advertising on these stations. On some of the stations I would broadcast live, on others I would just provide the information to their on-air personnel who would read it. I also appeared on the local ABC-TV network affiliate during their morning show. For three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, I was typing up and churning out constant traffic updates to 12 to 15 media outlets. I could always type fast, but this experience really improved that skill. Again, another transferable skill to court reporting.

Eventually marriage and children came along and I didn’t want to work the split shift this job required, so I bid on another job in the transit agency and became the supervisor of the customer service department. Essentially I ran a call center and resolved customer complaints. You can imagine the types and amount of complaints a public bus and rail company receives! What I learned from that job is that I do not like supervising anyone and that I missed the performance component of my other jobs. I was a really good typist and enjoyed typing, but I knew there wasn’t much money in it.

I was complaining to my sister-in-law about my job as a customer service manager at a family party and she suggested court reporting. It was one of those duh moments, as my sister-in-law was not only a court reporter but also owned a freelance agency. From there everything just fell into place, almost as if it were meant to be. The local school was not too far from my house, not too expensive, and worked with my schedule, and oh, by the way, they were having an open house the following week. I enrolled on the spot and a little over two years later I began working for my sister-in-law’s company.

At its heart, court reporting is a performance job. The skills from my broadcasting career definitely have translated to court reporting. And while we do interact with judges, clerks, lawyers, the public, and other reporters, court reporters are essentially solo workers. It’s us and the machine, and then it’s us and the transcript. I found from working in customer service that I really like working independently, and court reporting fulfills that preference.

What most excites me about court reporting is my certainty that I am performing an essential but unique service.  Keeping the record is one of the main principles of our legal system. The written word allows ideas and facts to be conveyed and shared through generations. In 2015 we marked the 700th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document upon which our nation and many other democratic nations are defined as a nation of laws, not of man. Someone wrote that down. Scribes were the early court reporters. Without them, where would our understanding of history be? I am very proud to be a part of this institution.

I also love that court reporting is both a physical and mental job. While our fingers are flying over the keyboards with a profound dexterity, our minds are working in dual tracks. One track is hearing and committing the spoken word to writing, the other is devising a way to create a shortcut or inserting punctuation. That makes our job feel like a craft or skilled trade to me, which I love and value.

The advice I would give to someone considering a court reporting career is to first of all, do an honest assessment of what’s going on in your life. Court reporting school is difficult.  In our class of 30, only two of us graduated, and I am the only one still working. I believe you must have almost no distractions to get through school. No small babies. No ongoing divorces. No financial problems. Secondly, I believe that you must be ambitious and committed. Once you start working, take the difficult job. It will make you a better reporter. Take the certification exams. Those letters after your name will make you feel sooooo good. And finally, you must view court reporting as a profession, not just a job. Professions require ongoing development, investment and education. A job you just show up for. If you view yourself as a professional I believe you will have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to get through school and to succeed once you’re working.

The point at which I knew I made the right decision for a career in court reporting was the first time I looked down at that old borrowed manual machine and hit that initial key. I knew immediately. It just felt right. It was me. Having said that it wouldn’t have been the right choice for me at the age of 20 or 25. I needed that experience of working in radio and television and I needed to learn I hated being a manager.

Angeli English, D ’Iberville, Miss.
Freelance reporter since 2015
Previous career: secretarial

I am a freelance reporter, but I cover various courts sometimes if they need me and if I don’t already have a freelance job. I’m on the Coast and I’ll drive up to two hours for a good job.

I have a secretarial background originally. I went to a vocational school and learned typing, shorthand, etc., in the mid-1980s. Then I just worked part-time at various jobs while raising four boys. I always worked a secretarial job, full-time till I started having kids in 1990. After that, I took a few years off (had three more kids in two years (twins in there) and then worked part-time till 2010 when I decided to pursue court reporting.

When two were in college, I decided to consider a second career. My boys were getting older; I had more time, and I wanted a good paying job that offered flexibility. I had never been exposed to court reporting. When I was considering a second career, I did some online research.

I would say my secretarial background and good command of grammar, etc., help in my career as a court reporter. Just know it takes self-discipline and constant practice and self-confidence.

I never know when I walk out the door what story I’m going to hear that day. It’s like being a fly on the wall and getting a peak into someone’s life.

I never doubted court reporting would be my second career. I remember being on my first job and thinking, yes, I did it, and pinching myself!

Dave Leyland, CLVS, Kansas City, Mo.
CLVS since 2016
Previous careers: Director of a nonprofit, state child welfare administrator

I had formally worked as a director of a nonprofit for more than 19 years, and before that I was a child welfare administrator in the state of Missouri. I am currently owner of Kansas City Legal Videography.

Soon after leaving my nonprofit job, I began working with a certified court reporter company as their manager of production. I became very interested in legal videographer when scheduling and interacting with video specialists. I always had a fondness for the legal profession, videography, and technology, and I realized that I could pursue all of these as video specialist. I soon started researching how to pursue this interested and one of the first things on my list was to become certified as a legal video specialist through NCRA

I’ve always believed that you gain so much value by associating with people in your trade. Professionals of all kinds must also keep up to date with the latest technology and equipment to be used on the job. So, I successfully passed the written test and went to also pass the production test in Chicago at last year’s NCRA conference.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to use the skills that were first taught to me at the three-day training in Reston, Va. I’m constantly learning new techniques and upgrading my skills as I gain experience as a legal video specialist. Every job that you have comes with its challenges. I still have so much to learn because I always want to deliver the very best product to the client.

I can’t say how much I enjoy this profession and the great interactions I have with other litigation professionals, especially the court reporters who are the hardest working people in the room.

Kerri Irizarry, RPR, Jacksonville, Fla.
Freelance reporter for nine years
Previous career: AT&T customer service representative, 11 years

Our office was closed and everyone was laid off. As part of our compensation, we were offered money to go back to school and/or start a new business. I had seen court reporting commercials on television and though it looked interesting. And after my experience with corporate America, I decided I wanted to get out and get a skill that was valuable and that would give me flexibility.

I had no idea was court reporting was about. I was always fascinated with closed captioning and when learned that captioners were court reporters, I was hooked.

Working customer service required we use a computer all day. I became very adept at typing and operating computer software, which is beneficial to our profession. I also got experience interacting with people and resolving problems. These skills come in handy when interacting with attorneys and judges.

I love to read back. Our profession is stressful and comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love it when I can help an attorney out with a question or answer they repeated. Audio recordings can’t do that. I would also like to move into captioning or providing CART services. Ours is one of the few professions that we can provide a service for those with a disability.

I love court reporting, but it was a very hard road to travel to become proficient. Court reporters have to be very dedicated and meticulous in their work. They need attention to detail, flexibility, and good interpersonal skills. If someone has these qualities, they would probably be a great court reporter.

I didn’t realize I had a thyroid condition, and my work was suffering. I believe it had been going on so long that it had prevented me from graduating from court reporting school sooner. I had trouble focusing, which is crucial in our job. It really had me doubting my decision to pursue this as my second career. Thankfully, I found a doctor that straightened me out. Now I absolutely love my job and have no doubt this was the right decision for me.


MAKING THE CONNECTION: How people affect our careers

By Mike Bouley

We’ve heard “Oh, the places you will go” a lot this past year, as NCRA President Nativa Wood, FAPR, RDR, CMRS, has lauded all of the places our careers take us, a wide world of opportunities. And we think of courthouses, conference rooms, colleges and universities, sports venues, newsrooms, and interesting locations where we set up our writers all over the planet.

But have you ever thought about the personal aspect of “The places you will go”? What people and relationships have come into your life because of your career choice?

Relationships are all about give and take, a sharing of time, energy, and emotion. We enter an interaction as one entity and leave it ever so slightly, or sometimes greatly, influenced and changed.

A perfect example of this was the time I shared last fall with fellow reporter Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR, of Houston, Texas. Mark had come to our Arizona Court Reporters Association convention the year before to put on one of his writing seminars for our membership. I have found Mark has one of the most inquisitive minds I have ever encountered. He instinctively looks for the who, what, when, where, how, and why of virtually everything. There is a little kid inside of him who never stops asking questions, and a big kid who processes the answers. After the conference, he and I were talking about outside activities, and I had mentioned I enjoy hunting for deer and elk every fall. It’s my way to decompress, to commune with nature, as well as hopefully fill my freezer. He said he was quite interested in that, so I invited him to come out the following year, and I would be his guide.

The following spring, I helped Mark enter the lottery-type drawing that Arizona uses to allocate its deer tags. Mark was drawn for an early November buck tag in my favorite area, and we made plans.

He wrote his show on Thursday, then caught a flight to Tucson. I had set up camp that day, then ran back to Tucson to pick him up at the airport late Thursday night. We drove the 90 minutes to camp, talking along the way, really getting to know each other better for the first time in the kind of way that road trips naturally facilitate. We talked about our work, our families, our communities, and of course, the hunt. I explained how opening morning of deer season was like the kickoff of a football game, but the game had no clock stoppages, no time outs. It opened, it ran, and then the season closed.

When we arrived at camp, my other buddies were fast asleep. We got situated, he in my small hunt trailer and I in a tent, and caught a few hours’ sleep. Up well before dawn, he met my buddies, then we headed out for opening day.

That morning, we watched a beautiful southern Arizona sunrise. The mountains of northern Mexico rose purple just a few short miles in the distance. The foothills were our church, decorated with oak and mesquite trees, cacti, and tall grass. We moved a couple times during the late morning and mid-day, spotting a few deer too far in the distance. We stopped for lunch at the ruins of an old mining homestead so Mark could explore..

Mark and I continued to hunt and talk quietly. We talked about our fathers. Mark told me stories about his relationship with my late father, and all their good times together at speed contests over the years. He asked questions about being his son. He told me about his late father, who had been a veterinarian and experienced hunterThough Mark had hunted pheasant and quail, he had never hunted big game until now. As we drove, I learned that it was Mark’s father’s birthday that day. He would have been 80. We talked about how cool it would be to get a deer on that most special day.

We arrived at the location we were to hunt the final hours, and hiked up the ridgeline for the hilltop. Once there, we settled in.

Mark told me he wanted to find some deer before me, since I had spotted them all initially to that point. As the sun began to set, Mark did indeed spot some deer before me. The sun sank lower, and finally fell behind the mountains to the west. There was still light, but we were almost out of time.

I told him that, like a football game where you’re behind and the game is nearly over, one big play can win the game. Glassing (using binoculars) a nearby hilltop, I spotted a deer feeding, head down, in a thick mesquite bosque. When his head came up, I could see his 8-point rack. As he fed in the trees, we had to sneak a short distance to get an open lane. Mark made a perfect shot, and his tag was filled.

His first deer. On his father’s birthday. We felt it was a sign from above and shared several moments of spiritual reflection. We said a prayer of gratitude for life, for the deer, and for our place in the natural world.

Arriving back at camp, the buddies were excited for Mark, and for our success. We shared a great dinner, stories, and cigars. We had the kind of memorable enjoyment and laughter that comes around a campfire with friends, looking up at the multitude of stars and meteors, listening to coyotes, crickets, and owls. That night, we finally slept well.

Over the next couple of days, his tag filled, Mark and I were able to relax. Mark had the luxury of exploring the local flora and fauna, taking in everything, wanting to understand it all. And I had the luxury or picking Mark’s brain on reporting. His theories, both steno and intellectual. We talked a lot of shop.

At one point, I went into the trailer to retrieve some food. I saw on Mark’s bedroll a small steno keyboard and earbuds. I went outside and asked him, “Mark, are you practicing?” (When I hunt, I want to get away from reporting.) “Yes,” he answered. “I try to practice at least 10 minutes every day no matter what.”

He’s 1000 miles from home, on a rare break from his incredibly demanding job, on his first deer hunt, in a little trailer using a headlamp for light, and he’s practicing. Well, I thought to myself, that’s why he’s a champion and the world-record holder.

We broke camp on Sunday and drove back to my home in Tucson to clean up and crash. On Monday morning, we went to breakfast and visited some local sites before Mark flew home. We said good-bye at the airport, much closer friends than we had been just three days before. Later, Mark said, “I have numerous great memories from that three-day hunting experience, and it makes me eager to do it again and, if possible, share the experience with my sons one day.”

Over the next several days and weeks, I reflected on the experience. It was not just a deer hunt. Our trust had been established. Our friendship had deepened. Our entities had been changed, in subtle and significant ways. He had learned from me how to hunt deer. I had learned from him how to be a better writer. We had learned about each other’s fathers. We had learned about each other’s families and careers. We had learned about each other, and we had learned about ourselves.

Mike Bouley, RDR, is an official and firm owner based in Tucson, Ariz. He can be reached at


The sport of realtime

By Ron Cook

Before I even knew what court reporting was, I majored in physical education in college. It was then that I started to see advertisements for court reporting school, and I began to think, “Hey, I could do that.” Shortly thereafter, I dropped out of the college I was attending and began court reporting school, never to look back.

I have often equated the work that I do at my machine during a deposition with that of an athlete. I’ve always been competitive, and I carried that competitiveness over to my writing. What can I do to make myself faster? What can

I do to make myself more efficient? How can I beat this machine? How can I get my computer to work for me instead of me working for it? I’d like to share some of the mental approaches I’ve learned to adapt from sports and, in general, to reporting.

First, you may have heard of the expression to slow things down. A batter will try to slow things down as the pitcher begins to pitch. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that the batter has control of the pitcher’s velocity. What it does mean is that the batter, instead of tensing up, stays relaxed and slows things down mentally. When things get going really fast or things start to get heated, that’s when I’ve noticed myself tensing up. That’s when I know it’s time to slow things down mentally.

I can remember back nearly 50 years ago (please don’t do the math!), when I was on the sixth grade track team. I wasn’t a particularly fast runner, but I’ve never forgotten one race over all others. I remember one race where it felt as though I was running above the ground. My touch was so light, and it was absolutely effortless. When things get going really fast these days, I try to liken my fingers to that day when my feet were seemingly floating on air.

I have another analogy that works for me, so I’ll share it here. Picture yourself driving 65 miles an hour down the freeway. As you look directly in front of you, things are relatively calm and slow moving. If you were to look directly to your right or left, it’s amazing how all things are just flying by. Trees go whooshing by. Cars going the opposite direction seemingly are going 150 miles per hour. Relating that to reporting, if you keep your head figuratively looking straight ahead (as in listening out ahead), the words are processed with ease and good rhythm. If you try to get the words as they’re spewing forth (as in looking to the side while driving), it feels as though they’re coming at you at 400 words per minute. I’ve tried to train myself to kind of sit back (as in looking straight ahead) and let the words and phrases flow.

This has been a process for me, as I’d always been the type of writer who tried to write every word as it came out. I’m training myself to sit back just a tad and listen for that next brief or phrase. For about the past 8-10 years, I’ve been working on writing shorter (thus cleaner), and it’s certainly an ongoing process, part of the journey. Try it. You might like it! And it will certainly help with your accuracy in realtime!

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is an agency owner and freelancer based in Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at

Tips for depositions by telephone

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting,, JCR WeeklyA blog posted on July 26 on JD Supra offers tips for conducting depositions over the telephone. The blog, submitted by Kramm Court Reporting, offers tips that are for both court reporters and attorneys.

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Perpetual student: The joys of CART captioning in higher ed

Two women stand side by side, one in a graduation cap and gown

Ellen Heckle, on left, with her newly graduated student

Ellen L. Heckle, RPR, CRR, CRC, of Archer City, Texas, recently reached a milestone in her career: “After years of working with hard-of-hearing students, I experienced the culmination of seeing a hard-of-hearing student through her higher-education learning to receiving her double majors including a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology,” she said. She says that she is very excited for the graduate, who plans to obtain a Master of Education degree.

Heckle, who has been a court reporter for 28 years, has worked seven years as a CART captioner for higher-learning institutions. In that time, she has worked with seven students over three locations: South Plains College, Levelland, Texas; Vernon College, Vernon, Texas; and Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas. “As an added benefit, I work with some amazing people, both peers and mentors, who keep me motivated and constantly wanting to learn and hone my skills.”

Ellen Heckle's CART captioning setup for a nursing class

Ellen Heckle’s CART captioning setup for a nursing class

As much as she loves providing CART captioning, the job has its challenges. She is currently captioning for a nursing student, and one of the classes is pharmacology. “One challenge has been, of course, the technical terminology,” Heckle says. “Students are required to be familiar with the longer generic designations for drug names rather than the more common trademark or brand names. Though it has taken much homework on my part in prep time, I resolved this issue by defining drug prefixes and suffixes and spending many, many hours inputting drug names.”

Heckle emphasizes the perks of CART captioning at the college level. “It is just fun to be with the students and to be in the college setting for the second time around,” Heckle says. “I don’t remember it being this much fun when I attended college.” Heckle earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1985. “It is rewarding to be on a student’s journey for a future goal. Really nothing compares to helping someone reach their dreams,” she says.

“There is no substitute for how rewarding it is to caption for the hard-of-hearing students in higher education. I wish more court reporters would take the challenge to become realtime ready for the future of our profession,” Heckle says. “I believe it is the solution to the longevity and future of our profession.”

Reporters on the red carpet: Writing the Oscars

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

By Megan Rogers

In 1996, Tera Walker was a former court reporting student working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. She’d just launched a reporting company called Steno Scripts and had sent a proposal “to every awards show,” she said. The Oscars contacted her because they didn’t understand what exactly she was proposing to do.

Walker grabbed a couple of court reporting students and drove to Beverly Hills to demonstrate. They wrote about seven to ten minutes of The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey, cleaned it up, and printed it out. Walker recounted with a laugh that the transcript was still pretty messy, but the folks at the Oscars didn’t read it — they were impressed with the quick turnaround.

At the time, individual journalists in the backstage pressroom would have tape recorders during the interviews. The result is easy to guess: The celebrities were often misquoted in the next day’s newspapers, and their publicists weren’t thrilled. Now, Walker and her team produce one verbatim transcript that gets distributed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to the media.

“We write the questions and answers between the International Press and the Oscar winners for AMPAS,” explained Erika Sjoquist, RPR, CRR, who typically works as a freelancer in Camarillo, Calif. “After our product is finished, AMPAS puts it up on its website, and members of the International Press are able to get copies of the interviews as well.”

Getting called to work the Oscars is a good example of “it’s who you know.” Both Sjoquist and Diane Rugh, RMR, CRR, a freelancer in Snohomish, Wash., got the job via Jeff Cobb. “He knew I had moved to California, but wasn’t sure where,” said Sjoquist. “Jeff was working with Tera Walker at that time, and the team needed a reporter to fill one of the spots.” He reached out to her asking how close she was to Hollywood.

Rugh had a similar story. “I worked for a freelance firm in Seattle, and one of the reporter owners, Cheryl Mangio, RMR, CRR, CMRS, knew I loved movies. She knew the Oscars team that Jeff Cobb worked for was looking for a reporter, so she suggested me,” she said, adding, “I knew I had been given a golden opportunity.” Rugh recommended Carla Wallat, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Federal Way, Wash. “Diane suggested that I would be a good fit to work with the team,” said Wallat. “Ultimately, Tera Walker asked me to join.”

The team is a mixture of veterans and newbies, but after a couple decades, there’s a definite system. “After working the Awards for as many years as I have, the best part about it is being with the team,” said Sjoquist. “Our team is like family that I get excited about seeing and catching up with every year.” Team members travel from California, Washington, North Carolina, and Virginia. “We’ve turned Oscar Sunday into an Oscar weekend, usually beginning Friday evening, where we make sure we have time to visit, socialize, and have fun with some crazy activity before work on Sunday,” said Sjoquist.

The team is comprised of several reporters, scopists, notetakers, and a runner (usually a court reporting student), and they work with the AMPAS librarians. “The Academy librarians are incredibly knowledgeable about every category nominated, including past and future movies that the nominees have or are working on,” said Wallat. Wallat worked as a notetaker in 2009 and then as a scopist for the team. “The notetaker is tasked with jotting down notes, such as the order of the speakers when they enter the room, spellings that need to be researched. Everything is at such a quick pace that the reporter does not have much time before the next winner may enter the room,” said Wallat. The scopists “work closely with the Academy librarians and research staff to finalize the interviews.”

Wallat said: “In my everyday work, I use a scopist on a regular basis, and after scoping for the Oscars, it has made me realize how valuable my scopist is. It challenges me to write cleaner so it makes her job easier, which in turn produces a quicker turnaround time on the transcript.”

“The three reporters tag team, so I get every third interview that comes up,” explained Rugh, which means, of course, that the reporters have to be ready for anything. “There might be two, three, five, or more people who show up for the interview of, say, the winner of Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, and Motion Picture, and you need to know by the time they walk up on the stage, usually about three seconds, who each of them are and get their designations down,” said Sjoquist. “The notetakers are very helpful in this regard. They match names to faces so that we can designate who is talking.”

Jennifer Smith, RMR, CRR, CRC, an official in Mukilteo, Wash., found some similarities between writing the Oscars and both her work in the courthouse and her previous experience in captioning. “This assignment was more similar to closed captioning in the sense that you can’t always see the questioner, only the Oscar winner who is answering the questions. In court, you see everyone who is speaking. Additionally, as in closed captioning, if you can’t hear something or don’t understand something, you cannot interrupt as you could in a courtroom. It’s similar to court in that it’s Q&A and verbatim.”

“The writers have one shot to get all that they can from the interview. It’s not like deposition or court work where you can interrupt the talent and say, ‘Excuse me. Will you please slow down?’ or ‘What was that? I didn’t catch that word.’ Oh, no. You’re hoping to be able to understand and write accents from all over the world: French, Japanese, Indian, Spanish, Australian, English, Arabic, and Farsi, just to name a few,” said Sjoquist. “The winners of the prestigious Oscars are excited. Can you blame them? And so, they often speak extremely fast. They’re expressing gratitude to many people, whose names you hope to find the spellings of because you certainly can’t ask them.”

Rugh also added that the Oscars are different because “at a deposition, I’m not usually starstruck by the deponent whose acting has moved me to tears or that they are so stunningly beautiful or handsome I can’t do anything but stare or have a stupid grin on my face!”

Preparation for an assignment like this begins with ensuring that equipment is in working order and gathering information. “We are required to have the latest update on our software,” said Sjoquist.

“I managed to watch more movies this year than ever before, although I only ended up seeing one of the Best Picture nominees! Other than that, I built a dictionary of all the movie titles, nominee names, and then spent a bit more time researching the foreign films,” said Smith. “The other reporters, Erika and Diana, helped me prep my dictionary for those the morning of. We sat in our hotel room and found out what we could. Lucky for me, Erika got to report the foreign film interview! Hands down, she had the hardest of the bunch.”

“Carol Stone, the head scopist, prepares a list of the nominees every year and makes sure any new team member has the right layouts. Having done this for 11 years, I finally realized I don’t need to put every single movie and nominee in my job dictionary because I will only end up using maybe 5 percent of it,” said Rugh. “I have usually seen most of the nominated Best Pictures, but some of the things that come up during the interviews, such as names and places and people that the winner has collaborated with over their career, is beyond any prep I could do. That’s where our talented and capable scopists come in, with the help of the AMPAS librarians.”

“The day prior to the Oscar broadcast, we meet with the Academy personnel to go over the layout of the room, make sure internet connections work, and confirm the reporters’ audio and page layouts,” said Wallat.

Sjoquist is also on the team that covers the awards for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), also a Steno Scripts assignment, which turns into good preparation the month before the Oscars. “The team we have for SAG-AFTRA is much smaller than our Oscars team: three versus 12. To me, it’s not as stressful as working the Academy Awards,” said Sjoquist. “We write the acceptance speeches for SAG-AFTRA. Security is lighter there, too, so we can walk freely among the talent for the most part, and then SAG-AFTRA has a party at the venue for its employees that we go to after the show.”

Perhaps the most fun part of prep work? “Find a dress and shoes!” said Wallat.

“We have so much fun when we play together, but we all individually take very seriously the work portion, which lasts on Oscar Sunday from 4 p.m. to after midnight,” explained Rugh. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the three reporters are usually done writing the interviews around 10 p.m., but the scopists are still working for up to three to four hours after the live show has ended.”

“The winners may not arrive to the press room until well after the broadcast is over. This puts a lot of pressure on our team because the press is anxiously awaiting the transcripts,” said Wallat. “We have two hours after the broadcast is over to complete the transcripts.”

Despite the fast-talkers, the long hours, and the pressure to deliver, working the Oscars provides memorable moments unlike any other assignment.

“The writers and notetakers sit in the front row, about 3 feet from the stage where the winners are standing. We are so close to the winners that one year, one winner, Jared Leto, actually handed me his Oscar so that I would confirm how heavy Oscar really is,” said Sjoquist.

“We loved Jared Leto; he just stole our hearts. And it wasn’t just because he gave Erika the statute to hold,” remembered Rugh. “She was trying to write, by the way, and I was too enthralled to try and take over writing for her! He was just so magnetic. And those eyes!”

“My most challenging year was 2011 when The King’s Speech ruled the night with Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. The interviewees had heavy accents, which made it take longer to finalize the transcripts,” said Wallat. “The year Sandra Bullock won for Best Actress, she looked stunning in her gorgeous form-fitting gold gown, but she said she wanted to relax and eat a burger.”

“My most memorable Oscar moment was reporting the interview of Viola Davis. First, from a reporting perspective, she was a dream to write,” said Smith. “I was so completely mesmerized by her grace and class that I literally forgot I was writing! There was a huge sense of relief when I looked at my realtime screen and realized I hadn’t stopped.”

“One year we all wore red dresses, and Meryl Streep, as she was walking offstage after her interview, said we all looked beautiful and reached out and took Tera’s hand,” said Rugh. “That was thrilling for all of us to even be acknowledged, but especially for Tera!”

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at