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 Merriam-webster.com), 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 dal@dalcoreporting.com.

Complete coverage of the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

NCRA Convention & Expo attendees enjoy a moment catching up with friends

NCRA Convention & Expo attendees enjoy a moment catching up with friends

Explore coverage of the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, held Aug. 10-13 in Las Vegas, Nev., with the stories below.

Awards and scholarships

Information about voting

Special events

Social media coverage

More information

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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 mrogers@ncra.org.

Court reporting as a second career

The JCR reached out to several members of NCRA who made the decision to switch careers and enter the court reporting, captioning, or legal video professions 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.

Abby Cook

Abby Cook

CURRENT CAREER: Student at the Community College of Allegheny County; Plans to work as a freelance reporter
upon graduation in July 2017
PREVIOUS CAREER: Master’s level mobile mental health therapist for about 18 months

After I finished my degree, I was trying to get enough client contact hours to sit for the exam and earn my professional license as a mental health therapist. I was doing anything and everything for the company I worked for, even sitting as a secretary. But they would 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. 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 what 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 court reporting as a career. But once I realized I wasn’t finding my way as a therapist, I decided to look into court reporting 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 professionals), 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
start working!

Carolyn Kerr, RPR
Buffalo, N.Y.

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: 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.

While I was at a family party, I was complaining to my sister-in-law about my job as a customer service manager, 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 so good. And finally, you must view court reporting as a profession, not just a job.
Professions require ongoing development, investment, and education. For a job, you just show up. 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.

Angeli English

Angeli English

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
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 had 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 and 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., helped 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 fl y on the wall and getting a peek 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!

Kerry Irizarry, RPR
Jacksonville, Fla.

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
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 thought it looked interesting. And after my experience with corporate America, I decided I wanted to go out and get a skill that was valuable and that would give me flexibility.

I had no idea what court reporting was about. I was always fascinated with closed captioning and when I 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.
Someone who has these qualities 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.

Dave Leyland, CLVS
Kansas City, Mo.

Dave Leyland, CLVS

Dave Leyland, CLVS

CURRENT CAREER: Legal videographer
PREVIOUS CAREERS: Director of a nonprofit and state child welfare administrator

I had formerly 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 videography 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 a video specialist. I soon started researching how to pursue this interest 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. I successfully passed the written test and went on to also pass the production test in Chicago at last year’s NCRA Convention & Expo.

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.

Reporting in Nigeria

A street scene in Lagos: A narrow paved street with a line of cars (sometimes single file, sometimes double file), cars parked or waiting to move on either side of the street, pedestrians crowded mostly on the left side. Near the background, a cluster of colorful umbrellas. In the back, white nondescript buildings. At the top in the foreground and background are electrical wires.By Jason Meadors

It was departure day for Nigeria, a three-week work trip I went on a few months ago. That day started out with a typical trip to the airport — not really stressed, but I was thinking: “What if something goes wrong?” This is part and parcel of the whole international work experience, at least for me. What if I forgot something? What if I didn’t pack the right cord for a piece of equipment? Or forgot a piece of equipment? Do I have all the right gear for the power differences? And oh, yes, I checked to make sure I have my passport for the 251st time.

Regarding the travel there: For some of these gigs, the client or paying party treats you like an integral part of the team. Sometimes not so much. For this Nigeria trip, they did, springing for business first class, which was particularly welcome on the Boeing 787 from my connecting flight in Houston to Lagos, Nigeria.

Business first class on that plane is sure comfortable. I had a glass of wine with dinner (that they kept offering to refill). I had my own television, and not the little one on the seat back in front of me, but a good-sized one in my little nook, with TV shows and movies on demand and all that stuff. And I didn’t have to jam my bag under the seat in front of me or in the overhead. I have shelves and cubbyholes for all my stuff.

And then, ah, the whole “resting while flying” thing. The little reclining icon on the controls by the seat shows a bed option. I didn’t believe it can lie down flat, but it really did, and I achieved a reclined sleeping position that, given the circumstances, is not terrible. Having flown coach about 99 percent of my traveling time, I can unequivocally state that sleeping in coach ranks somewhere between pretty terrible and downright awful.

International assignments are a sporadic thing for me. For some of my colleagues, it’s their bread and butter. I do envy those who fly constantly and have the miles to upgrade from economy when that’s all the client will buy. It makes all the difference to arrive reasonably comfortable and reasonably rested.

I was hoping to see some cool African landscape as we flew over the coast, but that was not to be. Clouds covered everything. The clouds broke up as we came closer, and it was odd not to see roads, grids of towns, or any sign of civilization. It’s sort of like flying over western Alaska, except this looks flat the whole way.

View is through the windshield of a car as if sitting in the passenger seat. A line of street vendors walk along the car holding various wares for sale. They are looking ahead.The airport at Lagos wasn’t anarchy — merely low-level chaos. After disembarking, the team I traveled with and I found ourselves in a fairly dark tunnel, finally making our way up to the immigration stations, where we were given the forms to fill out. We crouched around in the middle of the line, trying to do so. Once the forms were completed, we were ignored for a while by the immigration officers.

That was the start of the fun. Outside the airport, we had a chase truck complete with armed guards with our luggage in it and a bus to hold the lawyers and reporters. Then the bus ride started. It was interesting.

The main roads were paved, and all the side roads were dirt. Lagos is not a pretty town. What was most striking to me was there was lots of trash and lots of frenzied, aggressive driving. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Street vendors walk down the active lanes between lines of cars that are stalled in traffic or moving slowly. The vendors push their various wares, sometimes carrying them on the tops of their heads.

The trip across town to the compound took about an hour and a half. I’d estimate our average progress at about 45 hpm (honks per minute). Most of the time, lane lines were a forgotten memory. There were a lot of roadside marketplaces with tented stalls, teeming with people.

The national car of Nigeria seems to be the VW bus. There are tons of them around, and not all in good shape, looking as tired as an 80-year-old factory worker, packed with goods and people. Lots of them were painted yellow, which seemed odd, until we figured that they were unmarked cabs. Well, unmarked but for the paint job. A number of times, the VWs cruising down the road featured the sliding door open, with one or two people hanging out to enjoy the breeze.

Our bus driver was fearless and stellar in his abilities. Maybe he can’t do what I can for a living, but I couldn’t do what he does either. The road experience made me wonder why more cars aren’t scraped and striped on the sides, or why more pedestrians’ bodies aren’t scattered about. Maybe they’re just all used to it and compensate appropriately, or maybe this was a good day.

We got to the compound, an island of cushiness in a sea of chaos. It was like an attractive Southern California subdivision, if the subdivision had a concrete-lined moat, guard towers, emergency assembly points scattered around the area, and a security briefing that told us what to do in case of gunfire. (Don’t check it out, and try to keep at least two walls between yourself and the gunfire.) The house to which I, another reporter, and one of the attorneys were assigned was done very nicely indeed. The depositions that I reported for those three weeks were in the same house. Shortest commute ever.

Sure, that’s all nice. But I hear you saying, “This is the JCR I’m reading, right? What about the reporting?”

The first day was simply nerve-wracking for me. Not because of the attorneys or witnesses (not yet, anyway), but because my realtime gear was acting up. I had done a dry run before I left home, I had done a dry run the day before the first job, and then when I had everything ready on the important day, the gear just wouldn’t cooperate. I went down my hardware and software checklists, A, B, C, D, [expletive deleted], and it’s still was not connecting. By then, everyone had shown up. I set up my backup system and got it going, but now the deposition is starting with the scent of frustration – and it was emanating from me.

The witnesses that I had were villagers from an area up the coast. Although I knew that English is the official language of Nigeria, I knew I couldn’t relax. Many of the villagers spoke their tribal language, and we needed an interpreter for that. Some of the witnesses could speak pidgin English, and so we had an interpreter for that. Some of the witnesses spoke English, but a heavily accented form that would have had me scratching my head, if my hands were not already busy. The interpreters had accents, too.

The second day of the job was better than the first. The equipment all decided to get in line and step in time and stayed that way for the rest of the assignment. I didn’t do anything differently. It just worked, even through the eight or so little blackouts that we had. And that was pretty much how the rest of the job went over the course of three weeks. Well, sometimes we went late, the accents were a constant struggle, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the attorney I worked with, he was focused, energetic, and didn’t need the breaks that we so cherish in order to recharge.

Through the witnesses, I learned a little about life in Nigeria. The deponents were from fishing villages. One was married, but not really, because he hadn’t paid the bride price. Another had kids — four boys and one girl. He was dismissive of the daughter and didn’t know how old she was. The towns’ heads was called king and referred to as Highness. And one village went to war against another, complete with gunfire and invasion and refugees. Toilets in one place were perched over the river, which carried away the waste (to another village downriver, presumably).

Fried whole fish covered with sliced cucumbers, sliced onions, and french fries with a side of ketchup. Next to the food is a set of plasticware. The plate is covered in aluminum foil.After some hard days of work, there was a consensus among the legal beagles — well, most of us — to get out and see what was outside of the compound. In Nigeria, going out to see the sights took some coordination, at least for our cautious hosts.

We staged with our new Nigerian friends who work for the corporation running the compound. We sallied forth in two SUVs, mercifully driven by Nigerians, with a chase car (black pickup), marked POLICE, complete with overhead lights. It was apparently vitally important that we stay together, because in the madcap, mad-dash Lagos traffic, whenever we’d get separated by other cars, there’d be a “WHOOP WHOOP” behind us — the siren of the chase car — and we’d rejoin.

At the roundabouts — oh, my. I’ve been taught that the cars in the roundabout have the right of way, and the cars joining traffic wait for an opening. Ha! Think more of a game of “chicken” with a generous seasoning of Demolition Derby. We were helped in our case by the chase car, lights flashing, jamming into the flow and running interference for us as adeptly as any All-Pro offensive lineman on an NFL team.

We got to the beach, a favored hangout of one of our hosts. The place was energetic in getting the plastic chairs and tables set up for us. The proprietors came around with a big dead fish on a platter. I was about to say, “No thanks,” when our host ordered five of them. Well, okay.

We walked out on the jetty, did some photo-taking at the far end, came back, and the fish started showing up. It was spicy and delicious. Well, at least it was merely spicy for our hosts and me. Another reporter on the team, Stephanie Leslie of Regal Reporting out of Orange County, Calif., announced that her mouth was on fire and took some good-natured ribbing from our Nigerian friends. The sweet potato fries that accompanied them were quite tasty. Later, we also chowed down on some beef prepared by a beachside barbecuer, coated with a spicy rub, more flavor than heat, also quite good.

The beach. Relative to my American sensibilities, it was a mixture of nice sand and a trash pit. The structures are a combination of reasonably functional, combined with ramshackle, dilapidated, and crumbling. Or crumbled.

The folks were all good-natured. I’m not gregarious, not in the United States, not in Nigeria, not much anywhere, but others in our group had no problems making new friends. That feeling of safety may have been enhanced by the guys from the chase car in their police uniforms carrying firearms.

Really, from that quiet afternoon, it’s hard to get across the variety we experienced: the entertaining kid rapper in the St. Louis Cardinals shirt, the onslaught of vendors coming to our table (I got some trinkets for my granddaughters), the sights along the roadside.

As the days wore on, the biggest reporting challenge turned out to be the accent. I tried to prep, I really did. One of the major town names is Port Harcourt. It pretty well comes out porked, but it sounds like a porked where I felt I was lucky to have made out that much of the word, until they say they flew from there, and I thought, “Oh, that can’t be right,” and of course I tried to figure it out while they kept moving along in their soliloquy.

Or another main town, Yenagoa. I looked at the word list and read Yen-a-go-a. I heard the attorneys say, Yen-a-go-a, and I thought, “Yeah. I got this.” Then I heard the witnesses talking about going to Engwa and selling fish in Engwa, and I struggled along with that and the rest of the vocabulary, and finally I started hearing a little Yeh at the start and I realized that Engwa is actually Yenagoa.

So much for the prep.

The attorneys had been interviewing local witnesses and personalities for weeks, or months, or maybe years, and their ears were tuned. Mine were not. But even the attorneys could get taken aback. One memorable exchange:

A. This is our seashore. Where —
Q. This is your —
A. — where we come at. Yes.
Q. Is your sister, did you say?
A. Seashore.
Q. Seesaw?
A. Seaside, yes.
Q. Seaside.
A. Yeah.

When you can’t tell seashore from sister from seesaw from seaside, you’re in for one great treat.

Rough drafts went out as soon as possible, which meant before the start of business the next day and preferably before the evening is done. Yup, all 300 pages, or whatever the count is, working through that accent.

Okay, I’m really not complaining. It was a good, interesting gig, and I feel privileged to have been on it.

We pretty much took depositions every workday, and since it was Nigeria, that included the Fourth of July. The worst depositions, the most dreaded, were when the witness would come in with attorneys’ assurances that no interpreter was needed that day. Because they were generally wrong.

A young woman and an older man are facing the camera with their arms congenially around each other's shoulders as if friends. The woman is holding a steno machine on a tripod.

Stephanie Leslie and the author, smiling as they leave the compound.

My first day’s job (after the realtime issue) was the baptism in fire, well over 300 pages saturated with my mental “Huh?” I heard a word, I spent a second trying to figure it out, I finally did based on the content, and by then, the speaker is 15 words further along in the speech, 10 of which I’m going through the same tortured analysis.

The other reporting stuff was pretty mundane, as these things go: realtime to counsel, rough drafts to counsel, relatively quick turnaround. However, as the days go on, mundane translates to burdensome. We kept taking depos every day and found the work piling up, swamped with returns from the scopists who couldn’t understand the witnesses any better than we could and returns from the proofers who were baffled as well. All the while, we’re keeping exhibits together, doing any techno-troubleshooting, and trying to find something to eat and a few hours to sleep. The equation of roughs, realtime, and transcript production started generating a sum value of fatigue.

The three-reporter team, with three different CAT systems, was great and fired on all cylinders. The attorneys were easy to get along with. Three of them were Brits, leading to interesting discussions on the state of things on the island across the pond.

And the witnesses, hard as they are to take down, were nevertheless fascinating. This experience certainly gave me a different perspective on life. Let me say, when I listened to the witnesses talking about going out to the swamp or river to do their personal business, when they were literally eating what they killed or pulled out of the dirt, when they told of drinking water pulled out of the ground, and the concept of phones, refrigerators, and televisions were laughable, I saw my life differently. I listened, with a mixture of fascination and sadness, to witness after witness coming in from their first plane ride, in a big city for the first time, from their hardscrabble existence.

So, you might want to ask, was it worth it?

It was good to get home after three weeks of constant heavily overtime days, but this experience was hugely informative and rewarding.

But, yeah, I’d go back.

 

Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter in Fort Collins, Colorado. He also writes fiction and currently has five titles on Amazon.

The aspiring realtime warrior

By Michelle Kirkpatrick

Let’s start right off with a controversial topic. I’ve heard it said there’s a breakdown of abilities and skill levels within court reporters: The top 10 percent of reporters are exceptionally skilled, able to write virtually any sort of realtime or fast-speaking real-life material thrown at them; the next 50 to 60 percent are your “average” reporter; and the “bottom” 30 to 40 percent of reporters perhaps virtually always struggling with a skill level that would throw them out of a chance to participate in that realtime realm completely, ever, in their lifetime.

Whether you’re inclined to believe that or not, the reality is, if you lined all of us reporters up and were able to judge with divine powers who should be placed ahead of whom, there is going to be an inevitable top and bottom.

Does that really matter? I assert that it absolutely does not. As reporters, we all have the ability to write. If you are a practicing court reporter, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you’ve made it far enough to be able to make an adequate record and that you’ve got some skills. Some in our profession would argue that there are some people who are not certified or not skilled enough to be called a reporter. But I am not writing this to debate the fine semantics of inadequacies that could make or break someone not being “qualified” to really be doing this job at all.

So if we can agree to set that aside, then let’s face it: A great many laypeople in this world don’t have what it takes, for whatever reason, to do what we do. We’ve made it past that threshold to write the spoken word in such a manner so as to be able to attempt to capture a verbatim record in our normal daily work. I would hope that most reporters at least consider themselves an average reporter! If you consider yourself a struggling reporter, maybe even a little less than average, however, then maybe you need to pay even more attention to my next few thoughts.

Does the title of this article — “The aspiring realtime warrior” — barely even strike you as being relevant to your life? Do you feel it takes a special something that you don’t have in order to be “one of those” who can write realtime and write it well enough for others to see?

If you are nodding in the affirmative, then I will agree with you, it does take something you don’t currently have. What you lack is drive. What you lack is the determination to be better. It may be that family life or health issues or financial difficulties or other circumstances in your life prevent you from acting right now to improve your skills to the point I’m talking about. But if you are thinking you are not one of those special people who can ever do this, I maintain that is not true! You do need to be extremely motivated. You do need to be very determined. You have to be willing to persevere. You have to want it — like the overweight person who has a difficult time breathing when walking from the living room to the kitchen but wants to someday run a marathon. I could give many examples in life where people who do not seemingly have the advantage wind up on top. You, too, can end up on top! You, too, can be that realtime warrior, the person who fits your own definition of what that means to you.

Merriam Webster’s online definition of warrior is “a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill.” Under “Examples of warriors,” it has this thought: “a program of tough training and discipline that turns untried civilians into warriors.”

The webpage also has some interesting answers further down to their question, “What made you want to look up warrior?”

  • “Developing a warrior weight loss empowerment program.”
  • “My son graduating from college wrote a paper of being raised by a single mom and called me a warrior so was curious of the exact definition.”
  • “Preparing a message for Sunday. Topic: being an overcomer, therefore, a warrior.”
  • “I heard the word Warrior, some people are spiritual soldiers then there are those that are called to be warriors who are known for their courage and skill.”

Blood, sweat, and tears. Goal-setting. Visualization. Words of affirmation. Becoming a sponge to soak up as much realtime career information as you can find in seminars, Internet articles, message boards, and court reporting realtime and theory books. More goal-setting. More visualization and words of affirmation. Surrounding yourself with those who have attained what you’re looking to attain. Asking questions. Believing. All of these things are what makes a warrior, and all of these things are something you can do.

The average reporter — the “untried civilian” — through a “program of tough training and discipline,” armed merely with their own sheer determination to improve, learn, and aspire to be that realtime warrior will be average no more.

Less than half a decade ago, I was a 24/7 single mother, an RPR, and still on Premier Power, writing on the Baron TX I had purchased brand-new in 1986, then upgrading to a refurbished Stentura 8000. Over the years of my career, I had worked for a couple of freelance agencies writing your typical deposition content; had done my own solo thing for ten years, averaging maybe a thousand pages a month or less; and since have taken a salaried district court official position. I really had been busy for more than 15 years being that warrior mom to three little boys! And while I was certainly proud of the reporter that I was, I was definitely not, by anyone’s definition, in the top 10 percent of reporters in the nation, nor was I necessarily an “exceptional” reporter in any identifiable way. Until I became determined. Until I became relentlessly focused. Until I had a vision that I would not let go of. Less than three years later, with updated realtime software and new steno machine, I became armed with five additional NCRA certifications, one federal realtime certification, and qualified in an NCRA Realtime Contest. Am I average? I think it’s safe to say, maybe by anyone’s definition, not so much anymore.

What I can say with definite certainty, however, at least by my own definition — if no one else’s – I am a realtime warrior. And I can say with certainty that if you want it, then without a doubt, you too can be a realtime warrior.

“Man cannot aspire if he looked down; if he rise, he must look up.” —  Samuel Smiles

Michelle Kirkpatrick, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, is a freelance reporter working in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at michelle@kirkpatrick.net.

This article was written to promote the use of realtime among court reporters. More information from court reporters about succeeding as a realtime reporter is available through NCRA.org/realtime.

 

 

 

New professionals share their advice, strategies for earning the RPR

The Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) is NCRA’s foundational certification, which tests the essential knowledge and skills for an entry-level reporter. Members of NCRA’s New Professionals Committee who have earned their RPR within the last few years shared why they earned this certification, their strategies for preparing for and passing the exam, and which certification is next on their list.

The value of the RPR

Depending on the state or job, a reporter may need to earn the RPR. For example, Melissa Case, RPR, was aiming for an officialship in Ohio, which required the RPR. Danielle Griffin, RPR, needed to earn it (along with a written test) to practice as a freelancer in Arizona.

Even in states that have a requirement such as a certified shorthand reporter (CSR), earning the RPR has its benefits. For example, some states will accept the RPR in lieu of the CSR. “The RPR requirements are almost identical to my state requirements. It was an easier and quicker process to go through for certification since my state accepts the RPR in order to practice as a reporter,” said Michael Hensley, RPR, a freelancer in Illinois.

Rachel Barkmue, RPR, an official in California, used the RPR to help her prepare for her state’s CSR. “I took the RPR Written Knowledge Test in conjunction with my state’s CSR written exam, so the materials were similar, and I took them both around the same time,” she said.

However, earning the RPR means more than simply fulfilling a set of requirements. Some reporters are looking for a professional or personal boost. “I knew it would open up a lot more doors for me,” said Case. Barkume earned the RPR for “more marketability and my personal goal of getting as many extra letters after my name as possible. I always want to keep striving for something new.”

Mikey McMorran, RPR, a freelancer in California, had earned most of the segments of the RPR as a student but got tripped up on the testimony leg. “Really when it comes down to it, the biggest reason I decided to go after my RPR was for my own reputation among my peers as well as my own reaffirmation that I belong in this profession,” he said. “As someone who has attended many court reporting functions over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever attended one in which the question did not come up from someone, ‘Do you have your RPR?’ Honestly, it was a little bit embarrassing to have to say every time, ‘Oh, I have all of the legs except for one.’”

Finding the right resources

Most of the members of the New Professionals Committee practiced for the RPR on their own using a variety of strategies. Several members used their school’s environment or resources to earn their certification. “I obtained my RPR as part of my schooling program. Once I finished speeds, then I set my sights on the RPR with all of my time and energy resources,” said Hensley.

“Take the RPR while in school or freshly out of school if possible. There is no replacement for that test mentality that you get daily in school. Once you’re working every day, you lose the test mode and it’s very difficult to get back in that mindset while also handling a working calendar,” said Barkume. “I was still in school/less than a year out of school when I took all my legs (I passed one at a time over three testing dates), so I still had the dictation recordings from school, etc. to help me practice at home.”

Griffin used dictation from the Magnum Steno Club — run by Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR, a broadcast captioner in Texas — and EV360. “Between EV360 and Magnum Steno Club, the dictation I was practicing was much harder than the actual test, which worked to my advantage when test nerves kicked in,” said Griffin. She explained her strategy of practicing above the normal speed. “For some reason, testing for the RPR made me nervous. I had to make sure I was above the required speeds so that when the test started and my nerves kicked in, I had an extra bit of speed reserved to account for that.” She practiced 30 to 40 percent above her target speed. “The purpose is to envision yourself as if you were sitting in a speed competition, as a competitor, and writing as if you had expert precision,” she said. “If you take that dictation back down to 225 or a new take at 180, 200, or 225, while applying that same mentality, you will achieve your speed faster than you think.”

Several members of the committee found valuable resources through NCRA. Hensley used recordings of previous RPR Exams, saying the real thing felt “like just another day of practice instead of an actual test.” Case used the RPR Study Guide to aid her in preparation. She commented: “the Written Knowledge Test was much harder than I expected.”

While most new professionals practiced solo, a couple mentioned having a community to lean on. “In Arizona, we have an extremely supportive court reporting community. There are many veteran reporters that are able and willing to volunteer their time to help and mentor students,” said Griffin. “I was able to work with Doreen Sutton, RPR, and Kim Portik, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, to help with the RPR Prep classes.” She added: “That was also a great way to meet other students, practice together, and share suggestions.”

McMorran agrees on the value of a strong court-reporting network. “If you surround yourself with the reporters who do the bare minimum in this profession and talk about how certification is so unnecessary or how hard the test is, then it becomes so much harder to get into the right mindset to pass as opposed to being surrounded by people who can reassure you that you can do it because they did it,” he said.

Mastering online skills testing

Some of the new professionals did their RPR entirely online while others had taken legs of the Skills Test prior to the switch from brick-and-mortar testing. Overall, online testing won out as more convenient, although it took some adjustment.

“I took the RPR the last time it was offered at a brick-and-mortar site. The second time I took it, it was offered online. I have stories about the first few attempts trying to log on to take tests for the RPR. I soon found out that I was using a netbook. Once I switched to a laptop computer and not a netbook, I passed my last two tests,” said Griffin.

McMorran also had a learning curve with the technology. “When I first took the online style, I really did not do a great job of practicing with the webcam and didn’t even bother to schedule the proctored practice that we have the ability to do. Big mistake on my part,” he said. “My first attempt using the online method, I had some webcam issues that left me flustered right before the exam. I ended up not passing that attempt and knew it was on me for lack of preparation. I rescheduled another attempt at the exam for a week later so that I could properly prepare from a technology standpoint and ended up passing that following week.”

Both Griffin and McMorran found online testing to be more convenient than being at a brick-and-mortar site. “Online testing is such a great tool to be able to have at our fingertips. As a student, you are no longer having to wait twice a year to test. What a relief!” said Griffin.

McMorran said that even though he was initially intimidated about the concept of online testing, “once I actually put the time in to read everything over and prepare for the use of the webcam, not only did I find the technology side to not be intimidating at all, but it is so much easier than dragging a printer to a testing location.”

What’s the next step?

The new professionals are mixed on whether their next certification goal is the RMR or the CRR.

Griffin is leaning toward the RMR, saying: “I am excited to continue learning and also refining my writing.” Hensley agreed, adding: “I want to have a good grasp on speed so that I can next move into offering realtime.”

Realtime is a big pull. “We have to do realtime at the courthouse,” said Case for why she wants to earn the CRR.

“I’ve taken a handful of realtime job over the last year, but I don’t think there’s anything that would give me more confidence heading into each and every realtime job than seeing those initials after my name,” said McMorran.

“I want the CRR because I will receive a salary increase at my court for realtime certification, and it will make me more marketable in the future for other goals I want to achieve. I’d also like to work towards my CRC for the same reasons,” said Barkume. “Realtime is the most important part of reporting, in my opinion. It is what will save our jobs.”

Announcing the winners of the JCR Awards

The JCR Awards were created as a way to highlight the innovative and forward-thinking practices of NCRA members and to recognize how court reporters, captioners, and legal videographers are leading the profession. These individuals and organizations are being recognized as being the best-in-class for the noted categories.

 

Individual member of the year

Community outreach; Leadership, team-building, mentoring; Promoting the profession

Doreen Sutton, RPR
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Service in a non-legal setting:

Deanna P. Baker, RMR
Flagstaff, Ariz.

Use of technology:

Jen Krueger, RMR, CRI, CPE
Parma, Ohio

Use of technology – school:

Jay Vettickal, CRI
College of Court Reporting
Hobart, Ind.

Leadership, teambuilding, and networking:

Robin Nodland, RDR
Portland, Ore.

Karen Ruud, CRI
Madison, Wis.

Community outreach:

Aimee Goldberg
Minneapolis, Minn.

Court Reporting & Captioning Week initiatives (2016):

A new category for the JCR awards recognizes contributions made in conjunction with the NCRA’s 2016 Court Reporting & Captioning Week, which was held Feb. 14-20. The JCR Awards acknowledge actions taken from Nov. 1, 2015, through Oct. 31, 2016. This new category elicited several nominations, creating a three-way tie.

Cuyahoga Community College Captioning and Court Reporting Program
Parma, Ohio

Los Angeles County Court Reporters Association
Los Angeles, Calif.

Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR
San Antonio, Texas

The sweet path to the top of the captioner cake

Captioner cakeBy Anissa R. Nierenberger

Broadcast and CART captioners comprise only 4.3 percent of NCRA’s membership. That’s a pretty tiny sliver! So why should you consider crossing over into these realtime career options? Because the growth rate for these careers will outpace the growth for court reporters past 2018. Benefits of these jobs include getting to live wherever you’d like because these jobs can be done remotely as long as you have access to reliable Internet. Transcript pages will no longer hang over your head like a dreadful gray cloud. A consistent work schedule that you’ll know up to a month ahead of time will reduce the stress of last-minute changes. And commute time?

Let’s see, how long does it take you to walk into your home office? Most important of all, many court reporters who have walked away from the courtroom or a deposition find that the change to captioning makes them feel that they have contributed to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The rewards of opening doors to a world that wouldn’t exist without translation is incomprehensible until you get to experience it yourself.

The question is: How does one get from point A to point B? It’s like following a recipe — we follow the steps in the proper order. We use the right ingredients. Let’s get cookin’!
1. Edit for your dictionary
2. Create a solid realtime foundation
3. Enter prefixes, suffixes, word pieces
4. Build up the dictionary
5. Learn broadcast and CART captioning styles

Editing for your dictionary is a trick I was taught almost 25 years ago by captioner Janet Cassidy Burr, RDR, CRR, CRC, CPE. She would look over my shoulder as I edited my television practice files. When I would select a three-syllable word to define, she’d say, “Ah, ah, ah, no! Define every stroke first by itself.” I will admit that it took me weeks to catch on to this, but I’m forever thankful for her strictness. As an example, if I wrote <PHABG>/<TKAEUPL>/<KWRA>, instead of defining this as macadamia, I would define mac, then dame, then ya, just as words. Then I can define it all together as macadamia. Just editing in this way will improve your realtime. Try defining every single untranslate all by itself. In as little as two weeks, you’ll see what I mean.

A strong realtime theory is the foundation of a successful CART or broadcast captioner. If you’ve been struggling on your own to clean up realtime, you are not alone. How can you teach yourself something that you do not know? How does a figure skater become an Olympian? Certainly not on his or her own; very often, that person has a coach. Creating a strong foundation involves resolving word boundary issues and updating dictionary entries to reflect these changes. Do we have conflicts? Let’s create consistency, tackle them, and resolve them.

How are we going to commit these changes to memory? We’ll use FPP55 — focused phone practice, five things for five minutes. On Monday, choose five briefs you want to learn or five words that require a theory change, and dictate them into your phone. Create silly sentences using your five words. No one will hear them but you. Practice for five minutes one to three times per day and voilà; by Friday, they’ll be resolved. I was given six months to completely transform my theory into realtime. Focused practice is how I did it. It works. Once we’ve strengthened our realtime skills, we move on to the next layer in our captioning cake.

Entering prefixes, suffixes, and word pieces will help you to write the entire cake. Court reporters write part of the cake, but realtime captioners write the entire cake — every delicious piece. We need the ability to create words on the fly, and these three elements allow us to accomplish this task. There are approximately 450 prefixes and suffixes that you can enter into your dictionary. If a word piece is not a prefix or a suffix, we simply define it as a word. Yes, it is okay to do this. Examples of word pieces are pire, nom, journ, gam, drome, and dem.

Dictionary building is getting us closer to the top of our captioner cake. Every word you have ever learned in your entire life should be able to translate in your CAT software — and then some. We know the words baklava, ambrosia, gingerbread, true, brittle, and grasshopper, but are they in our stenographic dictionaries? Not only do we need to enter these words into our dictionaries, but it’s a good idea to enter words to prepare for every possibility of how we may write them. Enter slop shots, brief forms, splitting syllables differently, etc. Cover your bases.

In the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Court Reporting, Patty White and Kevin Daniel, RDR, CRR, CRC, supplied a list of vocabulary needed for “Developing your stenocaptioning skills.” This article is what helped inspire me to truly round out my dictionary. I took this very seriously and started copious amounts of research so that my dictionary and I could do the best job we could. A captioner with a well-developed dictionary is a confi dent captioner. Notice I did not say “cocky” captioner. There’s always room for improvement, and prep is never history for anyone until we put the writer away once and for all.

CART and captioning style is very different from court reporting. First, while we are not required to write verbatim, we try our best. We have a license to edit when and where necessary for speed and content. Second, captioning is most always displayed in all capitals, and ending punctuation starts a new line. Broadcast captioning descriptors use brackets, and CART descriptors use parentheses. We learn the style and we practice — a lot. We’re writing very different vocabulary than we’re used to, so repetition is key. To start introducing new vocabulary into your writing, log on to ted.com and choose a TED Talk. Hint: Write from the verbatim transcript first to enter the vocabulary into your dictionary, then write the live talk. Speed comes first, then accuracy, then we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty total accuracy ratio, which needs to be at least 98.5 percent to be broadcast ready. Captioning is needed for all sports, local and national newscasts, financial calls, legislature sessions, talk shows, religious programming, educational and business CART, to name a few. The list goes on and on.

If you follow the steps and are diligent in your efforts, the cake will be delicious. The icing on the top is you can live wherever you would like, ditch the transcripts, have a consistent schedule, and forego the work commute. Best of all, at the end of the day, you’ll have a warm, gooey feeling that you indeed helped someone. After all, you’re an A+ captioner. Oh, how sweet it is.

Anissa R. Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, is a 24-year captioner and is the creator of Dictionary Jumpstart, a realtime dictionary-building software. She has published Simple Syllables and A Jump Back in Time. Anissa is an instructor for EduCAPTION and provides online one-on-one realtime training, CART training, and Caption Masters broadcast captioning training. She can be reached at Anissa@LearnToCaption.com or through her website LearnToCaption.com.

Celebrating entrepreneurs

“It took a lot of hard work and determination to get through school and to build my skills as a practicing reporter. I’m a reporter business owner, so my approach in working with clients, reporters, and staff is generally directed by the reporter in me,” says Jan Schmitt, RPR, owner of the Schmitt Reporting & Video in Vancouver, Wash.

To mark Women’s Entrepreneur Day, an international day celebrated with a worldwide social media campaign on Nov. 30, the JCR reached out to several of NCRA’s firm owner-reporters — both male and female — to get their take on what entrepreneurship means to them.

While the people identified themselves foremost as reporters, they had many traits that transfer over to being an entrepreneur. “When I tell people what I do, I always explain the reporting part. Telling them I am business owner comes later in the conversation when I explain that I don’t work in a courthouse but for myself,” says Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and the owner of Russell Court Reporting, Inc., in Tulsa, Okla. “And I never even thought of myself as an entrepreneur until about a year ago when a friend introduced me as one.”

But reporters shouldn’t fear the term entrepreneur. Small businesses contribute to the global economy and make up about half of all U.S. jobs.

Attributes of the entrepreneurial court reporter

Only nine months into her career, Katherine Schilling, RPR, a freelancer in Richmond, Va., explains entrepreneurship this way: “In my mind, an entrepreneur is someone who offers a one-of-a-kind service that furthers their industry as a whole. This, too, is something that I feel comes with time and experience. These are the real-timers, the multiple hook up-ers, the three-scopist team-ers, the daily copy turn around-ers! At present, I’m focusing purely on advancing my own skills, but once I’m at a point where I’m offering something revolutionary to the court reporting industry, maybe then I can start considering such a prestigious title as entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship matches many of the attributes that reporters already have — at least according to the Small Business Administration, which lists persuasiveness, risk-taking, independence, creativity, and being supported by others as important traits for entrepreneurs.

“You are very much a salesperson as a reporter, and that is the start of being an entrepreneur,” says Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer based in Ashburn, Va. “You start at the beginning of the day selling yourself by being on time and prepared for the case, having your exhibit stickers and equipment ready to go. What is hard for a lot of reporters is to know you have the skill at the end of the day to sell your product by asking, ‘Do you need a rough draft’ or ‘Would you like to expedite this?’”

But there are many more traits that reporters and firm owners list as important in addition to those mentioned — with organization and planning topping most people’s lists. “The most important in my view are focus, persistence, determination and patience, planning, and dealing with many types of individuals, as well as being accountable,” says Grant Morrison, CRI, a freelance reporter in San Antonio, Texas.

“I’m big on planning ahead, especially for trials,” says Linton. ”Working with other reporters to get as much information ahead of time from clients helps us be consistent and produce the best product we can under pressure.”

“I believe the most important attributes of being an entrepreneur in the field of court reporting start with integrity and a commitment to the legal process,” says Kathy Reumann, RDR, a freelancer based in Rock Island, Ill.

“Punctuality is extremely important. It shows respect and readiness to tackle the job at hand,” says Lisa B. Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner based in Melbourne, Fla. “Being able to keep calm in a situation that may not be going as planned and focusing on how to solve the problem and move on.”

“Entrepreneurs are the trailblazers of any industry, so they need all the following attributes to make their business a success: self-motivation, discipline, time management, and a passion to keep learning and improving,” said Schilling. “Court reporters have these traits in spades. Due to the nature of the court reporting field, we are often the only ones driving ourselves to do our best, through school and even decades into the working world. The job is also a very solitary one, especially for freelancers, so we have only ourselves to rely on in order to stay focused on the job and stay organized when those high page counts and expedites start rolling in.”

“A reporter skill that translates to an entrepreneurial skill is perseverance,” says Kerr. “No matter how difficult a deposition may be with the terminology or people speaking at once, I don’t give up, and I follow that same thinking with running a business.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

Many stressed the importance of being a reporter first. “You have to know how things are going out there in the field working an actual job so you can understand what the reporters are dealing with and what the clients are really expecting from their reporters as well as the judges,” says Linton.

Finding good support is essential to supporting the entrepreneur, whether it’s additional reporters to build your business or hiring a scopist or proofreader to keep up on your deadlines. Linton notes that these investments are about knowing that time is money — and saving time is key.

“The ability to attract and keep good reporters and staff is key. Endless determination, good vision and leadership — ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18) — knowing your strengths and, more important, knowing your weakness and being willing to seek help in those areas. Some creativity and an ability to sell go a long way,” says Schmitt.

Linton advises finding a reliable and fantastic scopist and proofreader: “Do not be afraid to use one and find a favorite or two.”

“Know your CAT software to save you time so you can take more work to make more money,” Linton also suggest. ”For an agency, it means knowing skilled reporters who are reliable and keeping them happy. It saves the agency time finding coverage and means fewer headaches when producing their work for your clients.”

“Having the right people working for me,” says Kerr. “Those include everyone from my scopist and proofreader to my CPA. Delegating responsibilities to the people I can count on to get the job done and done correctly so I can focus on reporting and other aspects of running a business is so essential. I tried doing everything by myself, and it made life very difficult.

Organization is also important, mentioned by almost everyone. “Being organized in your scheduling is important,” says Johnston. “Personally, I have three calendars with all of my work appointments and jobs: one paper calendar, one smartphone calendar, one whiteboard calendar in my office. Reporter work days are anything but routine, so if you’ve committed to something, keep the commitment. Your reputation is of utmost importance.”

“Other important attributes are being wise with your finances and having confidence in your ultimate success,” says Kerr.

“Higher education and certification in your field shows dedication to your career,” says Johnston. [Ed. Note: NCRA offers education specific to firm owners at is Firm Owners Executive Conference, being held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 12-14, 2017.]

“Luckily for court reporters, there are always plenty of industry conventions to attend in order to expand our knowledge and improve our skills for the job,” says Schilling. “By continuing our education, we improve our product and can deliver top-notch work that will wow our clients and push the court reporting profession to new heights!”