Get comfy for professional development: Exciting upcoming NCRA webinars

Front view of a person sitting barefoot on a couch with their laptop on their knees, blocking their faceCourt reporters and captioners understand the value of continuing education and always improving one’s skills, but it can be challenging to attend in-person events. With NCRA webinars, you can learn more about your profession from the comfort of your own home or office (not to mention that you can attend them in your slippers – no one will know!).

NCRA has a wide variety of topics coming up in the next month. The JCR Weekly reached out to the presenters to help whet your appetite.

On Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET, Tori Pittman, FAPR, RDR, CRI, will present “Intersteno: Berlin and Beyond.” Pittman is a freelance reporter from North Carolina who has a passion for Intersteno. Intersteno is “a worldwide community uniting all those using a full range of speed writing methods to quickly produce high quality texts” (including steno lovers, keyboarding champions, and verbatim writers), and they host an international Congress every two years. In this 90-minute webinar, Pittman will talk about the networking and competition opportunities at Intersteno. She describes it as “international travel that is also a business expense” and explains that Intersteno attendees “learn about reporting in other countries while exploring fantastic locations.” The 2017 Intersteno Congress was held in Berlin, Germany (NCRA members performed very well in the competitions), and the next event is in 2019 in Sardinia, Italy.

On Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET, Lisa Jo Hubacher, RPR, CRI, will present “Thinking about Student Training.” Hubacher is an instructor at Madison Area Technical College (which is also her alma mater) in Madison, Wis. Madison Area Technical College received one of the final Training for Realtime Writers grants in 2014 due to its curriculum redesign. In this webinar, Hubacher will discuss this curriculum model, including the redesign’s impact on the program, what’s working, and what needs tweaking. As she describes it, the webinar will cover “how to design a program based on student needs without any curriculum-design knowledge.” Hubacher says she’ll also talk about why “‘But that’s the way we’ve always done it’ doesn’t fly anymore.” This is a must-attend webinar for anyone involved in training reporting students!

On Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. ET, Santo J. Aurelio, FAPR, RDR, will present “Legal Terms, Part 1.” Aurelio has presented several language-related webinars recently, including “What Reporters Must Know about Punctuation” and “English Grammar Gremlins: Ways to Conquer Them” (now both available as e-seminars). Aurelio will present on more than a hundred and fifty terms, but he admits, “I really get a special kick out of four of them: alibi (in another place), durance vile (imprisonment), eleemosynary (charitable), and Esq.” He adds, “If I must pick one, then I guess it would be Esq., which is merely a title of courtesy, but attorneys think that it means ‘one who is an attorney.’” Aurelio will provide “economical but cogent explanations” for the words that he hopes each attendee will easily remember.

Finally, on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. ET, Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR, CRC, will present “Promoting the Profession.” Uviedo is an official in San Antonio, Texas, and she serves as co-chairperson for the Texas Court Reporters Association Student Recruitment Task Force. Her efforts in recruiting and mentoring court reporting students have won her the NCSA challenge not just once, but twice in a row; in 2015, she organized participation in 13 career fairs in 15 days in San Antonio. “It is so easy and rewarding volunteering for a recruitment event,” says Uviedo. “You have the potential to reach hundreds, even if you only talk to 50.” Uviedo has also found the value in promoting the profession over social media, and she hints that “one cool thing I’ll talk about is having attendees take selfies of themselves in front of their court reporting machines and having them spread posts about court reporting.”

Members who attend the webinars will be able to ask questions directly to the presenter and get them answered right away. But if you are not able to attend the live webinar, they will be available as on-demand e-seminars after the fact. Keep an eye on NCRA’s e-seminar library for these and other topics to help grow as a professional.

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.

Competition, culture, camaraderie

InterstenoThe 2015 Intersteno Congress happens July 18-24 in Budapest, Hungary, and promises attendees an array of exciting competitions, cultural activities, and networking sessions designed to generate international camaraderie. The 2015 Congress marks the 50th such event hosted by the International Federation for Information and Communication Processing and is being held at Corvinus University.

Intersteno is a worldwide federation of people, companies, professionals, and associations that use writing, typing, or voice techniques for producing text with the aim of processing communication, spreading information, and enabling public access to education and culture.

A main attraction at each Congress is watching or participating in the numerous competitions that test skills in text production and corrections, audio transcription, realtime speech capturing, and more. Tours are also scheduled so that attendees can explore the city of Budapest by bus and by foot. The event also features a visit to the Hungarian Parliament, educational sessions, exhibitors, and a number of opportunities to network with peers and colleagues from around the world.

In 2013, NCRA member Tori Pittman, RDR, CRI, a freelance reporter from Wake Forest, N.C., attended the Intersteno Congress held in Ghent, Belgium. There she competed on the international stage for the first time and won that year’s shorthand/speech capturing contest in the speech recognition category (Laura Brewer, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, won first place in that year’s shorthand/speech capturing contest in the stenotype category). In an article about her experience that appeared in the November 2013 issue of the JCR, Pittman noted that Intersteno is an opportunity like no other.

“You get to meet people from around the world, to share ideas and customs, to visit the host country’s parliamentary seat, to eat great food, to see great sights, and to participate in competitions doing what you love to do,” Pittman said.

Organizers of the 2015 Intersteno Congress are currently seeking volunteers to help in the testing and transcription rooms during the various competitions. For more information about volunteering or to register for the 2015 Intersteno Congress, visit Intersteno2015.org/program.

Read more about Pittman’s experience.

Jetsetting reporters

Jetsetting reporters1By David Ward

Very few people in court reporting would describe it to outsiders as a glamorous, exciting profession.

Important? Yes. Personally satisfying? For most reporters, that answer would be yes as well.

But exciting? On most days, probably not.

However, there are a subset of U.S.-based court reporters who, from the outside, live what looks like a glamorous, jet-setter’s lifestyle, flying up to 100,000 miles or more a year to handle depositions in various locations — London, Tokyo, Istanbul, Paris, Bangkok, Israel, and even Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — that seem better suited for the latest James Bond or Jason Bourne movies.

For some, there’s even been the occasional hint of danger, such as doing a deposition in a room protected by armed guards.

Many of the reporters who travel a great deal — either domestically or internationally — are often amazed at the lives their steno machine skills have provided, even as they downplay all the travel or the thrill of racing to catch the last overnight flight of the day to Europe.

Frequent fliers

“The traveling part can be one of the most challenging parts of the entire experience,” explains Lisa Knight, RMR, CRR, who is the head of Denver-based Knight International Court Reporting. Knight has traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Pacific Rim — as well as to South America and parts of the Middle East — and explains, “Sitting on an airplane, typically in coach, for up to 14 hours for a flight to Asia is not as glamorous as it sounds. And dealing with the jet lag and the 16-hour time difference can make doing your job difficult on a good day.”

Most of the traveling reporters interviewed for this piece stress that life on the road was something they had not really anticipated.

“For me, it just evolved,” explains Sue Terry, RPR, CRR, Springfield, Ohio. “I had decided to do more hi-tech depositions, and because of that, I got involved in this one particular case, and it grew from there.”

Terry explains that she travels exclusively domestically for her work, with much of her travel these days focused on regular trips from Ohio to the Washington, D.C., area.

But in the past, Terry says she traveled a lot more, including one case involving an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site where she was on the road for 100,000 miles annually for five or six years straight.

“There were three other reporters doing the same thing on any given day,” Terry says. For that work, the court reporting firm and its client picked up everything, including airfare, hotels, and meals. “Those cases are a bit harder to come by these days because of the expense tied to travel, but there are a few of them still out there.”

Jetsetting reporters2Realtime and hi-tech work

Terry has been able to get regular work far from her home base in large part because she takes assignments from multiple court reporting firms.

“I’m in a position now where I can pretty well cherry pick, saying I can take that case, or I don’t want that case,” Terry says. “One of the reasons I have been able to continue to travel and report is that I adhere to the unwritten rule of freelancers, which is don’t approach the law firm about work. It’s wonderful when the law firm does request you, and I’m thankful for that, but I never call them my client, and they really belong to the court reporting agency I work for.”

Houston-based Mike Miller, RDR, CRR, president of Miller Reporting Group, is another reporter who got into travel for depositions primarily for the income opportunities rather than the chance to see exotic locales.

“It was never a goal early on, but around 2005, the Texas Legislature passed massive tort reform, and the ability to make a living at home kind of evaporated with that,” Miller explains. “I then started looking where my skills would be most valuable and where the biggest supply of cases with the most copies and most realtime was taking place.”

For Miller, that turned out to be international work, even though he freely admits his knowledge for foreign languages is limited to only a few words that could help him find a restroom or restaurant in another country. But he insists, “Language is no more a barrier than it might be if you’re taking the deposition of a foreign-language-speaking doctor in your hometown.”

Learning the ins and outs of local customs

Some local knowledge does help, Miller adds, especially when it comes to electricity and plugs for your machine in different countries. “Even with the proper gear, sometimes finding the right type of power supply for different electricity requirements can be a challenge,” he notes.

There can also be the occasional challenge of dealing with custom officials at foreign airports, and Miller says he often has to explain as best he can with the language challenge what a steno machine is used for and that he has no plans to sell it while he’s there.

“Some countries don’t care, but there are places like Greece where you have to declare every item you bring in,” Miller notes. “And when you’re leaving, you better have every one of those items.”

The reporters who do travel extensively — especially overseas — tend to know each other and regularly trade tips about locations as well as recommendations on jobs.

That being said, the life of an international court reporter can be a lonely one, so Miller says he appreciates cases where there’s either a videographer or additional reporter working in a city with him. “For one case in Seoul, South Korea, we had six reporters and six videographers going full time, so we had this great group to go out to dinner,” he says.

Miller and another Texas-based traveling reporter, Micheal Johnson, RPR, CRR, have also worked together, gathering depositions in relation to the enemy combatants still being held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba.

Though limited in what they can actually talk about publicly, Johnson notes that he and Miller have done presentations on that experience at several state court reporting conferences.

Though it may seem like harsh conditions, court reporters are well taken care of at GITMO, Johnson says: “GITMO used to be a one-week stretch — now it’s two- or occasionally three-week stretches. As the trials near, they’re suggesting it could be months at a time.”

Keep your equipment close

Like all traveling reporters, Johnson says the real key is making sure your equipment makes it to wherever you need to go.

“I carry all the equipment that’s vital — such as my machine and other stuff that I absolutely have to have and can’t get replaced anywhere if something happens — as carry on when traveling internationally,” Johnson says. “I’ll check the little stuff that I can replace. Most countries at least have an idea what the machine is for — or determine it’s nothing that’s going to alarm them—and send it right through.”

Jodi Harmon, RMR, CRR, director of court reporting in Asia for Planet Depos, is one of the few reporters working internationally who came into court reporting looking for assignments in far-flung cities. “My two greatest passions were always reporting and traveling — the idea of combining the two of them was a no-brainer,” she says.

Most of Harmon’s work is in the Asia-Pacific region, but even with years of experience, she says she still likes to research every new location before she goes there. “I look up blogs and forums of expats living in the city I’m going to so I have the best of both worlds,” Harmon explains. “That is, learn about the native/local culture from people who live there — and in English — and most importantly, learn of potential pitfalls and faux pas.”

Harmon explains the reason American court reporters, rather than simply English language reporters, are in demand overseas is that many legal cases are eventually headed for the U.S. courts. “That why it’s important to write American English as opposed to the British English used by British and Australian reporters,” she says. “This can greatly affect word index and word search functions, e.g., criticize vs. criticise, analyze vs. analyse, legalize vs. legalise.”

Working overseas can be an ongoing education, and most traveling reporters can point to at least one incident or misunderstanding about local customs. For Harmon, it came when she first began working in Japan and kept her habit of writing a small note, such as the date and name of the case, to herself on every business card she collected during a deposition process.

“I continued doing this my first full month of depositions in Japan until a local interpreter told me it’s considered extremely rude and disrespectful to write on business cards there,” Harmon explains. “These are things I now teach my clients.”

Johnson says he also learned the hard way about local customs, including that giving someone the “thumbs up” signup is considered an insult in parts of Europe.

Jetsetting reporters3On your radar

But learning about different parts of the world can do a lot more than save you some embarrassment. Knight has been traveling overseas for reporting assignments since the late 1980s, specializing in very technical realtime assignments, and she stresses the importance of doing due diligence on every location before accepting an assignment.

“I have turned down work in countries that are experiencing political unrest — like Egypt or Lebanon,” Knight says. “Just because they’ll pay for your airfare and hotel costs does not mean you should accept every realtime assignment you are offered. You have to use common sense and be aware of what is happening in the world.”

Knight also suggests that traveling reporters need to be tech savvy, explaining, “You need to become your own expert at troubleshooting, whether it’s your own computer — hardware or software— or your realtime connections to an iPad or a computer. When you are experiencing technical difficulties halfway around the world with a 16-hour time difference, there is typically no help available.”

Whether it’s for domestic or international travel, one essential tool for any reporter who plans to be on the road a lot is the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA Pre Check.

For a relatively modest $85 fee, applicants provide their biography and other background material and then receive a special clearance card, enabling them to go through a special line at U.S. security where they don’t have to pull all their equipment out of their bags.

Knight says TSA Pre Check has solved some long waits at U.S. airports: “The bigger challenge is the security in other countries where they don’t know what a court reporting machine is. You just need to leave yourself some extra time to go through security when returning home from other countries. The biggest tip would be to always be polite and be cooperative — that helps tremendously!”

Arguably the dean of traveling court reporters is Tom Crites, head of Tom Crites & Associates in Savannah, Ga., who has been traveling for depositions for at least four decades and can recount working in Iran before the U.S. Embassy was overrun and embassy staffers taken hostage in 1979 — the incident at the core of the recent Oscar-winning film Argo.

Crites says his transition to a globe-trotting court reporter came about initially from networking at court reporting conventions, which led to assignments providing transcripts of government hearings and eventually to a connection with attorneys in the maritime industry.

“Now, decades later, we go all over the world,” says Crites, whose can tell you not only the best ways to get recording and videography to and from a foreign country, but also the best hotels to stay at while there. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and so I’m familiar with all the terminology for these cases,” he says, adding, “The interpreters are always there, and in maritime legal cases, they all speak English.”

But this is not run-of-the-mill work, Crites stresses, adding that he recently had one of his court reporters along with a videographer working in Turkey, who were then supposed to go on to the Ukraine.

“But we were told the videographer might get mistaken for a correspondent and there could be some danger, so we ended up turning down that work,” Crites says. “I do a lot of work for governments around the world, and we have had situations where there are guards outside the deposition room. There are also countries where, if you bring some equipment in, it will be impounded, so you want to make sure you have several thousand dollars in your pocket to post bond for your equipment.”

Though it lacks some of the excitement of international work, domestic travel for depositions can be equally as rewarding, both financially and personally. Michele Eddy, RPR, CRR, CRI, based in McLean, Va., started looking to travel for work simply because there was more demand for realtime in other markets.

Her advice is to think outside the box when traveling. “I once had a five-week trial in my own state, six hours from home by car, and the only hotel in town was booked,” Eddy explains. “So I rented a house and furniture for those weeks, and it really worked out much better than a hotel because I had a kitchen and a washer/dryer.”

But as exciting as the travel can be, this is still a business, so Terry stresses that along with making sure you are going to be legally permitted to work in another state or country, you also want to make sure your time is well spent.

“I always try to make sure there is substantial work while I’m there,” Terry explains. “You don’t really want to travel to do, for example, a morning doctor deposition with little opportunity for a transcript. So you have to set a minimum amount that you’re going to make per day because these days, court reporting firms and attorneys are not going to cover the time you spend traveling.”

For international work, reporters have to factor in that working with an interpreter may end up cutting into the amount of pages they’ll normally get through in a day.

As for other tips for becoming a traveling reporter, Miller, for one, recommends making sure your home base is a major city with an airport that has plenty of direct flight options. He adds that he knows the flight schedule to Europe from Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport by heart, which means he can agree to an assignment in the late afternoon and still make the last overnight flight to Germany.

Knight stresses that those reporters interested in global travel work should get every certification they can, especially their CRR for realtime. She also recommends doing as much networking as you can by attending court reporting conventions and being active in state and national reporting associations like the NCRA.

As far as the type of cases that lend themselves to travel, Harmon says that intellectual property is a legal field that spans the globe, while Crites points out that maritime law cases can require depositions in nearly every corner of the world.

But Terry suggests that traveling reporters have to not only be very good at their jobs, but also must be resourceful and flexible, noting that she once had to do back-to-back cases in different parts of the country, the first involving the intricacies of pig farming, while the second dealt with nuclear energy. She also got to work at Camp David, the Maryland retreat for U.S. presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower.

While Terry couldn’t talk about the circumstances of that work, she points out, “It just goes to show that our profession has no bounds when it comes to where you can end up.”

David Ward is a freelance journalist. Comments about this article can be directed to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

By special assignment: Seeing the world

Last November, Heidi C. Thomas, RDR, CRR, a member of NCRA’s Board of Directors, boarded a plane armed with her equipment case and steno machine. Accompanied by a technical expert, Thomas, an independent contractor from Roswell, Ga., with 36 years of experience as a court reporter and 25 years of experience as a captioner, flew nearly 14 hours to an assignment in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Hired by a captioning firm, Thomas spent two weeks in Dubai, considered to be the most modern and progressive of the United Arab Emirates, providing CART services during an international conference.

Thomas, who has also completed assignments in Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Africa, and Switzerland, says that while traveling overseas to work is an exciting opportunity to experience other cultures, it can also prove challenging, especially, she says, when toting along all of her realtime equipment, including steno machine, computer, and tables.

“I keep my equipment case with me at all times. I never check it with my baggage, and when I go through security or customs, I sometimes think the security folks want to detain me or jail me. Of course, it depends where you are and how the authorities view your work. In Switzerland, they are happy to see you and invite you right in,” Thomas says. “But sometimes it can be even more difficult getting your equipment out of a country. In Mexico, for example, there were discussions about taxing my equipment.”

BE PREPARED

Prior to arriving for an assignment overseas, Thomas says CART providers, captioners, and court reporters need to be sure that all of their equipment will work properly, since many countries have different electrical outlets and voltage requirements than the United States, not to mention different Internet regulations. Nothing is worse than being overseas for an assignment and finding out that chargers and adapters won’t work or that your feeds won’t interface with a country’s recording or video format, she explains. Typically, the captioning companies that hire her take care of letting her know what, if any, additional adapters, plugs, or interface software she’ll need prior to traveling to ensure a complete and quality assignment, she adds.

“When a company hires me, they have specific contract requirements, so they let me know what I’ll need, because no matter where you go, there are always equipment issues,” she says.

CART providers, captioners, and court reporters who travel abroad to work also need to be aware of the official documents a country requires. Thomas says that some countries, such as Africa, require a visa in addition to a passport to enter the country. Before traveling to Africa, she was also required to have certain vaccinations to protect against disease. And although lead time between being hired for an assignment overseas and the actual travel dates is typically about two months, there are assignments that come up more quickly, and reporters need to act fast to ensure they have all the correct paperwork completed and medical requirements taken care of.

“When I traveled to Switzerland and Africa, I had about a 10-day lead time to prepare. My passport was in place so Switzerland was pretty easy to prepare for. However, with Africa, I needed to obtain a visa, and because of the short lead time, several of the vaccines I needed did not have time to take effect before I got there,” Thomas says. “You need to read up on the country where the assignment is and understand what the requirements are to work there, especially if it is an underdeveloped or third-world nation.”

Prior to her traveling to Dubai, Thomas says she studied the country’s customs and was prepared when she arrived, knowing that women have a different place in society in the UAE than women do in the United States and that some behavior by foreigners could be mistaken as aggressive behavior. She recommends that CART providers, captioners, and court reporters visit the U.S. State Department’s website before traveling abroad to learn the latest information about a country’s political climate, any travel advisories that might be issued for Americans, and about the nation’s cultural differences.

“Years ago I traveled on assignment to Mali, and it was fine. Today, however, with the political unrest there, I could not travel there to work. By comparison, you’ve got to figure that an international conference that includes attendees from more than 190 countries, like the one in Dubai, had to be held in a safe place,” Thomas says.

YOU WON’T GO IT ALONE

CART providers, captioners, and court reporters who travel overseas to work are often part of a larger team that can include several reporters and technical advisers.

“Whether you are the only reporter going on the assignment or whether there are several of you, there should always be technical support available on-site. You typically spend between 24 and 48 hours prior to the start of the assignment dealing with equipment setup and troubleshooting, as well as acclimating yourself to any time difference,” she notes. That means you may want to be compensated for days that are devoted to travel and/or technical setup, as well as days you’ll be writing. Though Thomas was the only CART provider on-site at the Dubai assignment, she says there were many CART providers stateside providing remote services to the simultaneous breakout sessions held during the conference. Given the time difference between the two countries, many of those CART providers ended up working in the middle of the night to cover the sessions, she says.

GETTING THE ASSIGNMENT

According to Thomas, professionals interested in working abroad should reach out to the numerous reporting and captioning companies that specialize in working with clients overseas and start by accepting international assignments that can be done remotely, as a way to develop a feel for the work, especially for the writing portion of the job.

Thomas also advises those seeking work abroad to make sure that the company hiring them is diligent in doing its homework when it comes to providing the necessary information about the assignment’s location, special equipment needs, official paperwork, and medical requirements.

In addition, Thomas cautions professionals who want to go the overseas route as independent contractors without the backing of a company, to be sure to understand that the information a company would normally supply them becomes their responsibility to find out.

“If you plan to take an assignment on your own, you need to understand that there is a lot of homework on your part. If you have never worked overseas before and will not be working for a company, I would caution that the job might be a red flag. Take the time to really think it through, and be sure you have access to all the information you need and know the questions to ask to ensure you will be safe and be able to produce quality work,” Thomas says.

“One of the most exciting things for me working an overseas assignment has been experiencing the different cultures of the countries I have traveled to. But I will say each time I come back home, I count my blessings, and realize how lucky I am to be a citizen of the United States.”