Disappointed as I am not to see your faces or hear your voices, I am delighted to share with you what is one of the most important days of my life. Today is like my birthday, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one … a day to celebrate and be thankful … because we are united in purpose, committed to each other, and faithful to our profession.
Up front, I must admit that I had professional help in producing this video, which is why you might be thinking I look even better on your screen than in person! But everyone is a Zoom expert these days, so I got a lot of advice from friends. Some said put palm trees in the background and look leisurely. Others said stage a bookcase full of classic texts and look scholarly. One friend even emailed me a YouTube snippet with Five Video Tricks to Look Thinner . . . some friend!
Well, spoiler alert: What you see is what you get! Defying the odds, I shaped my own life by focusing on what I can control and what I can change … and that’s the focus I bring to my role as your President.
I want to share just a little about me because my history is predictive of the future I envision for our organization. I promise, it’s a short story – although, in retrospect, it reads like a novel. Growing up in the ’70s, I was surrounded by violence, drugs, and alcohol abuse; sometimes I was even homeless. Yet the absence of parental guidance had the opposite effect of what you might suspect: Somehow, I knew that I could make my life whatever I chose. When I left home at 16, searching for opportunity, I focused on one goal: My family’s cycle of dysfunction would end with me. And it did.
My mother had very limited choices, which made her a helpless victim of people who proved unreliable and untrustworthy. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know that I had to focus my energy and persistence on finding a career that wouldn’t just feed and house me, but would give me choices about how I live my life, and the ultimate dream would be to find a career I loved so I wouldn’t feel that monotony of going to work every day. My first career was in banking, which paid the bills, but the confines of corporate America were stifling – so I retired at age 25 to complete my degree in court reporting.
As they say, the rest is history … the love of that little steno machine led me to ultimately launch my own company … one where I could build a true team and define my own corporate norms – like equality, fairness, ethics and transparency – and provide opportunities to others to achieve their dreams at the same time I achieved mine. The 175-people-strong dream team I recruited has responded to this pandemic with extraordinary kindness and personal sacrifice … sometimes cutting their own hours, even not working, so that others in need could get work. I have to give a shout out to my business partner, Richard Applebaum. Richard has been a mentor to me and by my side every step of the way.
This leads me to our very own “dream team,” the NCRA family, to which I owe such gratitude. Thanks to Dave Wenhold, who worked with us in development of the reorganization – I can’t imagine being President without him. Applause to our 2.0 board members, who bring stellar achievements and expertise to the table and can be counted on to weigh in respectfully, pro or con, on our policies and positions. Bravo to Kristin Anderson and Max Curry, my 2016 ”new guard” classmates who spoke up, challenged the status quo, and stood by me through the disruption that led to the financial and organizational stability that NCRA enjoys today. Max has been a great role model, and it has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside him with a shared vision for NCRA as President-Elect.
And a huge thank you goes to all my colleagues in the industry – my female warriors out there, who have supported me – because they recognize that we at NCRA are the catalysts. We are the change agents who can meet the challenges of our business … challenges like electronic recorder incursions, technology education – especially related to automated speech recognition and its many pitfalls – and, not the least, replenishing our ranks. I am confident that we can meet these challenges … but only if, together, we focus on what we can control and what we can change.
We are not starting from scratch; our accomplishments in the last two years are impressive, and we’re moving forward rapidly.
- We have instituted a path of financial responsibility in the way we monitor, budget, and view spending … a path that will ensure the future health of NCRA.
- We are focusing on our core values as a member-driven organization. Our Strong Task Force has been unwavering in educating those who utilize our services, so that consumers can make informed decisions. Some of our consumers still do not recognize the pitfalls of audio technology, or the dangers when, without their consent, they are provided with electronic recording operators or are utilizing automatic speech recognition instead of stenographers.
But we are getting the word out! We are actively monitoring and advocating to the FCC … and reaching out to Bar associations and court administrations in every state to make sure they understand the value we provide. In return, we are asking for their help as we work to replenish our ranks.
- We are advocating for expansion, value, and recognition of certification. We recently developed the new RSR as an entry-level certification; we are urging certification reciprocity; and we are developing a tool that will enhance the marketability of all NCRA members, especially those with certifications.
- We are developing programs that address concerns that you have expressed about issues that affect you personally and professionally … issues such as pivoting technologically to remote litigation, handling stress on and off the job, keeping safe and well during this pandemic, and steadfastly confronting the issues of sexism and racism.
- While market consolidation has ingratiated itself into our profession, we are working to provide opportunities to the thousands of independent practitioners and small businesses owned and operated by our members.
There is no question, our profession is under attack … and we’re seizing the offensive. We must call out not only those who seek to divide us as a nation by the color of our skin, our ethnicity, by our gender, or by our sexuality – but those whose mission is to diminish us as NCRA members and stenographers. For too many years, those of us in this profession were faceless … invisible extras in courtrooms where only judges and attorneys were visible. For too many years, we were voiceless, the silent persons capturing essential testimony and arguments and breaking news, just doing our jobs unnoticed.
But times have changed and our time is now to stand up – from the corners of our courtrooms, deposition rooms, and captions – from behind the video camera and the CAT files – to tell our story and demand respect as the gold standard for capturing the spoken word and providing equal access to millions of people with hearing challenges.
We must be the heroines and heroes of our own lives, and I have no doubt that we can be. As Margaret Mead – one of my heroines – said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Our freelancers, mom and pops, and small businesses are not just about creating profit, we are about creating communities. We pump vitality into our neighborhoods and ensure that the American dream is alive and well. We are that thoughtful, committed small group of citizens that Margaret Mead talks about … and we are stronger together! This is why every stenographer must be a member of NCRA … to be counted among the ranks so we can arm you with information. In the history of corporate America, there has never been an expenditure of advertising funds that will top the public relations value of our united voices!
We will succeed by focusing on what we can control and what we can change. But how? Here’s one way that I am very excited about, which will prove to be a major boost to our members as their businesses grow.
Here’s some breaking news: A concept is finally close to launch that I developed in 2016 for repurposing our online member search tool to create unprecedented member value. We have transformed it from an outdated system into a sophisticated user-friendly digital platform. I believe this can become a tool more powerful than Google for matching our members to jobs in real time.
There’s much more information to come, but here’s the idea:
There will be a multi-layered, easy-to-use-and-visualize mapping system that lets member firms register for a listing with the capacity to handle multiple locations. This map will enable focus on just firms, freelancers, captioners, officials, videographers, schools, and our state affiliates. In the final stage of implementation, members will have the ability to job-blast to certified stenographers and videographers in specific areas and locate credentialed reporters and videographers – even at the last minute – using maps that pinpoint their geographic locations. Ultimately, members will be able to change their pin color on the map based on their availability.
Our challenge of coverage around the country has primarily been one of effective utilization of resources … and I believe that this new tool, along with the legal industry’s transition to remote litigation, will be an industry gamechanger!
This plan also includes an expanded marketing effort to hire NCRA staff to market our brand-new tool to those in search of the professional services our members provide. Bottom line: This expands our reputation as the go-to association, puts money in our members’ pockets, and is a benefit to the people we serve, as well.
Before we log out and return to our individual businesses and personal lives, I have 15,000 more thanks that I wish I could deliver to you in person. Like you, I hope and pray that we will be released from COVID-19’s clutches and that soon we will be able to shake hands – and hug – once more. In the meantime, to our entire NCRA family, thank you for allowing me to be your President. You have my sincere gratitude for your consistent high level of professionalism, the pride you take in your work, and the generous contributions you make to our larger community.
Whether you have just graduated, are a realtime reporter or not, a captioner, or a videographer, each of us is an ambassador who represents all of us every single day. Every. Single. Day. In our inclusive family, everyone is welcome and supported; we stand united, which means that we don’t walk away, even when the going gets rough.
I owe a debt to this profession that changed my family and its future generations … and I am proud to be one of you as, together, we pay it forward. I join you as we surge to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world, as we confront and surmount the barriers placed before us, as we grasp the opportunities that technology presents us, as we have always done. Together, we comprise a force that proves to the world that the integrity of our hallowed profession and the amazing skills of our practitioners endure as the highest standard for the preservation of the spoken word throughout the past centuries, now, and boldly and proudly into the future.
Christine Phipps, RPR, is NCRA’s 2020-2021 President. She can be reached at email@example.com.