New York Times reaches out to stenographers for DealBook Conference

Patricia Bidonde, RPR, far right

By Heidi Renner

The New York Times recently hired two NCRA members for a unique job with their DealBook Conference, where a group of innovative thinkers and business leaders took the stage for a day with Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. As Patricia Bidonde, RPR, from Westbury, N.Y., explains: “The New York Times wanted the task force attendees to speak freely so they didn’t want cameras and microphones in the room. Yet they wanted a verbatim transcript so the reporters could write their stories. It was important for the speakers to be identified, and what they said to be accurate. They contacted a transcription company, and the company told them, ‘It sounds like you need a stenographer.’”

The newspaper searched online and found Bidonde. She told them she could do it as long as the moderator made sure everyone spoke one a time and everyone was seated at the same table so she could hear well. She also told them she would need to get into the room an hour early.

“They were very happy to accommodate us because they were just as interested in having an accurate transcript as I was,” Bidonde said.  

Bidonde was told they would need two stenographers because there would be simultaneous sessions in two different rooms.  

Rich Germosen, far right

“Of course, the first person who came to mind was Rich Germosen,” Bidonde said. “He graciously agreed.” Bidonde covered sessions entitled “How Big Should Big Tech Be?” and “Corporations and the Second Amendment” while Germosen covered “U.S.-China Relations – The Next 20 Years.”  

Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, of North Brunswick, N.J., said this job was unique.

“This assignment was extremely different from the type of litigation I normally report, which is a lot of patent and pharmaceutical litigation. The U.S.-China discussion was interesting to report. One thing that stood out to me was that China is graduating four or five times as many engineers in comparison to the United States.”  

Bidonde said there were very well-known figures in both rooms including Steve Bannon; Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook; and Manuel Oliver, a father of a victim of the Parkland shooting.

“Most of the participants came around and shook hands with everyone, myself included,” Germosen said. “The most notable name was Stephen K. Bannon, former White House chief strategist and senior counsel.”

Bidonde said the experience was pleasant. 

“The final transcripts were delivered the next morning,” she said. “The New York Times expressed they were happy with our professionalism and will keep us in mind if they have need of our services in the future. I would love to do it again.”

Germosen agreed that it was a good experience.

“I was happy that the New York Times reached out to Tricia to cover this assignment,” he said. “Stenographers do not just cover depositions, court hearings, and arbitrations. We are able to capture the spoken word in just about any given situation. The record that we create using our 10 fingers will be around and available long after we are gone. I think that is one of the coolest things about stenography/court reporting.”

Here are the stories that came from those sessions:

NCRA working for you: Three bills in House seek training for realtime

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois introduced H.R.5285, The Training for Realtime Writers Act of 2019, in the House of Representatives. This standalone piece of legislation seeks to reauthorize the Training for Realtime Writers Grant Program, a competitive grant program that was previously supported by Rep. Kind and authorized under the Higher Education Act of 2008.

The bill is a critical piece of legislation, as the Training for Realtime Writers Grant Program has not received funding since 2015. If passed by Congress, the legislation will allocate $1.5 million per year for five years to court reporting and captioning programs across the country. Funds are to be used for the educational training and recruitment of new realtime writers.

In addition to that standalone bill, two education bills currently in the House of Representatives, H.R.4674 College Affordability Act and H.R.4646 Improving Access to Higher Education Act of 2019,  also seek to reauthorize and fund the Training for Realtime Writers grants, as well as other important educational programs. Now that there are three bills in the House of Representatives that seek to fund the Training for Realtime Writers grants, NCRA has three opportunities in the next legislative session to attain the crucial funding necessary to train the next generation of new captioners.

“I am looking forward to watching our bill progress through the legislative process and would like to thank all of our 2019 NCRA Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp attendees who advocated before their members of Congress for the grant program in May,” said Jocelynn Moore, NCRA Director’s of State Government Relations. “Your hard work resulted in the introduction of three bills within the United States Congress!”

My personal experience inside A to Z Online program

By Elisa Cohen

I plunged into this experience with lots of intrigue and little forethought. The NCRA Professional Development department has a few steno machines in storage in varying levels of function. I picked the one that looked most complete; it turned out to be about 15 years old. I turned it on about eight hours before my first class and found that it needed a new disk to run – one that was obsolete enough to be unavailable at retail stores. I ordered one online and took my first class with the writer unplugged. It was like lip-synching during a choir rehearsal.

What I remember most about that first session is the chat dialog that runs concurrent with the online presentation. As soon as the chat went “live” at the start of the class, it seemed to explode with questions from all the participants about all aspects of the program, the profession, the content, the specifics of the steno writers, and more. Some questions were addressed on the chat or by the facilitators, but most couldn’t be answered immediately and would be handled throughout the program.

The second thing that stood out to me in that first session was my own curiosity. I kept thinking, “Why?” Why would pressing P and W together print as B? “PW” doesn’t sound anything like “B.” Why does the keyboard have S in three different places, but no N? Why are there only four vowels on the keyboard? A lot of these questions were answered once my steno writer was up and functioning by the following class.

In the weeks that followed that first session, I got pretty good at writing the letters as they were taught and typing with the cues from the facilitators. While the lesson on diphthongs challenged me, the hardest part was progressing past letters toward writing full words. During a drill of simple words, like cat, hat, hate, I posted a request in the chat for the facilitators to slow down. They did, after chuckling to each other. (This was nowhere near the speed people actually speak!)

I will confess that I did not do the one thing that all good students must do, which is practice. I was mostly a spectator during the class, and that became very rewarding. The chat dialog throughout the class continued to inspire, with fellow classmates asking questions and encouraging each other along with the facilitators. If this group of participants is any indication, the future of the profession looks bright.

Elisa Cohen is NCRA’s Marketing Manager.

Inside the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand online program

A 2017 survey of NCRA members revealed that 75 percent of the membership has been in the court reporting profession for 16 or more years. In fact, 64 percent have been in the profession for 21-plus years.  With that much tenure, it may be difficult to recall what life was like before court reporting.  In an effort to learn more about the experiences and motivations of the next generation of court reporters, as well as to experience steno firsthand, NCRA Marketing Manager Elisa Cohen recently took the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand online program.  During the program, three fellow participants who completed the it agreed to share their stories:  

  • Jessica Pell, a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who has four children and an encouraging mother-in-law in the profession;
  • Jeff Spears, a 38-year-old telecommunications technician from Kentucky, who lives in Texas with his wife and two young children; and
  • Arlisia Stansberry, a single mother with an established career as a corporate nurse, who is ready to begin a new career path in the field that has interested her since high school.

Each of these participants decided to investigate a career in court reporting as a result of a recommendation. While serving on a jury in San Antonio, Spears was told of the court reporter shortage from the presiding judge. The suggestion particularly resonated with him. With injuries from his athletic childhood, his earlier landscaping business, and two recent knee surgeries as a result of climbing phone polls for a living, Spears is eager to be able to support his family with a job that isn’t so physically demanding.

Pell learned of the profession, and the A to Z program, from her mother-in-law, who has been a court reporter for more than 10 years. The program reinforced Pell’s interest in the court reporting profession. “It was a lot of fun! I learned so much during a short time and feel I have a strong understanding of the basics,” Pell said about the A to Z program.

Stansberry learned about the A to Z program from one of her former high school classmates, who has been in the court reporting profession more than 20 years. When she was just out of high school, her classmate inspired her to start court reporting school. She took only one level before switching to a nursing career at the suggestion of her mother. “I loved shorthand. Always felt a calling for court reporting. But with young kids, as a single mom, I couldn’t go to school and keep a full-time job,” she explained.

After a full career involving extensive travel as a corporate nurse, Stansberry had an epiphany one late night and pulled out her old green steno machine.

However, the similarities among these participants end when discussing what interests them about the profession.

Pell finds it fun and is interested in learning every aspect of steno. “It’s like learning a language within a language,” she explained.

Spears, who hopes to become an official reporter, feels driven to civil service by his father’s example as a police officer.

And Stansberry? She is fascinated by the ability to type verbatim what is being said: “Amazing to me, just amazing to me, how you put those letters together. I don’t see PL anymore, I see M. It’s just weird.”

When it comes to discussing the obstacles that may lay ahead, the unifying concern among these participants is time. Pell is concerned that her “crazy” work hours as a correctional officer combined with the demands of her four children will get in the way of her practice time. Spears has similar concerns, since he homeschools his children and may get distracted by the needs of his 3- and 8-year-olds. As for Stansberry, her current job requires extensive air travel, which might impact when she will be able to take classes and practice.

We asked each participant what they want to ask of experienced court reporters. Pell is most curious about what can be done when stuck at a speed plateau. Stansberry wants to know how to manage staying awake for hours and keeping calm from some of the things that are said during trials or depositions. And when Spears was asked if he had any questions of experienced court reporters or captioners, he replied: “Holy cow.  I’ve got about 78 of them!”

The good news: After completing the six-week training in the A to Z program, each of these participants are planning to enroll in court reporting school as soon as possible.

The next online A to Z classes start Jan. 27 at 6:30 Eastern; Feb. 10 asynchronous; and April 9 at 8 p.m. Central.

#DiscoverSteno campaign success

With the first social media campaign freshly finished, the buzz generated by court reporters and captioners is still reverberating across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thanks to all the participants in the #DiscoverSteno campaign, stories, photos, and inspirational messages were spread across the social media platforms, with the posts engaging members, encouraging aspiring stenographers, and raising awareness among those uninitiated to the benefits of the profession.

During the two-week campaign, Twitter and public Facebook pages alone saw 160 individual posts, resulting in a total audience reach of 89,000. Followers also took to Instagram, with several people posting a multiple-day story to illustrate how court reporting and captioning has benefited their lives. Hundreds of Instagram posts featured #DiscoverSteno, and the reach for these is immeasurable.

While some of these posts have already been shared on the official NCRA social media sites, look for more to come as these first-person stories and images will significantly help our shared goal of increasing interest in the court reporting and captioning professions.

Following the completion of the campaign, one post each from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter was randomly chosen to win a $200 Amazon gift card. NCRA membership staff blindly selected a post from each platform, irrespective of the content of the post. Yet each winner had compelling posts to share, and we recommend following these individuals for further inspiration.

The Facebook post that was chosen was made by Daisy Reyes, a CART captioner in New Caney, Texas.

The Instagram post was made by Heather Bradfield, RPR, CRR, CRC, from Park City, Utah. While the post selected happened to be of the steno keyboard, Bradfield posted several personal photos and stories.

And the tweet that was picked was made by Marissa Loring, a court reporting student at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. The 190-wpm student is currently a scheduler at an Illinois agency and shared the following compelling story with her Twitter followers:

Though the official hashtag campaign has concluded, followers are encouraged to continue to use #DiscoverSteno in their posts across all social media to continue to raise awareness of the many opportunities and benefits of the profession. Due to the success of this effort, NCRA is planning to hold additional hashtag campaigns in the future. Look for announcements across the official NCRA social media platforms and keep sharing your steno adventures.

You can also share your stories at pr@ncra.org.

New Professional Profile: Bethany Glover

Bethany Glover

By Mike Hensley, RDR

Bethany Glover, RPR, is a new professional residing in Long Beach, Calif.  Not only is she new — within her first year of work as a freelance deposition reporter — she finished school in a blazing 16 months. She is excellently poised to take the world by storm, and she has graciously shared insights with us as a newly licensed court reporter.

JCR | Why did you choose to become a court reporter?

BG | I grew up dancing, moved to New York City to earn my bachelor’s in dance at a prestigious school, traveled the world performing as a professional dancer, and had to cut short my dancing career early due to a back injury. I wanted a career that would still give me the freedom to travel while also earning a good living. I also loved how crucial court reporting is for getting a record of people‘s experiences and for the judicial system as a whole.

JCR | What’s your “can’t live without” item in your steno bag?

BG | Definitely back-up USB flash drives. I always, always back everything up, because you just never know when technology is going to be cranky.

JCR | What is your biggest challenge as a new reporter?

BG | My biggest challenge as a new reporter is learning how to have a good work/life balance. I really love what I do, so I tend to get lost in my work. I’m trying to learn to step back and take time to do things for myself outside of work too. Self-care is crucial!

JCR | What is your next goal? What is a long-term goal?

BG | My next goal is working on realtime. I’m learning that the cleaner that I write while on the job, the less work I have to do editing. I want to be writing realtime as soon as I can.

A long-term goal of mine is to be able to take depositions internationally. I would love to travel for work. That’s the dream.

JCR | What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

BG | When I’m not reporting, I love to take yoga classes and explore new neighborhoods. I really enjoy being outside and walking. I also want to get into doing volunteer work with animals.

JCR | What do you love about your career?

BG | I absolutely love meeting new people and going to new offices every day. It’s always something different, and there are no two days the same.

JCR | How has involvement with state and national associations benefited your career thus far?

BG | Being involved with associations has been so important for me on my journey to becoming a court reporter. I have met wonderful reporters through the associations who have supported me, cheered me on, and have been there for me for every question that I have. The court reporting community is like no other, and the reporters I have met through associations inspire me every day.

JCR | What was the best piece of advice that you received from another court reporter that helped you?

BG | The best piece of advice I ever received from another court reporter is to be confident in my skills and to not be afraid of taking charge. Being a new reporter can be a little intimidating sometimes, but you just need to walk in with a smile on your face and your head held high.

Mike Hensley, RDR, is a freelancer from Dublin, Calif. He can be reached at stenomph@gmail.com.

Oklahoma State University announces launch of court reporting program

In a press release issued Dec. 4, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City announced that it will be launching a new court reporting program in the spring of 2020 to help address the crucial shortage of professionals in the state.

Read more.

NCRA member recognized in local newspaper

The Griswold American posted a press release on Dec. 4 issued by NCRA on behalf of Stephanie Cousins, RPR, from Griswold, Iowa, announcing that she recently earned the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) certification.

Read more.

Reps. Kind and Davis introduce bill to reauthorize the Training for Realtime Writers Act

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois introduced bipartisan legislation on Dec. 6 that will reauthorize a grant program to encourage careers in realtime writing and court reporting. In 2007, Rep. Kind introduced the Training for Realtime Writers Act, which was passed and signed into law as part of the Higher Education Act of 2008.

The grant program allows colleges and universities to apply for funding specifically to help encourage more students to pursue a career in realtime writing, closed captioning, or court reporting. Around 48 million Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and many of them rely on captioning services for news and information.

“From maintaining the integrity of our democracy to ensuring every citizen stays up to date on today’s 24-hour news cycle, realtime writers are vital to folks everywhere,” said Kind. “Over the past decade, this program has encouraged a new generation of realtime writers to enter this vital field. I am proud to work across the aisle with Rep. Davis to reauthorize this program so we can continue to increase awareness and interest in this profession.”

“The Training for Realtime Writers grant is an important grant program that ensures we have the necessary resources to train court reporters and captioners for the estimated 48 million Americans who are deaf or impacted by hearing loss,” said Davis. “These funds have been incredibly successful in training the current generation of captioners and court reporters by modernizing curriculums, developing new captioning-specific programs, and increasing attendance at institutes of learning through student recruitment, scholarships, advertisements, equipment upgrades, and distance learning programs. I’m proud to be introducing this legislation to reauthorize this program with my colleague, Rep. Kind, and look forward to working to ensure it is included as the House tackles Higher Education Reauthorization this Congress.”

Read the bill text here.

Captioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

By Debbie Dibble


Sesame Street characters showed up for the Tabernacle Choir Show
Photo © The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

After a career full of unusual cases, including surfers in New Zealand, terrorists in the Philippines, and Saudi princes in Grand Cayman, I was sure I had done it all. But captioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — or The Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square as it is now called — is a uniquely gratifying and challenging experience, particularly when special guests, like the cast of “Sesame Street” or Frozen, pop in for a performance. Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Ernie, Bert, and Elmo were unbelievably challenging, but Rosita and Zoe just about did me in! Their quick-fire, Spanish-accented repartee can be a captioner’s nightmare — but make for great stories if you survive!

Since 1929 – nearly the lifetime of radio – the Tabernacle Choir has been a phenomenon of broadcasting. Its “Music & the Spoken Word” is the longest continuous broadcast on the air. This show is broadcast – and captioned – every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time. It is a half-hour show that is mostly music. As the captioner, I have the arrangements – with words – provided ahead of time for prescripting. It’s not a complicated broadcast to caption, but each show is different and has its own distinct challenges. The Christmas Concert each year, with invited celebrities and special themes, is always quite the spectacle. There are also periodic holiday specials as well as programs to honor dignitaries, veterans, historic events, and whenever else there is cause to celebrate with music. I find that each broadcast comes with new obstacles that require creative solutions, and I grow as a professional while I work with my team of engineers and producers to find ways to provide the best product for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

How did I end up with this dream gig? The simple answer is: Credentials! About 10 years ago, when the Utah state courts converted their entire system from official stenographers to electronic recording, it was obvious I needed to take steps to increase my skills and, therefore, my value in the freelance market, and to become proficient as a certified captioner. I educated myself and passed both of the NCRA captioning certifications offered at the time: the Certified CART Provider (CCP) and the Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC). Within a month of receiving those two designations, I was informed of this opportunity and that they were only looking for those with my new credentials to fill the position.

Moving from depositions into captioning hymns and sermons required a substantial learning curve. Sure, I had captioned the news, but this was an entirely new environment. They used different software that toggled between live and prescripted work. I needed to learn about pop-on, paint-on, three-line roll-up, how to use musical notes, and so many new elements, like how to clear the screen in a hurry. I look back on how daunting it seemed to me when I started—during my first show I told them I quit three times—and now, seven years later, I can flip and fly between cells and programs seamlessly and without breaking a sweat!

The Tabernacle Choir with the Sesame Street characters. Photo ©The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I work with a huge team of engineers, producers, and directors, and supervise a team of captioners that provide captioning in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. They have all helped in my journey of education and progress, and together we have created new solutions to provide a better experience for those that we serve. Sometimes we aid an even broader group than just the deaf and hard-of-hearing in the audience. During one broadcast, there was a speaker who was struggling with debilitating health issues. He was in a wheelchair and could hardly speak above a whisper. His voice was gravelly and very difficult to understand. I later learned that one of the dignitaries in attendance was struggling to hear and asked his grandson if he could understand what was said. The grandson began to repeat the words verbatim. Later, when the youngster was asked how he had possibly heard all that, his reply was, “I had the closed captions on!” This individual was a high-profile leader in the organization, and his experience spread like wildfire. It was great exposure for our unmatched skills!

This has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me both personally and professionally. My skills improve with every broadcast, each new project, and every new challenge. I have learned so much from colleagues both in the court reporting and captioning industry as well as the engineers and producers on my team. They have taught me how my duties interact with their jobs, and we all have become more keenly aware of what a critical part the immediate access to captions play. One engineer, after hearing the story of the grandson reading my captions, decided that captioning should be offered to all attendees in the main hall. He worked with a caption delivery system to develop a new platform that would support simultaneous connections to 25,000 mobile devices, where the prior system had only been capable of supporting a few hundred.

While providing captions is itself a rewarding experience, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that this choice assignment has afforded me a front-row seat to performances by incredible talents such as James Taylor, David Archuletta, Donny Osmond, Gladys Knight, Kristen Chenoweth, Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, and so many more. This profession, our profession, opens doors to learning and lifetime experiences unlike any other. It is truly the greatest profession on earth! Never stop learning and never stop working to improve your skills. You never know when the next great opportunity will present itself.

Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and captioner based in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as NCRA’s Vice President. In addition to the NCRA certifications listed above, she has earned NCRA’s Realtime System Administrator certification and the state certified shorthand reporter credentials for Utah, California, Nevada, and Texas. She can be reached at ddib06@gmail.com.