Chabad Lubavitch captioning assignment

By Rivka Teich

On Sunday, Nov. 24, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I did my very first closed captioning event.

Let me give you some background. My name is Rivka Teich, and I am an Orthodox Jewish court reporter. As a matter of fact, I am the only Orthodox Federal reporter in the country. I’ve been a court reporter for the last 20+ years, with nearly all of those years in Federal court. I’m currently in Brooklyn, Eastern District of New York. I do realtime every day and hold NCRA’s Registered Merit Reporter and a realtime certificate. I’m comfortable and confident in my work every day.

The event I captioned was the Gala Banquet put on by Chabad Lubavitch headquarters. Chabad Lubavitch is one of the largest global Jewish organizations. They have emissaries (rabbis and their families) who are in all parts of the world, including more than 100 countries and in every state in the United States. These rabbis create a Jewish community and atmosphere, providing Jewish activities and classes, establishing schools, and providing kosher food. The list could go on and on.

And once a year all of these rabbis, more than 5,000, come back to their base (Crown Heights, Brooklyn) for a long weekend of classes, seminars, and encouragement from one another. And at the end of the weekend, on Sunday, they have a beautiful, uplifting Gala Banquet. At this banquet, all the rabbis join, many bringing their friends and people from their community along, raising the attendance to close to 6,000 people, making it the largest rabbinical conference in the world.

Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff with Rivka Teich

One of those 5,000 rabbis is Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff. And he is deaf. Soudakoff is originally from California and currently lives in Israel with his wife, Cheftziba, who is also deaf. Together they run the Chabad for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in Rishon L’tzion. The name of their organization is Chushima, which is a reference to the Biblical figure, Chushim Ben Dan, who was deaf; additionally, the word Chushim in Hebrew means senses.

For Soudakoff to fully participate and enjoy the evening with his fellow rabbis, the CART was displayed on the screens around the exposition hall. The Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative funded the closed captioning and helped guide these efforts for the past five years. In addition to the screens in the room for the 6,000 people to watch, it was also being broadcast live on the internet for those watching at home (100,000+ people) with closed captioning.

This was a big deal. And it was not simple to hire just any CART captioner, because about 40 percent of the words were not in English. They were a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish and a slew of phrases and words that are commonly spoken between Orthodox Jews. The reporter had to be someone familiar with that lexicon and ready for it. So that definitely narrows down the pool.

In the past another reporter, Rikki Woonteiler of Brooklyn, N.Y., who is a CART captioner, did the captioning. But she was out of the country, and so the organizers reached out to me.

I strongly believe that you need to keep challenging yourself and improving. Yes, it’s nice to float along and to be comfortable in your work, but not too comfortable. And that was how I was starting to feel day to day at work, too comfortable. Give me a narcotics trial, a securities fraud trial, a terrorist trial — and I got it! But this was a whole new territory for me with words and phrases that I hardly hear or write at work.

So, naturally, I accepted. Now came the hard work.

I was given most of the speeches ahead of time. And so I wrote them, and wrote them, and wrote them again. Over and over and over again. I also went back to previous banquets online and practiced past speeches. I put more than 700 words into my case-specific dictionary. I was definitely doing my homework and being as prepared as can be.

In addition to the physical practicing, I had to figure out my software and work with the IT people at the convention to change over from court reporting software to captioning software. That was a whole new world for me, too. That took time. And there was a lot of trial and error. Of course, I did not wait until game day, and it all went smooth when we hooked up at the event.

Yes, I had the speeches, but – spoiler alert – most people did not stay on script. As a matter of fact, there was an entire Q&A before the evening of an interviewer going around the room and asking participants where they are from and some questions.

There was a lot of quick thinking. Realizing I didn’t have a specific name in my dictionary, I had to finger spell it. And these are not “John Smith” names, but rather “Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Jenkelowitz from Krgyzstan.” That was fun!

Plus if a Hebrew word or phrase was said that I hadn’t prepared for, I would write the English of it instead. So it wasn’t just hearing words and writing them. There was a lot of analyzing going on all at the same time.

Right before we started, Soudakoff came over to me with his ASL interpreter to thank me. That was so special. That was a clear reminder of why the closed captioning was so important. As Soudakoff said on social media: “Accessibility is not just for those who need it. Accessibility brings together an entire community and includes all of its members. That’s why I’m thrilled that the captioning won’t just be in front of me at the Chabad Emissaries Gala Banquet I’m attending tonight. It will be on the screens around the room – sending a message of community-wide inclusion and unity.”

Was I nervous? Yes, yes, yes. It was all so new compared to what I’m used to and confident at. But in the end, that was the biggest accomplishment for me: I put myself out there and I did it. And I did it well. I have been thinking of moving into the closed captioning world but hadn’t done it ever; and now I jumped in with two feet, in the deep end. And I made it!

My take-away is: Go out of your comfort zone. Put yourself out there. Take a leap of faith. It will be uncomfortable, but you’ll gain the confidence that you did it.

Rivka Teich, RMR, is an official court reporter in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Listen to ‘Confessions of a Stenographer’ now

By Heidi Renner

Shaunise Day

NCRA Member and student Shaunise Day from Oakland, Calif., has started a podcast. Confessions of a Stenographer. The first two episodes are out, and the show is a mix of information, fun, and encouragement for the steno community. Day said she has been thinking about the idea for a while.

“In 2018, I made a list of all of the steno goals that I would create later on after being certified, and I had no idea I was sitting on a lot of good ideas that the profession could use now,” Day said. “I decided to move some of my goals ahead of schedule and bring them to life. On social media, we discuss plenty of great topics that everyone in the profession could use. After discovering that I had way too many screenshots of valuable information, I thought about all of the reporters and others who are in the profession who aren’t on social media and could benefit from the topics just as well. A steno podcast would be the perfect platform to keep us all engaged and informed. “

Her guest on the first episode is Mike Hensley, RDR, a freelancer in Dublin, Calif. Hensley recounted how he got into the profession and what he is working on now.

“It was so fun working with Shaunise on this project. When you hear her speak, you can’t help but feel the energy and happiness she conveys,” Hensley said. “She’s also a very gracious podcast hostess. I think it’s really exciting that there are more opportunities to share the word about stenography through current methods such as podcasts. I’m eager to see how this endeavor evolves!”

Day said about her first guest: “I decided to start with someone who I’ve worked with on seminar sessions and someone I knew who would do an excellent job, and it was only right to have someone from my home state of California. Mike Hensley is a new professional who has been reporting for four years. He has done the unthinkable with his little time as a new professional. He is the definition of setting high goals and executing them.”

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, Sound Cloud, and iHeart Radio.

“Shaunise’s infectious attitude and love for the court reporting profession shine through in this podcast,” said listener Melissa Clark, an NCRA member and freelancer from Greencastle, Pa. “Her first guest, Mike Hensley, is amazing. He is at the top of the steno industry and still reaching for the stars. Just listening to all that he has accomplished in just a short period of time gave me the jolt I needed to push even harder. His impressive résumé speaks volumes, and he is extremely motivating. Their conversation was enthusiastic, enlightening, informative, and encouraging. It doesn’t matter if you are a new reporter or have been reporting for years and years, there is something to be learned from this podcast.”

The second episode features Joe Strickland, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer in Washington D.C. Strickland, a former official reporter with the U.S. House of Representatives, talked with Day about how he became a stenographer, what it’s like to work on Capitol Hill, and why he values his time at the NCRA Conference & Expo.

Day said it took time to set up the podcast because she wanted a platform that was easy to access.

“I thought since 99 percent of us have cellphones, why not run it through simple channels that everyone can access right from their smartphones. We discuss so many great topics on social media and not everyone is on social media, but everyone pretty much has a smartphone. For those who take social media breaks, you still have a platform to stay connected to steno.”

 Day said she plans on always having at least one guest and sometimes two. Other segments she plans on keeping are steno news and trivia. She is planning on two episodes a month.

Day said she hopes the podcast will “keep as many of us connected, encouraged, informed, and motivated about stenography. This podcast was created for all of us. Whatever it takes to strengthen our profession and help others, I’m all for it.”

Veterans History Project celebrates 20th anniversary

NCRA Membership and Development Manager Brenda Gill, Director of State Government Relations Jocelynn Moore, Content Manager Heidi Renner, and Development Relations Manager Jill Parker Landsman

NCRA staff members recently delivered some of the Veterans History Project (VHP) transcripts members have produced to the Library of Congress (LOC).

NCRA members have transcribed 4,353 interviews for the VHP. NCRA Development Relations Manager Jill Parker Landsman, Membership and Development Manager Brenda Gill, Director of State Government Relations Jocelynn Moore, and Content Manager Heidi Renner visited the program at its headquarters in the Library of Congress.

Kerry Ward, liaison specialist with the Veterans History Project, said groups come to the LOC VHP office to present transcripts, and those presentations sometimes include ceremonies. Ward said the office’s role is to provide the inspiration and tools for a grassroots effort to help people share veterans’ stories.

This year, the VHP is celebrating its 20th anniversary of preserving and making accessible these veterans’ stories. They have 110,000 collections covering WWI to the present, and 60 percent of the materials are online.

“What a great honor it is to memorialize the narratives of our nation’s brave military veterans with this Oral History Project,” said Landsman, who also works for the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF), which, as the charitable arm of the Association, coordinates NCRA members’ transcription of the VHP audio and video. “Our court reporter members are eager to give back to their communities and their country. It amazes me how many members volunteer for this, share how touched they were by doing this, and want to transcribe yet another veteran’s oral history.”

The collections include people who served in many different ways. People will often say they didn’t do much, but that’s not true, Ward said. The interviews cover the full arc of someone’s life, including interviews, pictures, letters, artwork, and more.

“We’re not after the dramatic stories,” Ward said. “Things you don’t think are important can be important to someone else.”

Minimum requirements for a collection are a 30-minute audio or video interview, 20 pages or more of a journal or diary, and 10 photos, letters, or works of art. Those amounts can be mixed and matched. The information is then available to researchers; for instance, Ken Burns has used their records. They also hold workshops for groups of 25 or more on how to run a VHP day, like one that was held recently in Ohio.

It’s possible to see the veterans’ collections that have been put online. This link leads to the interviews that were transcribed by NCRA members.

Nancy Hopp, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CMRS, a freelancer from St. Louis, Mo., has been involved in multiple VHP interviews. “You just can’t imagine what it’s like to hear these horrifying and yet intimate stories,” she said. “The gratitude these soldiers expressed will stay with me for a lifetime.”

Read more about Hopp’s experiences with the VHP.

“In 2003, the Veterans History Project developed one of our most salient relationships when we collaborated with the National Court Reporters Foundation,” Ward said. “The transcriptions that NCRA/NCRF reporters contribute now allow historians, students of history, family members, and researchers to view these one-of-a-kind oral histories in printed form, which helps to emphasize the content and facilitate the usage.”

The Veterans History Project (VHP) is the first of several oral history projects that NCRF and NCRA members have supported through NCRF’s expanded Oral Histories Program.

How can a member be involved?

For questions or additional information about this program and other NCRF programs, please email ncrfoundation@ncra.org.

Nancy Hopp describes VHP experience

Headshot of an NCRF Major Gifts donor: a woman in profressional attire poses in front of a studio background
Nancy Hopp

Nancy Hopp, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CMRS, a freelancer from St. Louis, Mo., shared with the JCR some of her experiences with the Veterans History Project. The National Court Reporters Foundation is a partner with the Library of Congress in the project which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of preserving and making accessible these veterans’ stories.

JCR |When did you participate in the VHP?

NH | My first VHP experience was at the NCRA 2016 Convention & Expo in Chicago. The Sunday the convention ended also happened to be Purple Heart Day, and NCRA and NCRF staff set up a VHP event for Purple Heart veterans. I interviewed two Vietnam veterans, Kenny Laforge and John Domina. In 1970, at only 18 years of age, they were both wounded in the same attack as they served together. Their injuries were very serious, and although both survived, they returned to a country deeply divided by this unpopular war. Kenny and John were not acknowledged for their bravery or sacrifices, even by the existing veterans’ organizations. They had to essentially bury their experiences deep inside themselves and soldier on as they attempted to readjust, with great difficulty, to civilian life. This VHP experience, almost 50 years later, was the first time they had been invited to share their stories.

JCR | What made you interested to do it?

NH | My father, also a Purple Heart recipient, had served in World War II as an infantryman in Europe. He was deployed in France during a very bitter winter and suffered greatly from the privations of the battlefield. At age 83, while on his deathbed, he knit together all the little anecdotes he had shared throughout his lifetime into one very emotional and compelling story. It struck me at the time that he would not let himself die until he had finally shared in full this pivotal chapter of his life, even though it had happened more than 50 years prior. The idea of hearing other soldiers’ stories intrigued me further.

JCR | What did you think of the experience?

NH | Kenny’s and John’s stories really moved me. They were so young to have traveled halfway around the world, suffered severe injuries, and then forced to keep their stories to themselves. (My son was only a few years older at the time of these interviews, and I could not imagine him having to cope with experiences similar to what they had gone through.) But despite that, they were so very grateful for the opportunity to share their personal histories for posterity’s sake. They kept thanking me and reporter Donna Urlaub, RMR, CRR, for making this possible. It was a very humbling moment.

JCR | Have you had other chances to be a part of the VHP program?

NH | As then-chairperson of NCRF, I had the honor of addressing the national convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Dallas, Texas, two years ago. Again, NCRA and NCRF staff scheduled a VHP event in conjunction with their convention, and I was able to interview more veterans. You just can’t imagine what it’s like to hear these horrifying and yet intimate stories. The gratitude these soldiers expressed will stay with me for a lifetime.

Recognize that someone special in your career!

Every year, NCRA seeks nominations from members to recognize the best of the best through a number of awards and scholarships. Now is the time to recognize that special teacher, court reporter, or captioner who inspired or supported you in your career – or motivate a student who has completed the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program, by nominating them for a scholarship.

CASE Educator of the YearIf there is a court reporting instructor who helped you in your career who remains unrecognized for his or her many contributions to the professions of court reporting and captioning, now is a great time to show your appreciation. Was there someone special who inspired you, who got you through the ups, downs, and plateaus of your court reporting classes? If a teacher was an incredible influence on you, consider nominating him or her for the CASE Educator of the Year Award. Nominations close April 1.

Fellow of the Academy of Professional ReportersIf you know a dedicated court reporter or captioner who has contributed to the profession in a big way over the years, nominate that person as a Fellow. This prestigious recognition is a sign of your colleagues’ understanding of your special contributions to the fields of court reporting and captioning. Candidates must be active practitioners in the field and have at least 10 years of experience. Criteria for nomination include the publication of important papers, legislative or creative contributions to the field, and service on committees or boards. Nominations close April 1.

NCRA A to Z® scholarshipsUp to 10 students will receive a $500 scholarship. Qualified applicants must have completed the NCRA A to Z ® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program as well as pass a skills test writing between 60 and 100 wpm, among other eligibility requirements. Nominations close April 1.

NCRA members from Alabama promote Court Reporting and Captioning Week

Members of NCRA and the Alabama Court Reporters Association Cindy Greene, RPR, Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Taylor Nouwen, a recent court reporting school graduate, were featured in a piece that aired on local Fox 10 news on Feb. 7 about their jobs and the need for more recruits to the profession.

Watch here.

2020 National Court Reporting & Captioning Week continues to raise awareness about career opportunities

Yahoo Finance posted a press release on Feb. 8 issued by NCRA announcing the 2020 Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

Read more.

Tough job of U.S. Senate stenographers recognized by impeachment observer

The Cape Gazette, Lewes, Del., posted a piece on Jan. 31 that recounts a journalist’s experience observing a day of impeachment proceedings in which he acknowledges how tough the job is for the stenographers covering the events.   

Read more.

NCRA responds to comments on MSNBC

Recently MSNBC news anchor Brian Williams and former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) made comments on MSNBC about stenographers in the U.S. Senate. A post on the NCRA Facebook page responded. NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, also responded in a video, and a letter was sent to national news outlets. For more information about how NCRA has mobilized to promote stenography, visit our NCRA STRONG webpage.

NCRA’s Facebook post: “MSNBC, the most technologically advanced method of capturing the spoken word and producing a record is the stenographic reporter. An accurate record is more important than ever today. And the best way to get the most accurate record is that stenographer on the floor of the Senate and House who reports the proceedings in realtime (instant translation as the reporter is writing). Their realtime transcripts create the daily Congressional Record printed by the government printing office. Claire McCaskill, as a former senator, you should appreciate the job they do in getting the record quickly and accurately. Brian Williams, those stenographers have been working nearly nonstop since October. No other method would be able to keep the record with so many people talking at the same time. The stenographers are really the unsung heroes in the impeachment trial. #discoversteno #ncrastrong

Some of the responses NCRA has received on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are highlighted below.

“For decades, it has been our job to go about our duty quietly and unnoticed while doing an amazing job. I think we’ve discovered in the last few years that it’s very important to talk about the job we are doing and how we do it. What a great opportunity this affords us to educate, inform, and recruit.”

Amy Doman, RPR, CRR, a freelancer from Carmel, Ind.

“Thanks for this response, NCRA. This is a teaching moment. The next step is to offer to show Brian Williams how much goes into our job.

“In some ways, Williams was simply doing his job by asking the question. Stanley Sakai wrote an article just last week, and the headline he put on it was almost word for word what Williams asked.”

Ksenija Zeltkalns, RPR, a freelancer in Topeka, Kan.

“Just watching these hearings as a stenography student made me really appreciate the reporters who are in the front lines of recording the spoken word at such a critical time in our history. You are all truly an inspiration!”

Lynn Mackey

“What an incredible opportunity to educate the masses about our profession. It saddens me (boggles my mind?!) that a news anchor and former senator, of all people, have zero idea what we do and why we do it the way we do.”

Kim Sziva Johnson

“Do they even realize the closed captioning of what they just said on their program is being done by an ‘old-fashioned’ stenographer??”

Robin Kulhanek Day

“Seems like a teachable moment for those who are completely clueless about what we do!”

Alexa Goldman

“They definitely need to be educated. It’s too bad those statements were made for all to hear. They just spread the ignorance to the masses.”

Heather Holden

“YYYAAAYY!! Interview a court reporter and see what it takes. A LOT of hard work!!!”

Lindsay Moon

“I operated a court reporting school for 15 years. Hearing anyone speak like this of court reporters is insulting to every one of them. You should educate yourself about what they do before denigrating the profession. Always speak from a place of knowledge.”

Sue Pratt

“Imagine if every single court reporter and captioner was a member of NCRA, and we could afford to spread this message far and wide. Please SHARE this with a smart reporter you know who isn’t yet a member with a personal invitation to join NCRA 2.0.”

Linda Hallworth, a freelancer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Super Chili Bowl Cook-off and Kansas City Chiefs

By Cindy Isaacsen

Last year was the first year the Johnson County Court Reporters in Kansas hosted a Super Chili Bowl Cook-off to support a local charity, Feed the Need. It is a football-themed event since it is held the Thursday before Super Bowl. The 2019 cook-off was well-attended and helped to raise about $200.  

This year we started planning it again for the Thursday before Super Bowl, hoping that our own Kansas City Chiefs would make it to the big game. The Thursday before the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship game, which would determine the Chief’s attendance in the Super Bowl, I had an idea: Why not ask the Kansas City Chiefs mascot, K.C. Wolf, to attend our function? I emailed the appropriate person, and they said they could. Our fingers were crossed that the Chiefs would win the AFC Championship – they did, and our team was well on its way to the Super Bowl.  

In preparation for the chili cook-off, we had a trophy made, certificates for all the participants, and we wrangled some local businesses to give gift certificates for the top winners. We even convinced Park Street Pastry to make eight dozen mini cinnamon rolls to go along with the chili. We had 11 entries for the competition, ranging from reporters, administrative assistants, judges, and other support staff. The early morning hours of the cook-off (like 4 a.m.), I had a brilliant idea – get a picture of K.C. Wolf writing on a steno machine!

In anticipation of the cook-off, we prepared a press release. Metropolitan Community College (MCC) got wind of our chili cook-off and our special guest, K.C. Wolf, and they showed up with their mascot, Wolfie. MCC was in a Twitter war with a community college in San Francisco, Calif., and wanted to take pictures with K.C. Wolf and Wolfie to show off to the San Francisco college. While he was here, Wolfie got a quick steno lesson and was happy to participate in our photo shoot with a machine.

K.C. Wolf arrived at the courthouse and we were quickly able to take pictures of him working on a steno machine before the magic began. He was an amazing contribution to our chili cook-off. The entire courthouse was abuzz and took hundreds of pictures with the Wolf. We even snuck him away and put him in a judge’s robe and let him sit behind the bench (shhh, don’t tell the judge).

The good news is that the chili cook-off raised $573 for the local charity, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl!

Side note: I asked the staff from MCC, “Do you have a court reporting program?” 

“No, I didn’t know that was a thing,” they said. 

“Well, it is a thing, so let’s trade business cards.” (We have been in communication with them about starting a court reporting program here locally.)

Cindy L. Isaacsen, RPR, is an official court reporter from Olathe, Kan. She also serves as an NCRA Director. She can be reached at Cindy.Isaacsen@jocogov.org.