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.

Skills Test registration starts Dec. 1

Registration is available Dec. 1-20 for online testing Jan. 1-20, 2020. NCRA’s move to block scheduling has been widely successful, not only in helping to increase the number of professionals testing for national certifications, but also, based on feedback from members, the new method has made it easier to schedule test-taking times.

Under block scheduling, registration for skills tests will be open every other month, with candidates registering during the first 20 days of the registration month. Test candidates will be able to choose their test day from the first 20 days of the month following the registration month. Make sure to schedule your test as soon as you have received your enrollment confirmation email to ensure your preferred date(s) and time(s).

For more information about block scheduling, visit NCRA.org/testing.

Announcing a new NCRA certification for aspiring court reporters: Registered Skilled Reporter

Starting January 2020, aspiring court reporters can test for a new NCRA certification, the Registered Skilled Reporter (RSR). This new designation will recognize those stenographic professionals who are looking to validate their beginning level of competency.

“We are launching the RSR as an entry-level test for new professionals preparing to enter the field but who are not quite ready to earn their RPRs yet,” says NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI, based in Smyrna, Tenn. “It should build their confidence as they continue to work on taking and passing the RPR successfully and possibly letting them begin work with some easier, low-impact reporting assignments.”

Earning the RSR will demonstrate an ability to hold a verified level of skill to current and potential clients, current and potential employers, and fellow reporters.

Created as a stepping-stone credential to ultimately achieving the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) designation, the RSR certification will offer the prestige of an NCRA certification for those new or returning to the court reporting profession who have yet to be able to get their writing speeds up enough to earn the RPR.

Testing for the RSR begins Jan. 1, 2020, and registration for the first RSR skills testing begins Dec. 1, 2019. Current or aspiring stenographic reporters are eligible to earn the RSR and do not need to be members of NCRA to take the RSR tests.

Candidates seeking the RSR need to pass three 5-minute Skills Tests:

  • RSR Literary at 160 words per minute
  • RSR Jury Charge at 180 words per minute
  • RSR Testimony/Q&A at 200 words per minute

To pass, an accuracy level of 95 percent is required for each leg.

There is a critical need for qualified, competent stenographers, and the RSR certification will help employers differentiate among candidates applying for these opportunities.

“When you earn the RSR, you have an opportunity to continue learning but begin to enjoy the personal satisfaction of seeing your skills used in professional practice and earn income while you continue your learning,” says NCRA Vice President Debra A. Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC of Woodland, Utah. “It’s a win/win!”

Visit the NCRA website for more information: https://www.ncra.org/certification/registered-apprentice-reporter-(rar)

10 new CSRs

Downey Adult School congratulates 10 students who passed their California State Exam (CSR) in July:

Kristen McElderry

Dottie Simpson

Rachel Brown

Marissa Holt

Samantha Maciel

Ashley Chislock

Mirbella Hernandez

Katelyn Chang

Nicole Hallman

Ai Arias

Get those CEUs now

Sept. 30 marks the end of NCRA’s 2019 education cycle. Don’t be left without the CEUs you need to maintain your certification. NCRA members with cycles ending in 2019 have a number of quick-and-easy ways to earn CEUs in the time remaining. Below is a quick list of ways you can be sure to earn what you need at your convenience.

  • Watch the JCR Weekly and your email for information about upcoming live webinars and e-seminars. Webinars and e-seminars represent the most convenient way to earn CEUs when and where you need them. NCRA’s library of webinars and e-seminars is the easiest way to find the latest offerings. Webinars are live presentations from industry professionals on various professional and industry-related topics, and e-seminars feature recorded video and downloadable handout materials and allow you to access the best presentations from past NCRA events and webinars.
  • Attend a pre-approved event, including state association conferences, and earn CEUs while catching up with old friends and making new ones during educational sessions and networking opportunities. Many state associations and other court reporter-related organizations are hosting conferences and seminars in September. Most events are one to three days, and many of them are in the first half of the month. Check out the full calendar of pre-approved events on NCRA’s website.
  • Did you know that if you learn CPR or first aid, you can earn CEUs? The American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and other organizations often host seminars on CPR or first aid. Perhaps you can organize a few colleagues from your firm, court, or even your local area to team up for an event nearby. Court reporters and captioners have to be prepared for anything, so why not add safety to your list of skills?
  • Transcribe an oral history for the National Court Reporters Foundation program. Members who participate in the Oral Histories Program through NCRF may earn Professional Development Credits for their time. Members can apply up to 1.0 PDC to their CEU requirement per cycle. Transcribe a 30- to 90-minute pre-recorded interview of an American veteran, Holocaust survivor, or attorney who has provided pro bono services through Legal Aid. Many people find participating in the Oral Histories Program to be especially rewarding. Learn more about the Oral Histories Program by visiting the NCRF page on the NCRA website.
  • You may have already participated in activities that have helped you earn CEUs or PDCs during the last year, and the only thing you need to do is fill out the proper form to get credit. If you promoted the profession at a career fair, law school, or other event; provided pro bono services; served on a state association board or committee (including the United States Court Reporting Association); or participated in a formal mentoring program, you may qualify for credit for your volunteerism. To learn more, visit the Continuing Education page on the NCRA website.

Finally, go through your records to see if any educational opportunities were somehow overlooked. Classes should be closely related to court reporting and not paid for by your employer. If the event was held in the past three years, it may be worth the time to see if it might be CEU-worthy.

Learn more about how you can keep that certification you worked so hard to earn by visiting the Continuing Education page on NCRA’s website.

Did you know that if you will not complete your CEUs by Sept. 30, you may request a four-month extension for your continuing education deadline from Sept. 30 to Jan. 31 of the following year? By Sept. 30, complete the CEU Cycle Extension form and pay a $99 processing fee. You can view your transcript or submit CEUs and PDCs online. If you have recently attended a seminar, submitted an individual request for credit, or applied for a cycle extension, the event may not yet be reflected on your transcript. Please allow 8-10 business days from the date of submission for credit to appear on your transcript. In cases where a third-party seminar sponsor reports attendance to NCRA, the sponsor may take up to 30 days after the event to submit credit.

Skills Test registration starts Thursday, Aug. 1.

Registration is available Aug. 1-20 for online testing Sept. 1-20.

NCRA skills testing registration started following a new block schedule designed to make registration easier and more efficient for test candidates in June.

Under block scheduling, registration for skills tests will be open every other month, with candidates registering during the first 20 days of the registration month. Test candidates will be able to choose their test day from the first 20 days of the month following the registration month. For example, candidates can register for their next skills test between Aug. 1 and 20 and test between Sept. 1 and Sept. 20.

For the remainder of this year, registration blocks will be October (for testing in November) and December (for testing in January 2020).

For more information about block scheduling, visit NCRA.org/testing.

The faces behind the testing voices

Rob Buhrman, producer Mike Caplan and Brenda Line in the recording studio

The next time you sit down to take a Skills Test, you might not be thinking about the people behind the recording, but they are thinking about you.

“As a former reporter and reporting teacher, I think about the test takers every second I speak,” said Brenda Line. “Having been on the business end of a steno machine, I know how difficult testing can be. Rob and I want to make sure every word is intelligible. We try to project soothing voices to help the reporters stay calm and maintain steady nerves. We try to do everything we can to help the reporters have successful outcomes for this noble profession!”

NCRA Director of Certification and Testing Amy Davidson and Certification and Testing Program Manager Eva Liu recently worked with Line and Rob Buhrman to record new Skills Tests, as well as the legs for the Speed Contest and Realtime Contests, which recently switched to pre-recorded materials.

Liu said they record two or three times a year.

Rob Buhrman

Buhrman has been recording for NCRA since 2013. He said it is a unique job.

“There is an extra focus on pace, timing, and clarity for these recordings compared to other voice jobs,” Buhrman said. “Reading with a stopwatch for a 5-minute exam is a unique task, especially for the faster testimony pieces.”

Buhrman said to prepare, “I usually rehearse the higher speed exams aloud to try to identify any stumbling blocks. (There’s not much time to think when you’re reading at 260 wpm!)”

“They do such an amazing job,” said NCRA’s Liu. “Some of the tests are hard material and fast speed, so they have to re-record some of the sentences several times to get it right and on the time mark. They are very strict with themselves. They won’t let any voice crack, slurred words, or even a click in the background pass by without re-recording. They also have to ensure that they are perfect on time marks. The NCRA staff are there to also check and ensure that the reading and the test are a perfect match, down to each punctuation mark, as well as timing.”

Line said she has been recording for NCRA since May 2011, but she was not new to this type of voice work.

Brenda Line

“This job is similar to my other voice jobs that included live dictation in my work as a court reporting instructor and live dictation of NCRA skills tests while working for Central Penn College,” Line said. “I’ve also recorded countless hours of practice and test dictation for Lifeline Dictation. When NCRA recruited me, I was just finishing a skills test project for Realtime Coach, so there was a natural flow into recording NCRA Skills Tests. Although my experience spans many years, I still get a bit nervous at the high speeds.”

Line said she reads the tests before entering the studio.

Producer Mike Caplan

“We receive the tests that are marked in 15-second increments,” Line said. “For the high speeds, I add my own time markings at 7.5 seconds to help maintain an even cadence and preserve the accuracy of the speed.”

Both Line and Buhrman said they are thinking about the test takers.

“Absolutely!” Buhrman said. “Anytime we hear something that was even slightly unclear during recording, we have to correct it so that the test takers are listening to something that is as perfect as we can make it. They have enough to think about without hearing something that may not be perfectly clear.”

Celebrating NCRA’s Certified Members

Earning professional certifications means different things to different people. For some, it might be a requirement to be able to work; for others, it might be the desire to increase their skills in a certain area. But for everyone who earns a professional certification, the achievement always gives the recipient a greater sense of pride.

In honor of 2019 Celebrate Certification Month, the JCR reached out to several NCRA members who hold the highest number of professional certifications to learn more about what motivates them and why professional growth has been such an important part of their
careers.

Be the best that we can be

Jo Anne Betler, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CLVS, CRC, CPE, from Huntington, W.Va., is a freelance court reporter, CART captioner, and agency owner. She also holds the Realtime Systems Administrator and the Trial Presentation Professional certificates.

JCR | How long have you been a working court reporter and captioner?

Jo Anne Betler
Jo Anne Betler

BETLER | I graduated from Huntington Junior College in March of 1982, so… My goodness, that makes it 37 years. Surely, it’s not been that long — seems like yesterday.

JCR | What areas of the profession have you worked in?

BETLER | My first position in the profession was as a transcriptionist for other reporters while I was still in school. This was back when we used typewriters and carbon paper and dictation from the reporter. Upon graduation, I worked my first eight years as a freelance reporter before I had the opportunity to accept an official position. I held that position for 25 years. Upon my “retirement” from my official position, I returned to freelance and CART. During my tenure as an official, I continuously provided realtime and CART services for the court when needed.

Having returned to the freelance arena, I continue reporting and providing CART services. CART has been both on-site and remote in either an individual or a public big screen setting. While I hold my CLVS certification and am available, I prefer to work as the reporter. I have yet to caption on air, but I’m not through yet.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

BETLER | When I was in elementary school, my mother was a legal secretary. She would also transcribe dictation for a few reporters over the years. I remember going to the courthouse to deliver her work to Colin Miller, a pen writer. Little did I know that 30 years later that his very office would be mine!

When my family moved to Louisville, Ky., my mother transcribed for reporter Margaret Commons of Yoder & Commons. She encouraged my mother to become a reporter. She even gave my mother a machine. Mom then took classes through a correspondence course with that machine. Due to family commitments during that time, Mom was unable to finish. I later was able to start school with that machine.

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

BETLER | My motivation to attain my certifications has varied from time to time. First, my parents encouraged me. Education has always been important, so pursuing certification just kind of fell into place. When I graduated and began working, I did not need certification, but I wanted to be an official reporter. Official positions required certification.

I passed the West Virginia state certification and got the official position. I could have stopped there, but if I passed the RPR, I would get a raise. If I attained the CRR and RMR, that would allow another raise for each certification. I had the honor to work for Judge John L. Cummings for 20 years. He encouraged me to pass the CRR, because he wanted me to provide realtime. And I can’t forget my husband. Gene has always supported me and encouraged me that I could do it. And I did!

I did have friends and coworkers ask me why I continued to pursue certifications. “You don’t need them.” They were wrong. I did need them. I needed them for myself. I was the one that could say: “I did it.”

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your overall career?

BETLER | Certification has given me not only the opportunity of being an official reporter, I was given three separate raises upon attaining the certifications RPR, CRR, and RMR. Those raises not only increased my income at the time, they increased my retirement annuity. They gave me the opportunity to be assigned to different counties and cases in order to provide realtime. I have had the opportunity to serve on committees and provide input to others.

And I have received jobs because of my certifications. Above all, pursuing certification pushed me to improve my skills as a reporter.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in
your overall confidence?

BETLER | It’s difficult to put into words the feelings of pride and confidence that each certification has given me. They allow me to recognize that I do have the knowledge and skills to strive to be the best I can be.

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

BETLER | The biggest benefit for me has been the confidence and prestige that goes hand-in-hand with each certification. The pay increases and job opportunities have been nice!

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

BETLER | I encourage everyone to reach for the stars. Be the best you can be. We never know where our lives will take us. Having not only certification, but advanced certification, gives us the ability and advantage to be ready for changes or obstacles that may come our way.

At the top of our game

Sandra A. German, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, CPE, is a CART and broadcast captioner, and agency owner from Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. She has been in the profession since 1979.

Sandra German
Sandra German

JCR | How long have you been a working court reporter and captioner?

GERMAN | I graduated from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) court reporting program in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in May of 1979, so this year is my fortieth year in this career! Over the years, I’ve been an official and freelance court reporter, a court reporting firm owner, a sessional instructor at NAIT, a broadcast captioner, and CART captioner, and I now own Canada’s largest remote CART captioning company, AB Captioning & CART Inc.

JCR | Anything else we should know about your background?

GERMAN | I pioneered CART in Alberta, Canada, in 1990. Those were the days of the technology dinosaurs! We had nowhere to go but explore and delve into the many exciting opportunities that lie ahead.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

GERMAN | My dad knew two women from my hometown who had become court reporters, and he thought this profession might be a good fit for me. I guess he was right!

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

GERMAN | I always wanted to improve my skills and be the best that I could be. Writing shorthand has always been a game for me and fascinated me at the same time, and when realtime became a reality in the early 1990s, seeing my steno translate quickly into words on the screen was a thrill! Then seeing my writing on national television was
the ultimate dream come true!

I believe it’s ultimately important to earn professional certifications to stay on top of our game, especially when you operate a business. If you want to be the crème de la crème in your industry, you need to demonstrate that to your clients and also be an inspiration to the team of writers that work with you to hopefully encourage them to do the same.

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your
overall career?

GERMAN | The old adage, you get what you pay for. Our clients demand the best quality CART captioning for their events. We have some of Canada’s best writers working with our team, who also possess NCRA certifications.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in your overall confidence?

GERMAN | Well, our company is always eager to take on difficult or high-profile assignments or new technology. I can’t answer if that’s because of our certifications or not. Maybe we’re all just keeners!

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

GERMAN | I believe clients want the best quality CART captioning and value for their money, and they’re willing to pay more than what entry-level or non-steno services can provide.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

GERMAN | More education and knowledge is always a positive, without fail. We never know what we will learn every day on the job. I always said if I learned one thing every day, the day would not be a waste. And I can confidently say that I haven’t had a wasted day in 40 years in this career!


A way to stand out

Kimberly R. Xavier, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI, is an official court reporter from Arlington, Texas. She also holds the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. She has been in the profession for 25 years.

Kim Xavier
Kim Xavier

JCR | How long have you been a working court reporter?

XAVIER | I have been a working court reporter for 25 years as of this summer, and I can’t imagine doing anything else for that many years.

JCR | What areas of the profession have you worked in?

XAVIER | As of the 25th year, the bulk of my career has been as an official court reporter, but I started out as a freelance reporter, and I also owned a full-service freelance firm for many years. Right now, I’m working on polishing up my skills so that I can take on event captioning.

I love the fact that we have so many career options to choose from, and I intend to explore them all!

JCR| How did you learn about the profession?

XAVIER | I had never even heard of court reporting until I got a phone call out of the blue from an old military roommate. I had decided to separate from the Air Force and she was considering doing the same, so our discussion naturally turned to what we would do in the civilian world.

She mentioned court reporting, and it piqued my interest enough that soon after that call, I pulled out the Yellow Pages (that tells you how long ago it was) and discovered there were two schools in the area. I ended up enrolling in court reporting school, and I heard through the grapevine that my old roommate ended up staying in and retiring from the military. We haven’t spoken since, but to this day, I’m convinced God sent her to me to plant that little steno seed.

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

XAVIER | Once I knew there were advanced certifications to be earned, it was always a professional goal for me. I mean, why wouldn’t you strive to get better and do your best in the field you work in on a daily basis? But I’d have to say that the thing that pushed me full steam ahead was speed competitions. I had gone for an interview with a firm, and one of the firm owners was displaying her Paul Burris Speed Cup. That was my first glimpse of the top award for our speed contest in Texas. I distinctly remember that crystal trophy glowing and calling out my name.

I left that office and did some research and found out that you had to be a merit writer to even earn a seat at the contest. From that day on, I pushed myself to get that certification, and it was just a natural progression to get the others.

But earning some of the other certs, like the CRI and the CMRS, came from my own freakish need to “feel” prepared. I think our community has always fallen short in the area of training new reporters, so about 10 years into my career, when I finally felt like I knew what I was doing myself, I began providing training opportunities for new reporters who were willing to put in the time. When the CRI came about, it sounded like something that would help me in my attempts to help other reporters. I actually ended up taking that one twice, a few years apart, before actually obtaining the certification. The CMRS caught my eye when I was running my own firm because I’ve always felt a huge gap between my steno sense and my business sense. I’m still very much attracted to just about anything that promises to sharpen my business judgment and understanding.

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your overall career?

XAVIER | I have been fortunate enough not to have to search for jobs too many times in my career, but when I have, I believe my résumé has set me apart from the crowd when I have needed it to. But I don’t want it to sound as if I believe certifications make the reporter. They certainly don’t. I believe in being a well-rounded reporter, so I’ve made it a habit to be a help in the court reporting community through volunteering for committees and leadership positions as well. I think all of these things have helped me in my overall career.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in your overall confidence?

XAVIER | Earning advanced certifications is definitely a confidence booster. At the end of the day, non-steno people are probably not impressed, but there is no greater feeling than walking into a room and feeling like you can handle whatever is thrown at you and then actually handling whatever is thrown at you. Most working reporters would probably agree that believing in yourself plays a huge part in being successful when it comes to test-taking, and once you’ve proven yourself through advanced certifications, it’s hard to talk yourself into not being confident in what you’re doing.

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

XAVIER | I would have to say I believe the biggest benefit is to the court reporting community as a whole. At the end of the day, we are judged by the least of us and the services we provide are of such importance that there should be no room for mediocrity. Obtaining professional certifications lends legitimacy to this career field. It gives us an opportunity to challenge ourselves and grow. Professional development goes a long way towards personal growth. As human beings we should always be reaching for “more” and making efforts to improve and evolve.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

XAVIER | Let us all remember that 225 wpm is an entry-level speed, and we are not meant to stand in the entrance. We need to pass through it. How would you like it if you found out that your kids’ doctor or dentist had gotten out of medical school or dental school five, 10, 15 years ago and never did another thing to improve their skills? You wouldn’t like that, would you? Who wouldn’t want the best darn doctor or dentist they could afford tending to your kid?

We need to think of the services we provide as something that is just as important as other professions where we expect high standards to be maintained, and the responsibility for maintaining those standards rests with each of us.

I think we can take a look at the way our field has changed over the last decade and that alone should encourage us to want to position ourselves to be able to travel down any steno path we choose. Who knows what the future holds? It’s best to stay ready so you don’t have to scramble to get ready. The great thing about it is no matter whether you’re a brand-new reporter or a seasoned veteran, you can start from right where you are. There’s room for everyone to improve.

A sense of pride

Teresa Kordick, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, CPE, is an official court reporter from Des Moines, Iowa, and has been a working court
reporter for more than 40 years.

JCR | What areas of the profession have you worked in?

Teresa Kordick
Teresa Kordick

KORDICK | I have been an official except for three years of freelance on my own starting when my son was born.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

KORDICK | From my high school English teacher.

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

KORDICK | My first motivation was job security. There was talk even “way back when” about replacing reporters in the courts, so I wanted to make sure I had other good options available. I then earned my CRI and CPE certifications because I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the evening court reporting procedures classes at the AIB College of Court Reporting and also visiting other reporting schools as a program evaluator.

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your overall career?

KORDICK | By earning certain certifications, I’ve been able to serve on and chair some wonderful committees (hi, TACies!) and work with exceptional reporters from all over the United States and other countries. The knowledge and contacts I’ve gained by jumping aboard the testing and association trains have made my career much more fulfilling.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in your overall confidence?

KORDICK | When I have passed a certification that some of my court reporting “heroes” have passed, I have felt privileged to be in their company!

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

KORDICK | In some states it means a pay increase for officials. Even though as an official in Iowa, I am unable to freelance, I often get calls from around the country offering me a job or asking me to do certain deposition work because of my listing in the NCRA Sourcebook. But
the biggest benefit is knowing I’ve done the best I can do in my profession. I’m very proud of my certifications!

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

KORDICK | Just do it! It can be scary and seem expensive, but this is your career. Stay in the testing mode and try again if you need to. I didn’t pass everything on my first try, but I learned what I needed to focus on for the next time. Also, the more involved you get with committee and association work on both the state and national levels, the more you will absorb helpful topics and learn practice skills. And remember, those who have gone down the path before you are ready to help!

Certification builds credibility and confidence

Shirley Hall, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, CPE, is an official court reporter from Pittsburgh, Pa. She has been a working court reporter for more than 40 years.

Shirley Hall
Shirley Hall

JCR | How long have you been a working court reporter?

HALL | The years fly by so fast, that I always have to sit down and count how many have gone by when I’m asked this question. I’m surprised by my answer each time, as I think I can’t possibly be reporting that long — but it was April 1975 that I took my first freelance assignment, so that means 44 years — wow, now I’m feeling really old!

JCR | What areas of the profession have you worked in?

HALL | I began my career as a freelance reporter with a firm, then eventually went out on my own. I was a contract reporter for the federal courts the whole time I freelanced; and 11 years after I first began reporting, I became a full-time federal official court reporter. I taught a speedbuilding class at the Community College of Allegheny County for one semester and that put the teaching bug in my mind, so I wound up teaching court reporting and psychology at a local business school in the evenings for five years.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

HALL | I had a college-oriented curriculum all through high school, but I was overwhelmed by the class sizes and anonymity of being a non-resident student when I went straight to the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh right after high school. I knew I was not ready to be out in the world yet, so I began looking for something to do while I grew up a bit more. While touring business schools looking for something to help me get a job while I found myself, the representative at Duff’s Business School suggested court reporting. My answer was: “What’s that?” It sounded intriguing, and I enrolled.

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

HALL | My mom and dad taught me to always do the best I could at whatever it was I was doing, to try new things, and to not be afraid of an outcome. I was the oldest of four children, so I was also responsible for leading the way for them. All of this instilled in me a real thirst for knowledge, as well as a put-up-or-shut-up mentality. Once I began working, there was a natural flow to work hard to get a certification and then, once I succeeded, to move on to the next level. I was lucky enough to have my natural inquisitiveness encouraged throughout my life, so I’ve always found new areas to jump into and learn about, many of which came with certifications of some sort.

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your overall career?

HALL | Well, I’ll go with the obvious answer first: Each certification level helped me do a better job reporting, which in turn allowed me to write more difficult but interesting proceedings. Federal court was the gold ring of reporting as I was coming up through the ranks; and by the time I had the experience to apply for an officialship, I had more than the basic certifications that were required — though I did have to apply twice before I was hired. Even after becoming a reporter for U.S. District Court, I continued working on my skills and became the first realtime reporter in my courthouse. That effort helped motivate my colleagues to get their CRRs and improved the judges’ and attorneys’ views of our office’s professionalism as a whole.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in your overall confidence?

HALL | As I mentioned before, I really do have a put-up-or- shut-up attitude. My certifications have given me self-assurance that I am a good reporter and my continuing education courses have kept me up-to-date on reporter-specific subjects as well as management issues, the law, finances, health, etc. I was very, very shy growing up; but being comfortable with my knowledge base and adding to it all the time has made me feel at ease talking to federal judges and high-powered attorneys, teaching, giving seminars, and sitting on boards.

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

HALL | While earning a certification demonstrates your interest and dedication to your profession to your colleagues, I believe the impact it has on people not in the profession is even greater. Reporters love to interact with other reporters, no matter in what area they specialize, because no one else “gets us.” Having a few letters after your name immediately puts everyone on notice that you have an expertise and have been recognized as such. Adding the highest certification after your name on your business card opens the conversation with judges, attorneys, and other people working in the legal field and presents the opportunity to educate them about how we do what we do. I have found thereafter a greater respect and cooperation while I’m working, which creates a great deal of satisfaction.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

HALL | There many terrific reasons to earn professional certifications: career advancement, recognition, self-confidence. But my question is: Why not? Court reporting/captioning/CART work are all part of a profession, not just a job and not just a career. You must be dedicated to do this work and do it well. Mediocrity has no place here.

Earning successive certifications is as natural as going from elementary school to middle school to high school. It’s a natural progression. Take pride in being an expert at your level and shout it out to the world.

Always a work in progress

D’Arcy McPherson, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI, is an official court reporter from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He has been a working court reporter since 1987.

JCR | What areas of the profession have you worked in?

D'Arcy McPherson
D’Arcy McPherson

MCPHERSON | I have worked as a freelancer, official, broadcast captioner, and legislative reporter. I still caption to keep my fingers mobile — and because I love writing shorthand — but my full-time job is as the Manager of Debates and Publications at the Senate of Canada. Our amazing reporting team includes both English and French realtime reporters.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

MCPHERSON | Although I had always been intrigued when I would see machine reporters in movies or television, I first heard about reporting as a job through a friend who was taking the training.

JCR | What was your motivation to earn so many professional certifications?

MCPHERSON | When I was at reporting school, a gentleman who had been reporting for 50 years came to speak to us. He said that we need to believe in ourselves and be confident in knowing that we can write quickly and cleanly. He was a merit writer and encouraged all of us to strive for certification as a great way to bolster confidence and to develop as professionals. I believe in ongoing professional development, and I have never regretted the time that I have put into trying to achieve certification.

JCR | How have these certifications helped you in your overall career?

MCPHERSON | Having certification has helped to open some doors or made some doors easier to get through. I know that I have been considered for certain jobs because certifications help to demonstrate a commitment to improving myself as a professional or because certification was an essential requirement.

JCR | How has earning these certifications helped you in your overall confidence?

MCPHERSON | There is a strange thing about speed certification. I am someone who wanted to be a merit writer. It was a personal goal for me. Once I passed the tests, things did change. It was like finding that comfortable gear on the highway. Writing fast is much more about the brain than the hands. Allowing my brain to understand that I could write quickly translated into more confidence and quieted some of those inner doubts — it also makes practicing more enjoyable.

JCR | What is the biggest benefit of earning a professional certification?

MCPHERSON | Certification provides a quick indication of a reporter’s commitment to personal improvement. However, certification is not a free pass. The hard work is in making sure that you live up to what the certifications stand for. If certifications have made me want to strive towards what I believe are standards within our association and profession, then I think they have been an excellent investment.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others to earn professional certifications?

MCPHERSON | I would encourage all reporters to continue to set personal goals and put in the work needed to achieve them. For me, certification was a goal that I will never regret. The advice of that reporter emeritus who spoke to my class when I was in reporting school stands true today, and I thank him for helping me to always work towards being a better reporter and a more rounded professional.

Pennsylvania court reporter gets perfect score on an online skills test

Alison Moffett, Elizabethtown, Pa., recently scored a perfect score on the RPR literary skills test.

“Congratulations to Alison!” said Eva Liu, NCRA Certification and Testing Program Manager. “It’s extremely hard to match word for word on a test to get a perfect score, but it’s not impossible.”

JCR Weekly asked Moffett for more information about her perfect score.

JCR Weekly | When did you take the test?

Moffett | I took the test on April 30 around 7:30 in the morning. I had previously had problems with internet connectivity and losing my connection during the middle of the exam, so I wanted to take it at a time when less people would hopefully be using the internet.

 JCR Weekly | Are you working as a court reporter? Where? How long?

Moffett |Yes, I work as an official in the courthouse in York County, Pa., for just 3.5 years.

 JCR Weekly | Why did you decide to test for your RPR?

Moffett | We provide realtime for nearly all of the judges and occasionally some attorneys, and I would like to earn my CRR. Getting my RPR is the first step towards that goal!

 JCR Weekly | How did you prepare?

Moffett |I did the practice tests in Realtime Coach a couple times, but the most important thing was practicing the testing procedures so you aren’t overly anxious when it comes time to test.

 JCR Weekly | How did you think you did when you finished the test?

Moffett |I thought I did pretty well.

 JCR Weekly | How did you react when you got your score?

Moffett | I was excited but also had to leave to go to work, so I didn’t have much time to celebrate except for a quick call to my fiancé.

  JCR Weekly | How do you think having your RPR will help you?

 Moffett | It will allow me to get further certifications such as the CRR or CRC  and open up other options for careers going forward!

  JCR Weekly | When do you plan on taking the next test?

 Moffett |After the wedding! In all seriousness, I plan on practicing over the summer and testing in the fall. The last leg I need is the Q&A.

Get the edge by attending NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp

Professionals considering taking the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) test have the opportunity to gain an advantage by attending the CRR Boot Camp being offered at the 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo., being held Aug. 15-18.

NCRA’s CRR certification represents realtime pro­ficiency for those who earn it as it is recognized in the industry as the national certification of real­time competency. Holding the CRR also can lead to an increase in salary, as noted by a number of recent NCRA surveys.

“As the CRR Chief Examiner in Massachu­setts, I saw so many candidates come back time and time again to take the certification test. It was bittersweet. They couldn’t pass, but they kept trying,” said Kathryn Sweeney, FAPR, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter and agency owner from Acton, Mass., who helped develop the boot camp pro­gram and who will be teaching it at the NCRA Convention & Expo.

“The idea of the boot camp came about when the Board of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association (MCRA) approached me with ques­tions as to why there were not more people pass­ing the CRR exam and what I could do to maybe help those candidates,” said Sweeney, who also served as a beta tester for NCRA’s online testing system and as CRR Chief Examiner on behalf of the Association for 17 years.

“They gave me two hours and a place to give a seminar back in October of 2009. It was originally named ‘Ready? Begin.’ Those are the two most dreaded words for even the most skilled court reporter,” Sweeney said.

Because it was felt that the original name of the program might actually scare people away, it was renamed the CRR Dress Rehearsal. Over the years, however, said Sweeney, the presentation turned into a three-hour session and was appro­priately renamed again to the CRR Boot Camp.

Word about the program has been spreading across states, according to Sweeney, who has been presenting the session all across the country, with more state associations contacting her about presenting it at their meetings.

Unlike NCRA’s newest certification, the Certi­fied Realtime Captioner (CRC), which requires participation in a 10-hour workshop before being able to take the test, the CRR Boot Camp is not a prerequisite for taking the CRR test. However, said Sweeney, it can certainly help with increasing the chances of passing on the first take.

In the course, she explains to attendees the testing requirements, covers NCRA’s What is an Error?, discusses what is not an error, and talks about the online testing process. She also offers tips on working on self-preparation, includ­ing what to have on test day, what to do and not do on test day, and how and why candidates fail. Participants in the session are also asked to bring their equipment with them because Sweeney said she also lets them take a couple of practice tests, as well as manipulate the system settings and dictionary entries.

“There is so much material. Even if just one thing I teach resonates with an attendee, one thing that they can go back and fix or change, it may just be the one thing that pushes them over the hump and gets them that CRR desig­nation,” said Sweeney.

One reason she attributes the program’s success in helping CRR candidates be suc­cessful in passing the test is because much of the material she covers about being prepared includes information often missed, such has having flash drives or SD cards properly for­matted, which is included in the recommended reading on the testing website and contained in the pre-test emails they receive.

“The most frustrating part of being the proc­tor at brick-and-mortar testing sites was that I could not help the candidates. It was simply not allowed. They were supposed to just know all this stuff. Heck, candidates showed up without their driver’s license because they didn’t know they needed to show it to me,” she said.

“I strongly believe taking the CRR Boot Camp will increase the chance of passing this test. When I finished my presentation in Geor­gia, a woman who already had her CRR came up to me and said that she wished this seminar was around when she was preparing for the test; that it had all of the information and steps that she muddled through on her own. She said it took years of figuring out what was being asked of her and then changing her writing and learning her equipment and software in order to pass,” Sweeney said. “With this boot camp, I can help you in three hours.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of taking the CRR Boot Camp is that attendees will know if they’re ready to take the test or not, while those who have taken the test before will realize why they didn’t pass, she noted.

“I am a huge proponent of not throwing money away. If you’re not quite ‘there’ yet, then don’t spend (the money) on this test. You will learn what you need to work on before you take the plunge and sign up for the test. You will know when you’re ready, instead of just winging it and hoping for the best,” Sweeney added. “The CRR really is the easiest test you’ll ever fail. But why fail at all? Learn what you need to do in order to pass. Come to my boot camp!”

Sweeney, who has been a court reporter for 28 years, served eight years on her state association’s Board of Directors, two years as president, and recently joined as a director again in April.

To earn the CRR certification, professionals are required to hold the Registered Profes­sional Reporter (RPR) certification, be a current member of NCRA, and pass a realtime testi­mony skills test at 200 words per minute with 96 percent accuracy.

For more information about or to register for NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp and the 2019 Convention & Expo, visit NCRA.org/events.