Realtime trick or treat

By Alan Peacock

Alan Peacock

As many seasoned reporters and captioners know, any realtime assignment can be a nightmare, filled with ghosts and goblins, or it can be a treat, filled with all of the joy and pride of a top-notch steno superstar. Whether your realtime experience is a “trick” or a “treat” depends on you.

If you want to make sure that your experience is a treat, there are a few things you need to know. The first and most obvious task is to use your time in advance to your advantage. Be sure to thoroughly prep each assignment.

Contact the assigning agency or law firm and ask for previous depositions in the case, as well as indexes from other reporters. You can scan them for quick dictionary building. If there are no depositions available, then ask for the complaint filed in the case. If nothing is still available, use your savvy online research skills to find similar cases and vocabulary. Always be at least prepared with the witness’s name, counsels’ names, their law firm’s names, subject matter specific vocabulary and anything else you can think of. The more armed you are in advance, the better your realtime will look.

Take the time to really think through the subject matter. If there are several multisyllabic high-frequency words, then do your best to find one-stroke briefs for your job dictionary. There’s no need for two- and three-stroke briefs if you have the time to prep. Your chances of mis-stroking a brief are cut by 50 percent by decreasing the number of strokes for each word. So do your best to keep prep as simple as possible. If your software allows you to generate a report of the most frequently used words, use that to your advantage. Create single strokes for those high-frequency words, even if they are not difficult to write.

Another tip you can use is to make a checklist for each assignment that you must check off the night before your job. That way you can always be sure that you have your tablets charged to 100 percent, that all of the necessary cables and chargers are in your bag, and that you have everything you need. There’s no worse feeling in the world than arriving to an assignment and realizing that the one thing you left at home will prevent you from working or from providing the best realtime. So even though it sounds simple and redundant, checking your equipment needs off of a list can actually save you a lot of time and trouble and keep the goblins away!

Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter and CART captioner based in Mobile, Ala. He hold NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. He is a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

Don’t fear impostor syndrome

By Lisa Knight

Lisa Knight

Who isn’t afraid of mistrans or untrans when writing realtime? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am always a little nervous for the first five minutes of any deposition – especially when they enter their appearances for the record at an unintelligible 400 words per minute with their eyes glued to the realtime screen (just to see if you got it right)!

I always felt terrified that if counsel saw my mistakes, I would be exposed as the fraud that I truly was. I’ve later come to realize the Imposter Syndrome is quite common! Of course, no one is perfect, but if I have errors in my transcripts, will they think I am not competent to handle the deposition/arbitration/trial?

Part of my confidence-building plan from the very beginning of my career was to get every certification, accreditation, or training offered to help me be the very best realtime reporter I can possibly be! NCRA has helped me every step of the way, whether with the CRR (Certified Realtime Reporter), the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate, or the many seminars/webinars they offer. I consider myself a lifetime learner, and NCRA gives me the tools to accomplish that and more!

Lisa Knight, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer and agency owner based in Littleton, Colo. She hold the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. She is a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

NCRA Board Member participates in elementary school mock trial

NCRA Board Member Cindy L. Isaacsen, RPR, an official court reporter from Olathe, Kan., participated in a mock trial with fifth- and sixth-graders hosted on Oct. 10, by the Santa Fe Trail Elementary School in Shawnee Mission, Kan. The students sat with Johnson County judges, attorneys, a deputy court administrator, and Isaacsen, who helped the students determine if Goldilocks, from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” was guilty of a crime. These professionals visited the school to talk to students about the Constitution and branches of government.

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Watch the video.

NCRA members top list in USCRA realtime contest

NCRA members Sherry Bryant, RMR, CRR, of Harrisburg, Pa., and Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, of Towson, Md., both competed in the United States Court Reporters Association (USCRA) Realtime Speed Contest. USCRA, which is an association dedicated to federal court reporters, holds an annual contest with five minutes of recorded two-voice Q&A at 230 words per minute. To qualify, participants’ files must achieve a 96 percent accuracy. Bryant and Zweizig were the only two qualifiers this year: Bryant took top honors with 99.65 percent, and Zweizig followed closely behind with 99.48 percent.

Sherry Bryant

Bryant won NCRA’s 2018 Speed Contest; Zweizig placed second overall in NCRA’s 2018 Realtime Contest and won the 2015 contest. The JCR asked Bryant and Zweizig about the contest and their experience attending the USCRA convention.

How long have you been a reporter?

SB | I have been a court reporter since 1981.

DZ | 29 years this year, I think. It starts to run together.

Doug Zweizig

How long have you worked in a federal court?

SB | I worked in the Eastern District of New York from October 2013 through July 2016.

DZ | Four years this month!

How long have you been a member of USCRA?

SB | Since the end of 2015.

DZ | Four years.

Why did you decide to go to the United States Court Reporters Association convention this year?

SB | Since I live and work so close to where the convention was being held in Tysons Corner, Va. , I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to attend. Other factors were: A friend from Eastern District of New York was attending; Chief Reporter Melinda Walker, Deputy Chief Damien Jackson, and two reporters from the U.S. House of Representatives where I currently work were presenting one of the seminars; plus the chance to compete in their realtime contest.

DZ | It was very close to my area. About an hour away (well, two in the crazy Washington, D.C., traffic).

You said this was your first time. What were you expecting? 

SB | I was unsure what to expect other than something similar to other conventions or contests I have attended and entered.

DZ | I was not at all sure, honestly.

Was it what you were expecting?

SB | It was similar to the NCRA convention in some respects: The seminars were interesting and well-presented; lunch was provided; CEUs are awarded. There were not different seminars to choose from as there is with the NCRA Convention. I enjoyed all the seminars, though, so this was not an issue for me. There was a buffet lunch that we ate in the same room as well. I was pleasantly surprised that the venue was so nice and the food was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience attending the convention and competing in the realtime contest.

DZ | I will say that the USCRA contest was extremely orderly. We were instructed to meet in the lobby, and we’d be taken to the contest room. Once in the room, just pick a seat, take an envelope with your number. A bit of practice was next and then the contest was played. The room for the contest was small, so it was easy to hear with the Bose speakers.

How is it different from the NCRA contests?

SB | NCRA gives you special terms or proper names in order to create a job dictionary after you set up at the contest site, while USCRA gives them to you in advance of arrival. At the NCRA contests, you can set up approximately an hour in advance, while with the USCRA contest it is 15 minutes. After you are set up, they play warm-up material for 15 minutes or so. The NCRA Q&A realtime contest is 225 words per minute, while USCRA’s is 230 words per minute and is based on Federal Court transcripts. It was a challenging contest.

DZ | The USCRA contest had a relatively small number of contestants, and there was only one leg instead of two (230 Q&A). During the NCRA contests, we are able to use radio headsets to assist with hearing in a large room with sometimes high ceilings. It didn’t matter in this instance, because the room was small and I had no issue hearing. And the contest, to me, was extremely difficult, which is fine. I like a challenge. But I practiced a CD I ordered from USCRA that consisted of old contests, and I was making anywhere between zero to three errors. The actual contest material was considerably more difficult, and I had to hang on for dear life through the whole thing. Again, it was a challenge!

Any advice on contests – USCRA’s or in general?

SB | The key advice I have is to practice as much as possible with a variety of fast, difficult material several months in advance. Working in court or depositions, no matter how difficult, is not a substitute for practice.

DZ | Always read the rules beforehand. The USCRA contest was only one take, and printing in all caps was allowed. If that’s something that’s permitted, always do it! In the NCRA speed contest, you cannot print in all caps. In the NCRA realtime contest, all caps is only allowed in the literary take. So definitely read the rules and use something like all caps to your advantage. It can make a big difference or it could also mean the difference between qualifying and not qualifying or winning or not winning.

Realtime and the network firewall

Kelli Ann Willis

By Kelli Ann Willis

I travel around the world covering realtime assignments. In August, I set out for an assignment in Seoul, South Korea. I wasn’t prepared for the technological enigma that presented itself on this assignment.

I flew to Seoul and arrived the day before the job was to start. That is one of the unique aspects of international work: You must arrive and be ready to work the next day. I showed up at the location one hour early to set up, as I always do. I was escorted to the conference room and walked into a dark room. They apologized, but they had no idea how to turn the lights on. The videographer was already there, trying to set up in the dark. I went with it!

I unpacked my writer, computer, LiveLitigation router, microphones, and all my tablets. I booted up my computer and connected to the wireless guest network. So far, it was all going well.

Next came the LiveLitigation router. I plugged it in, just like I normally do. I turned on my Luminex and connected to the computer via Bluetooth. I pulled out the iPad that I use for the main interpreter and the four Galaxy Tabs that I use for everyone else in the room. I started my realtime and proceeded to connect the tablets.

At that point, I ran into an unusual error. I received an incorrect password error in the LiveLitigation software. I knew my password was correct because it never changes. So I tried again and again and kept getting the same message. When I moved on to the Galaxy Tabs, I received an “authentication error” message.

It was now 15 minutes before the deposition was to begin. I quickly changed over all the tablets to the Internet through the firm’s wireless guest network, with the iPad and three tablets connected to the Internet. I restarted my realtime and ran Bridge Mobile for the day. We started on time, for which I was grateful!

Prior to the start of the deposition, I emailed support at LiveLitigation to let them know I was having a problem.  LiveLitigation was great and replied to my email, which I so appreciated, especially considering the significant time change between Seoul and the U.S. As often happens during depositions, time was my enemy, and I could not troubleshoot the issue during the deposition.

After the deposition was over, I took all my equipment back to the hotel to set up everything again, and it worked perfectly. I sent another email to LiveLitigation advising them that the problem was resolved.  Except it wasn’t.

The following morning for day two of the deposition at the law firm’s office, I received the same error messages. Sensing my frustration with the same network problem as the day before, one of the wonderful attorneys on-site said to me, “You know, I was in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office and the reporter there had the exact same problem.” That piece of information made me realize that the network problem was inside of the firm.

I called LiveLitigation immediately and told them. My representative set me up with codes so that I could run the LiveLitigation through the Internet. It worked great, and I was able to report the testimony of the entire job using the provided codes.  The only remaining issue I had was that one tablet would not connect to the Internet. I tried everything I could think of to connect it, but nothing worked.

I decided to look into what it was that the firm was using to block the intranet, so that I could add that bit of knowledge to my arsenal. In researching for this article, I spoke to the LiveLitigation Development Operations person. He informed me that there is a security measure known as WIPS – Wireless Interference Prevention System. For instance, Cisco has a product called Air Marshal. It prevents 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz ad hoc networks, which are what LiveLitigation and CaseViewNet are, from connecting inside the protected WIPS environment.

I also spoke to the Director of Technical Support at Stenograph. Like LiveLitigation’s representative, she agreed that this is a very rare situation. I was informed by the Stenograph Director that the company has not received this particular support call from other users, while the LiveLitigation representative said he has heard of this network problem a handful of times.

The other challenge that network firewalls at law firms can pose is the blocking of the particular port that is needed to stream text outside of the law firm. That is more common and is solvable, as long as the IT department is available or has been made aware of this situation.

Both LiveLitigation and Stenograph can overcome this challenge with Internet-based realtime. Stenograph has Cloud Session codes, and LiveLitigation has Remote Realtime codes.

Kelli Ann Willis, RPR, CRR, is a freelancer and agency owner based in Hutchinson, Kan., and can be reached at She also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate.  Willis is also a Kansas Certified Court Reporter. She is a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

NCRA member recognized by International Association of Women

​​The International Association of Women announced in a press release issued Sept. 25 that the organization has recognized NCRA member Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, as a 2018-2019 Influencer.

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Is court reporting the career for you?

Ms. Career Girl posted an article on Sept. 27 about the benefits of choosing court reporting as a career. The article mentions NCRA and the growing need for people to enter the court reporting and captioning professions.

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VITAC to hold captioning webinar

The Sports Video Group News posted an article on Sept. 12 about an upcoming webinar being hosted by VITAC about the benefits of captioning.

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Statement from the NCRA CEO: Sinclair Broadcast Group

By Marcia Ferranto

NCRA exists to represent, protect, and advocate for the stenographic professions of court reporting and captioning. Here at NCRA, everything we do, everything we fight for, and the very reason we fight are founded by the core belief that stenography is the most effective and efficient means of capturing the spoken word, the best way of providing speech-to-text services in any forum, and the only way to satisfy the needs and protect the integrity of the institutions and consumers who rely on it. This belief has been borne out by the facts time and time again: Stenographic court reporting and captioning is faster, more accurate, and more dependable than artificial intelligence-based alternatives and other alternatives solely based on technology, and, in addition, it is largely preferred by the consumers of these services. Stenographic court reporting is the backbone of the American court system, and stenographic captioning is an invaluable accessibility service to people who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

Recently, Sinclair Broadcast Group has made public their decision to abandon the use of stenographic captions in favor of the cost-cutting measure of implementing the automatic speech recognition (ASR) platform using IBM Watson. This decision is likely to impact hundreds of local news stations and affect millions of captioning consumers and providers. In a message to the public, IBM claims that Watson makes live programming “more accessible to local viewers, including the Deaf community, senior citizens, and anyone experiencing hearing loss.” We strongly disagree with the decision to abandon the human element of captioning in favor of automation, which invariably produces subpar captioning and will negatively affect accessibility to local news for millions of Americans.

NCRA’s Government Relations Department and Captioning Regulatory Policy Committee, our own member-formed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) watchdog, are working hard to address this issue, to register our concerns with the FCC, and to implore them to uphold important captioning quality standards in light of this new transition to ASR captioning.

But the FCC needs to hear from you, too!

  1. Complain online here about subpar captions.
  2. Sign our petition and tell Sinclair you want live captioners.
  3. If you have evidence of captioning failures, photos or videos of terrible captioning, we want to see it. You can send them to Matt Barusch, NCRA’s Government Relations Manager.

With your help, together we can ensure that live programming utilizes the best captioning that can be offered: Captioning by a live, trained, and certified captioner.

Marcia Ferranto is CEO and Executive Director of the National Court Reporters Association. 

2018 Realtime Contest winner Mark Kislingbury shares his story

2018 NCRA Realtime Contest Winner Mark Kislingbury

NCRA member Mark Kislingbury, FAPR, RDR, CRR, owner of Magnum Steno from Houston, Texas, won the 2018 National Realtime Contest held during the Association’s Convention & Expo in New Orleans, La. It is his fifth Realtime Contest win. This win ties the record for most wins in the NCRA Realtime Contest with 2017-2018 Contests Committee co-chair Jo Ann Bryce, RMR, CRR, of Castro Valley, Calif. Kislingbury’s overall score was 99.24 percent.

Kislingbury placed second in the literary leg with a 99.20 percent accuracy rate, and first in the Q&A leg with a 99.28 percent accuracy rate.

The JCR Weekly recently reached out to him to find out more about what motivates him, how he prepares to compete, and how he learned about court reporting as a career.

JCR | In what area of the profession do you work?
KISLINGBURY | What I do does not actually fit into any of those groups! Most of my professional writing is for a national political radio program where the Web team for that program wants instant transcripts so they can post verbatim transcripts on their site. This demands accurate realtime so that I only have to make a few edits/corrections on commercial breaks and send that segment at the end of the commercial break. I also work for that same program before each particular show transcribing “sound bites” taken from television so that the host may have verbatim transcripts of those sound bites. Occasionally I still do broadcast captioning and will take a freelance job or a remote CART job.

JCR | How long have you been in the profession?
KISLINGBURY | 35 years.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
KISLINGBURY | I was a junior in high school in a Gregg shorthand class when a rep from the nearest court reporting school visited our class and showed us a brand-new olive green steno machine with shiny black keys. She told us you could graduate in two years, make a high salary right away, and that 95 percent of the students were girls. What’s to not like?

JCR | How many national contests have you participated in?
KISLINGBURY | I competed in NCRA Speed Contests from 1995 through 2010 (16 of them), and since 1999 I have competed in 18 of the 20 NCRA Realtime Contests.

JCR | Do you compete both in the Realtime and the Speed contests??
KISLINGBURY | I used to compete in both, but from 2011 through today I have not competed in an NCRA Speed Contest. I do enjoy competing in the California DRA Realtime Contests.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?
KISLINGBURY | I suppose it’s the pursuit of excellence. The pursuit of excellence seems to be a universal human value that contributes to overall happiness, self-esteem, and well-being. Since I love teaching court reporters and students to help them improve, I think that winning contests (where I have been fortunate enough to do so) lends added credibility to what I am teaching.

JCR | How did it feel to win this year?
KISLINGBURY | It felt great because it was the culmination of a lot of hard work in the practice room. There are so many amazing realtime competitors out there nowadays that it is extremely hard to win! And it’s so easy to “have a bad day” in the realtime contest. I believe only nine different individuals have won the NCRA realtime contest in its 20 years of existence! And only four have won it multiple times.

JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
KISLINGBURY | Absolutely!

JCR | What advice would you give someone who is considering competing at the national level?
KISLINGBURY | It’s fun! Do it for the experience, for the pursuit of excellence, not “to win.” It takes the pressure off if you have the attitude: “I just want to try my best and see what happens.” The other competitors are friendly and encouraging. Your first goal may well be to simply “qualify” in one of the two legs. (Qualifying means 95 percent accuracy or above.) Qualifying means you get ranked in a group of elite Realtime (or Speed) Contest reporters!

JCR | How far in advance do you begin to practice for the national contests?
KISLINGBURY | When I was competing in speed contests, I would start at least three months ahead of time. For the realtime contest, I start practicing 365 days ahead of the contest!

JCR | What is your practice routine to prep for these contests?
KISLINGBURY | For the realtime contest, generally I write a 5-minute take at around 280 and keep slowing it down in 5 percent increments until it’s about 225. The whole time I’m striving to write each stroke instantly, without ever getting behind. The “instant” takes precedence over “accuracy.” I generally write the take 7-8 times. By the time I quit, I’m realtiming it virtually perfectly. That takes 35-45 minutes. Then I take a break. The next time I practice, it’s a new take, same routine.

If I were doing the speed contest again, I would do the same practice regimen except start much faster than 280 and slow it down incrementally until it reached 280, doing each take 7-8 times before moving on.

JCR | Do you compete at the state level as well?
KISLINGBURY | Currently, only at the California Deposition Reporters Realtime Contests, which tend to be every February. I used to compete in the Texas Speed Contest in the 1990s. For many years I have chaired the Texas Court Reporters Association Realtime Contest and continue to do so to this day.

JCR | Is there anything else you would like to share?
KISLINGBURY | I have started a court reporting school, the Mark Kislingbury Academy of Court Reporting, in Houston, Texas. We opened in 2011. We have both on-site and online programs. Our first nine graduates (who started brand-new with us) have averaged one year and 10 months! Four of the nine were online students. I teach students my very short Magnum Steno Theory. There are several dozen happy and prospering professional reporters in the field who learned my theory. Many of them are providing realtime and/or captioning. I am attempting to do my small part to try to fix our nationwide court reporter shortage.