Catching up with Speed Contest winner Jeff Weigl

NCRA 2019 Speed Contest winner Jeff Weigl
NCRA 2019 Speed Contest winner Jeff Weigl

Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, won the 2019 Speed Contest held during the NCRA Convention & Expo. His overall accuracy rate was 97.54 percent or 87 errors total. The JCR Weekly reached out to Weigl to learn more about this, his third win in the Speed Contest.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your career and where you’re working currently?

JW | I am the president of WizCap Realtime Reporting Inc., a firm I started around ten years ago. My time is currently split among business operations, pretrial legal proceedings, and onsite captioning. Onsite captioning is definitely my favorite aspect of the profession.

JCR | How long have you been working in the profession?

JW | I actually had to look this up. I’ve been a full-time reporter for 14 years now. With my career, marriage, and family, the years slip by pretty fast.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?

JW | My dad, Jerry, was an official (pen writer) for many years before I was born. After that, he spent the next 11 years as the program head of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Captioning & Court Reporting program, followed by 20 years as an instructor. My sisters and I always looked forward to the annual family getaways when my parents would attend the Alberta Shorthand Reporters Association conferences. I was around the profession my entire life and yet never really knew what the heck my dad did. After a somewhat miserable year at university pursuing a science degree, my dad suggested a career in court reporting. I was persuaded to check out the program and liked what I saw, which has proven to be a pretty fortuitous turn of events to say the least.

JCR | This is your third win. Does it feel like it gets easier?

JW | I actually feel like it’s gotten harder each year. I now know what to expect from the contests and how to best prepare, but each time around I’ve been dealing with the pressure of personal expectations, and that’s never helpful. While the content of the tests varies in difficulty year to year, the thing that remains constant is the talent of all of the other contest regulars. If I went in unprepared, I would have no chance at winning. That reality is a big motivator leading up to a contest.

JCR | You compete in both the Realtime and Speed Contests. As a participant, what are some of the nuanced differences you see between the two?

JW | I find them to be incredibly different. While the ability to write quickly is obviously beneficial for Realtime, the difference is in the mental processing. When writing strictly for speed, the more you think about things, the more trouble you find yourself in. You really just have to let things flow with as little hesitation as possible. Realtime is challenging because you need to be quick while at the same time processing what you’re writing – sound-alikes, punctuation, etc. I cannot effectively practice for speed while connected to Case CATalyst. Even if I have my screen turned away, my brain is unable to let go. This year, I did all of my speed practice solely on my writer and then dumped the files into Case CATalyst for review after the fact. I got a ton of dictionary entries that way. I’m still not sure that I could realistically practice toward winning both contests in the same year. Oh, and some of the speed-specific things I like to do – like dropping punctuation and speaker IDs – that doesn’t get you very far in Realtime.

JCR | Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win?

JW | My goal has always been to place highly in the Speed Contest, but winning a Realtime title as well would be unbelievable. Doug’s Realtime score this year blows my mind.

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

JW | Placing in the Speed Contest requires a big personal commitment and a high level of motivation to properly prepare, and I think I’ve maybe scratched that itch. But a win in Realtime would certainly be worth fighting for.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?

JW | I am a competitive person by nature, be it sports, board games, etc. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the greats of our profession is an amazing feeling. Shorthand theory is so personalized and so unique – always changing, adapting, improving. I know that how I wrote five years ago is incredibly different from how I write today, and how I will write five years from now. The feeling that I haven’t yet fully met my shorthand potential is exciting to think about.

JCR | What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a speed contest before? How can they get started?

JW | It all starts with a personal commitment to be better. Put that date in your calendar, whether it’s for an NCRA certification test or a Speed Contest. The goal is improvement, not winning. Runners train to complete marathons. I have never met someone with the goal of winning.

JCR | Do you practice for the Speed or Realtime Contests? If so, what is your plan? If not, to what do you attribute your speed?

JW | Practice? Nope, not at all. Ha ha!

I don’t care how talented someone may be, there is no chance of winning the Speed or Realtime Contests without a very deliberate and consistent practice regimen. The outline of my practice plan has stayed relatively constant the last few years, with minor tweaks added each time around. I start getting back into timed dictation three to four months out, once or twice a week. As time goes on, the frequency increases. By the last month and a half, I am practicing every single day for around an hour. Consistency of practice is key. And throughout the year, I am always looking to incorporate new briefs and phrases that can make my life easier. I find “Brief It” to be a great tool for adding new concepts to my writing.

JCR | Has your win affected you in any way?

JW | Winning aside, practicing at a high level for months at a time will make anyone better at their job. If I’m able to write timed dictation at 280 wpm, the real world becomes less stressful. And had I not caught the bug for competing, I probably wouldn’t have attended very many NCRA events over the past few years, and that would have been such a huge loss personally and professionally. I am very grateful for all of the friendships I have been fortunate enough to make along the way, particularly during this summer’s event in Denver.

JCR | Is there any advice you can give to other NCRA members on how each of us can be an advocate for our profession?

JW | I think the key is being approachable on the job and enthusiastic about what we can do. If someone shows an interest, take the time to explain to them how it all works. And if we all work toward writing faster and cleaner, we will always be the preferred method for creating the record. 

JCR | Any questions we should have asked or anything else you would like to share?

JW | Thank you to my family, friends, colleagues, and Stenograph for your support in helping me reach my goals. I hope that I can inspire even a couple reporters to work toward improving their skills like all of the previous contest winners have inspired me.

You know you’re a court reporter if …

We recently asked this fill-in-the-blank question on the NCRA Facebook page.

Here are some of the great answers:

You know you’re a court reporter if …

“When you edit and punctuate restaurant menus, church bulletins, billboards (while driving), your text messages to other court reporters, hate the AI functions on your text messaging when they get it wrong, try to publicly correct someone when they say ‘conversate,’ or ‘pacific’ for ‘specific.’ And when you walk away from a group conversation (not work related) when one person talks over another.”

Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI


“You judge people based on how fast/slow they talk.

Me: I love Ms. Jones.

The bailiff: Why? She’s a horrible attorney.

Me: That’s not the point. She doesn’t speak fast and she enunciates.”

Athena Rose


“You chime in to your kids’ conversation from another room and their friend asks, ‘How did she hear that,’ and they reply, ‘She’s a court reporter, she hears everything.'”

Heidi Baptista Benavides


“You’re talking to your husband and he nods in response to a question and you say ‘I’m sorry, is that a yes?'”

Judy Harrell Wallenfelt


“You’re the only one who understood the muffled PA announcement at the airport.”

Michael Bouley, RDR


“Your husband thinks you don’t hear his conversation on the phone in the other room because you’re talking to someone else … but you hear everything.”

Michelle Yaklovich


“Your Google feed would raise questions if anyone searched the history.”

Robin L. Coleman


“You renew your NCRA membership every single year because you know they have the best interest of your profession at heart!”

Eve Rogers Key, RPR


“Your kids correct their teachers’ work.”

Crystal Ballast, RPR


“You know you’re a court reporter if you want to debate the phlebotomist at your doctor’s office about her sanitizing/swabbing technique before the venipuncture.”

Diana Miller Bengs, RPR


“When you are in the hospital for a procedure and you grill the anesthesiologist with questions until he asks if you’re a lawyer.”

Kathleen Vaglica, RMR


“If you red ink your wife’s love letters … not a good idea.”

Jim Korwan


“You’re all caught up on pages and don’t know what to do with your free time.”

Ksenija Zeltkalns, RPR


“You can’t listen to anything where people are talking over each other. Talk radio is sooo annoying.”

Dani Murray, RMR, CRR


“Spelling sound effects doesn’t scare you.”

Michael Bouley, RDR

Praising punctuation

In honor of National Punctuation Day on Sept. 24, we recently asked these questions on the NCRA Facebook page. Here are some of the responses:

What is your favorite punctuation mark and why?
“Interrobang. Not since the Selectric have I been able to use it, as our keyboards don’t have one. Oh, how swell it would be to use the ‘bang!’ Now I must settle for only uttering it aloud — delightful word to say and hear. Interrobang!”

Tara Gandel Hudson, RPR,CRR

“Semicolon; because the thoughts are connected but they are just not quite ready to end the sentence.”

Amy Quint Richardson, RMR, CRR

“Dashes, the only thing that can make sense out of run-on sentences.”

Deborah Cohen-Rojas, RDR, CRR

“Exclamation point, because it shows excitement, either happy or mad.”

Michelle Iadonisi

If you could invent a new punctuation mark, what would it be?

“I think we could use a new symbol to reflect a sentence was sarcastic.”

Ksenija Zeltkalns, RPR

“I would create a new punctuation mark called a skid mark consisting of two consecutive equals signs == for when a dash doesn’t quite capture the meaning of how abrupt the interruption is when speakers are talking over one another.”

Amy Quint Richardson, RMR, CRR

A court reporter hits the open road

Monyeen Black, RPR, CRR

By Monyeen Black, RPR, CRR

About 10 years ago I purchased my first motorcycle after completing a motorcycle safety class in Paso Robles, Calif.  I was hooked. I had always ridden double-up with my husband, but he thought I should take the class just so I had my license. Fast forward some years, and we started doing long-distance riding, mostly completing Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1000s, which is riding more than 1,000 miles in under 24 hours. 

How court reporting is very similar to long-distance motorcycle riding

  • I am a long-distance motorcycle rider. I ride 1,000-mile+ rides in under 24 hours — just like pulling an all-nighter to produce an expedite. 
  • Riding takes focus — just like listening to a mumbling attorney and/or witness. 
  • Having the correct riding gear makes the ride that much more enjoyable — just like having a great steno machine or a DYMO or a back rest.
  • Riders always practice their skills — just like many reporters practice or attend seminars to learn new tips.
Black and her husband, Keith

My husband, Keith, and I got to do an amazing motorcycling adventure this summer. He had to be in Milwaukee to attend a conference, and so we decided to make a trip of it on our motorcycles. This would be the biggest trip we have taken. 

We knew the trip to Milwaukee, Wis., would complete an Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1,000 (although we had wanted to do a Bun Burner Gold originally, which is 1,500 miles in 24 hours). We had a few different routes picked out over the months we were planning this trip and last minute decided to head north to avoid the heatwave that was hitting through Las Vegas when we were scheduled to leave on our trip since we were concerned about dehydration. The plan was to just knock out miles going there and on the way back we would play more tourists. 

The one thing I really wanted to see was Mt. Rushmore for the illumination viewing at night. I had wanted to check out Crazy Horse Memorial, ride through Sturgis, S.D., just to see the town, maybe get to Chief Joseph’s Highway. Nothing was set in stone, only making hotel reservations a few hours before we had planned to arrive into a city. We basically followed wherever the front wheel took us, and it was pretty amazing! 

We left our house in Paso Robles about 4:15 a.m. When you are completing an Iron Butt ride, you must document each stop and obtain receipts at each location; this is how you prove the route you took. Our goal was to end up in Rexburg, Idaho, that night. It was a great ride. Ended up at 1,032 miles.

The next day was going to be another long one. We left Rexburg, and the goal was to go to Bismarck, N.D. It was slow going as we traveled through West Yellowstone since there were still a lot of tourists in the area. We rode 728 miles and really enjoyed the countryside. Heading north was the smart thing to do. We had weather that was just perfect. 

We traveled 611 miles on our third day and ended in Eau Claire, Wisc. Now, we could have made it all the way to Milwaukee, since it was only another 248 miles, but we stayed in Eau Claire for the night so we had a short ride the next day and wouldn’t be tired for Keith’s conference.

In 3.5 days we rode 2,533 miles. It was just awesome.

After the conference it was time to enjoy the ride as we were not on a schedule to return home. We knew we were Mt. Rushmore—bound but weren’t sure when we would arrive there. Well, we both felt good riding and decided to ride straight through and arrive 918 miles later to the illumination viewing at Mt. Rushmore. It was very cool.

The next morning we got to ride through Sturgis, check out the Spearfish Scenic Bypass, and make our way south to Colorado. We hit crazy weather in Wyoming which consisted of lots of lightning, quarter-sized hail, and 60 mph gusting winds. After many miles of that, we finally found an underpass to park under until the hail stopped.

From Ft. Collins, Colo., we were able to ride a dirt road up to the Rocky Mountain National Park to an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. Just beautiful views to take in from a motorcycle. I also saw a mountain goat up high in the canyon that made me squeal with excitement.

Next stop was Grand Junction, Colo., and we traveled 404 miles to where the weather got h-o-t.  When we left Ft. Collins, it was only 56, but temperatures rose almost 50 degrees to 104.  This is where being prepared is helpful.  We have these sleeves that you wet and wear under your riding jacket, and the air coming up your cuffs makes you feel like you have air conditioning on.  It helps to keep you cool and make the ride a little more bearable when conditions are on the hotter side.

We were excited for the ride from Grand Junction over to St. George, Utah.  Utah just has some beautiful scenery, and we couldn’t wait to take it in. It was an easy 408 miles as we stopped at each scenic view spot to take in the amazing landscapes. We got to ride some canyons and eat at some great spots along the way. But ending in St. George with 107 degrees meant it was time to jump in the pool and relax with a cold drink.

Strategically, we left really early to ride during the cooler temperatures for the last leg to get home. We also knew we’d gain an hour near Las Vegas.  We jumped on our bikes at 4 a.m. It was crazy to ride through Vegas that early and it was still 92 degrees outside. This whole day we knew would be a “hot” ride, and we had to stop every 60-90 minutes to wet our sleeves to keep the ride bearable. But we were so excited to travel the 526 miles home to see our black lab Enzo.

We utilize a Spot satellite tracker that was fun to share with our family and friends. We had a friend who is a pilot checking weather radar for us on our routes, parents Googling our locations and reading about where we were. Mostly, the Spot gave our parents peace of mind and excitement as they “traveled” alongside us. 

Our trip consisted of 10 days of riding, 5,285 miles, 31 fuel stops, 12 states, eight hotels, two tires (changed in Colorado), one hailstorm, and one Saddle Sore 1000 Iron Butt.

Would we do it again? Absolutely. The next trip we’d like to do is go up to Canada and hit Jasper, Banff, and Glacier parks. Can’t wait to start planning it. 

Monyeen Black, RPR, CRR, is a freelancer and agency owner in San Ramon, Calif.

Full coverage of the NCRA 2019 Convention & Expo

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My (not-so-secret) life as a weekend rock star

By Patricia Nilsen (with Kiki Kim)

Patricia Nilsen

As a lifelong fan of Mötley Crüe, the glam-metal band that became famous in the 1980s, my dream as a child was to someday meet the band. In the mid-2000s, an inspirational Mötley Crüe reunion show at Madison Square Garden in NYC gave me this wacky idea to start an all-girl Mötley Crüe tribute band. The fact that I played zero instruments seemed just a minor detail at the time. A friend of mine — blonde, like the Crüe’s lead singer — loved the idea and said she could sing. I thought: “Done, here we go!” And Girls Girls Girls was born. I asked my husband for a bass guitar for my 31st birthday, and he obliged with a shiny pink bass and the words he would probably one day come to regret: “You better actually play that thing.”

I was working as a full-time federal official in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan — a pretty busy gig, if you’re not familiar with it. Lacking the time for lessons to start with the fundamentals, I essentially learned online. I also couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a pick — my fingers had always been fast on the machine, so I went with what I knew.

I had been noodling at home for a few months when I saw an ad for a ladies’ rock camp, which seemed like a good place to meet my future bandmates. Most importantly, I needed a guitarist that could really shred. Sadly, the guitarists at camp were more Jewel than Lita Ford. I did, however, meet a wannabe drummer who did finance by day and just came for fun: Kiki Kim. She and her friend invited me to ditch camp at lunch to get a beer – rock ’n’ roll already! Over drinks, I told her my idea, which she probably laughed off as a “Sure, I’ll join your (finger quotes) band.” We exchanged business cards, and that was likely the last she thought she’d ever hear from me.

To find the last piece of the puzzle, my graphic-artist husband photoshopped our faces over an iconic photo of Mötley Crüe with a blank over guitarist Mick Mars’ face and the words “YOUR FACE HERE.” I used the picture in an ad containing the same language Mars used for his own ad in search of the band that would eventually become Mötley Crüe: Seeking “loud, rude, and aggressive [fe-male] guitarist.” Months went by with no reply, and I was ready to hang it up when I finally got the call. Denise “D” Mercedes, who had played in a famous influential punk band called The Stimulators in the 1980s, hadn’t played in 20 years but loved our ad so much that she said: “I just gotta see who these chicks are!”


We were now a full band, and it was time to play. In contrast with my sweet and innocent idea of practicing in my city apartment, D, our lone professional musician, knew how to find rented rehearsal-studio space. And, boy, could she shred. My friend couldn’t sing over the loud guitar and was gone by morning. My finance-professional beginner drummer took one look/listen at D and wanted to follow suit. Fortunately, my powers of persuasion were as strong as my will to start this band, and I convinced her to stay at least temporarily (spoiler alert: she stayed for good). And now we were on the hunt for a new singer. The three of us continued rehearsing for months until we found one.

Our first gig was at a club in Jersey, where we played the owner’s birthday party. We hired a party bus to shuttle our friends from New York City for the show, and it was an incredible time! Little did I know that what seemed like the culmination of a dream was only just the beginning. Over the next two years, we played almost 50 shows. I spent two to three weekends a month in a van, visiting new cities, making new friends, and rocking my heart out.

I was living three distinct lives: Patricia, band manager and court reporter; Patty, wife, New Yorker; and Nikita Seis, Goddess of Bass. My life as a court reporter wasn’t much different except that I took more Fridays off and spent Monday watching the black nail polish slowly chip from my nails, in a daze, with a smile on my face and bags under my eyes. We had enough adventures to fill a book. Our rise was fast, as was our fall. The potent mix of four women with strong and distinct personalities led to a dramatic breakup.

During our time off, one member moved on to form a different band, and I had my first child. During maternity leave, I created a photo book of our time together as a band that made us nostalgic and drew us back together, supposedly with new insight into what went wrong and how to change it. Three years after our breakup, a reunion show was in the works, and I was newly pregnant with baby number two. Four months later, I squeezed into my stage clothes (with much lower heels!), and we packed Brooklyn Bowl with a crowd as eager for our return as we were. Everyone was flying high, so I found a replacement bassist and continued just managing the band from home. Now that I had more time, I was able to take the management role more seriously and brought us to new markets, better money, the cover of The Village Voice, and our first international tour in Mexico.


But two years later, the wheels fell off again, and the band broke up for all the same reasons and more. In total, we played exactly 100 shows in 16 states before I moved to Nashville, when I thought that chapter had finally ended. In December 2018, I was a freelance reporter who hadn’t played in three years. Thanks to maintaining our presence on social media, we had continued to receive inquiries from random clubs and people who wanted us to play their brother’s barbeque for chump change. But then I got the email: Netflix wanted us to play a private party in Hollywood for the premiere of the upcoming biopic about Mötley Crüe, The Dirt. It was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us. Phone calls were made, singers auditioned, and the bass was officially out of the case. We landed the gig with about seven weeks to get our act together!

The film producers chose four songs and would decide if the crowd liked us enough for an encore — no pressure! Before the show, we were thrilled to hear that Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were in the house. We hit the stage in front of a capacity crowd at the world-famous Whisky a Go Go and ripped into our namesake song, “Girls Girls Girls.” The energy was electric; it felt amazing. During our fourth song, “Kickstart My Heart,” Tommy Lee and the actor who played him in the movie came dancing down the stairs and made their way to the stage, leading to the cue to play our encore, “Live Wire.”

Watching the drummer who made this music famous air-drumming to my band was a moment I will never forget. After the show, Tommy told us our set was “dope,” and we all went home smiling from ear to ear. I share this story because it all began as a crazy idea I had. The most I imagined was playing a gig for our friends at a real New York City venue. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would create something bigger than myself, and that 13 years later, it would still be going. As court reporters, we tend to think that our job is our life and that we don’t have time for anything else. But one of the greatest benefits of this career is the flexibility, and we can do what we choose in our off-time. Choose big. Dream big. And don’t be surprised when your dreams come true.

Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter with Alpha Reporting in Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached atpatricianilsen@alphareporting.com. For more on Girls Girls Girls, check out the band at www.girlsgirlsgirlsnyc.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girlsgirlsgirlsnyc. Girls Girls Girls drummer Kiki Kim helped with this story.

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.

Bringing captions to Coachella

Stan Sakai and Isaiah Roberts

By Heidi Renner

When Isaiah Roberts, RPR, Magnolia, Ill., thought he wrote the word lemon while captioning Ariana Grande’s performance at Coachella, he was a little concerned. Did she really say lemon? It turns out he was captioning the moment when someone in the crowd threw a lemon and hit Grande, which became a well-known moment at the music festival.

“I remembered writing lemon during Ariana’s performance and definitely thinking I misheard something,” he posted on Facebook. “Then my cab driver in LA today asked if I saw her get hit by the lemon, and instantly I felt a relief knowing why I did, in fact, write lemon followed by a bunch of expletives.”

Roberts and Stan Sakai, CRC, New York, N.Y., had the unique experience of captioning Coachella, an annual music festival in Indio, Calif. It is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. Then the next weekend they captioned Stagecoach, another music festival held in the same location. Roberts posted a video from Coachella that has been widely shared.

Roberts had looked at the ADA section of Coachella’s website and noticed it told people to reach out if they needed ASL or closed captioning. He sent an email asking if they offered captioning and who provided it? Coachella responded on a Monday saying they wanted to have a meeting to talk about it on Friday. Roberts called his friend Sakai, and they prepared for the meeting. Sakai had already built a website that allowed captioning to be accessed through an app. Sakai worked on making changes to his program to make it work with Coachella. Roberts said the two worked late into the night every night that week. They gave a demonstration Friday to the Coachella representatives over a video call.

“They were blown away,” Roberts said. The representatives recorded what they were seeing on the screen and then showed it to the festival directors. “We were on cloud nine,” Roberts said.

Sakai described it this way on Facebook: “After hundreds of hours of work, the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning systems are online and (nearly) ready to go! A five-server monstrosity spread across New York and California able to serve at peak 29,000 connections per minute, averaging 2,000 connections served per minute at saturation. This will be woven into their existing web and mobile platforms available to their 130,000 attendees, who will all be able to access the live captioning of mainstage performances right from their phones. As a team, Isaiah and I will be tag-teaming, between feeding out pre-scripted lyrics and live stenoing, handing off the baton depending on what’s thrown at us. And when people ask if technology will replace us, my answer to that is: no, we harness technology to keep us going!”

Because the captions were available through the festival app, they were available to everyone. All audience members were required to download the app to activate their wrist bands.

Isaiah Roberts

Roberts saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about court reporting and captioning.

“This is the thing I’m most excited about,” he said. “In trying to grow the profession, I speak to students, but does it really make the profession look appealing? Being at the major music festival really meant something.”

Rachel Meireis from Placentia, Calif., appreciated the captions. She had requested captioning at Stagecoach.

“I am late deafened,” Meireis said. “I lost my hearing in my 20s and wear bilateral cochlear implants to help me hear. But it can be iffy and makes it quite hard to know what’s going on at times. That situation gets complicated because I can sign but I am not fluent in ASL at all. Having access at the concert was amazing. I could keep up with what the performer said between songs and understand lyrics I have been hearing wrong on the radio. Having the captions stream to my phone was great too. It made me able to leave the ADA riser freely and move about the concert but still follow along. Stanley and Isaiah were so helpful and friendly though the whole process. I am very grateful they were able to make this work.”

Roberts said he had wondered who would be benefiting, and he was happy to meet Meireis. During Coachella there were 500 unique visitors viewing the captions. At Stagecoach, there were 400 on the first day. By the end of the weekend they had reached about 1,000 people.

“Hands down the best part was meeting Rachel and getting to meet a consumer of [the captioning],” Roberts said.

For the actual captioning, Roberts and Sakai would usually get a set list so they would look up lyrics ahead of time when possible. They had headphones directly hooked to the singer’s microphone. Sometimes the performer would start talking about other performers or the other people on stage with them, so Roberts and Sakai tried to prepare ahead of time for those things as much as they could. They worked together, captioning on both of their machines at the same time. Sometimes one person would write and the other would look up lyrics.

“It was as cool as I wanted it to be,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what could have gone better.”

Roberts urges other court reporters and captioners to make more of these opportunities happen. Coachella didn’t offer captioning until Roberts reached out to them.

“My takeaway is whatever event you are into, realize that under the ADA they need to offer this service,” Roberts said. “Advocate for yourself.”

Sakai and Roberts are hoping this is a beginning, and there will be more music festival work for them.

Sakai summarized the experience on Facebook: “COACHELLA RECAP: Between shoddy internet connections, knocked-over equipment from dudes getting tackled backstage, my laptop getting nailed by a flying rogue water bottle, or minor software issues, providing live captioning at Coachella was a resounding SUCCESS. Isaiah and I powered through and got the app online on all the monitors at the ADA platforms and on the official Coachella mobile app, captioned Spanish-language performers, and even spared a few moments to visit our friends. I’m still gobsmacked and star-struck by the weekend but can’t help to think that this is the beginning of something huge. We all worked hard but we’re both forever grateful for having had the opportunity to pioneer live-event captioning on this scale. A HUGE thank you to Isaiah for making this all possible, and as I’ve said before, I remain humbled and excited for what’s to come.”

Generation Z loves captions

A few studies have found that Generation Z, consisting of people born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, find using captions helps them with learning and comprehension. The article offers some insights into the Gen Z group, many of whom are digital natives and are able to use multiple screens at a time. This multi-tasking is one of the reasons captioning is considered useful by this cohort, says one study.

Read more.

Tennessee law gives criminal court reporters pay increase

Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.
Tennessee Court Reporters Association members convinced state legislators to adopt a law to increase pay for criminal court reporters.

The Tennessee legislature passed a pay increase for criminal reporters in the state. The bills, SB 667 and HB 729, were passed through both state houses with the support of the Tennessee Court Reporters Association (TCRA) legislative committee, and the bills were fully funded in the state budget. The increase is expected to go into effect July 1.

Getting this bill through the houses and signed into law was quite the coup for Tennessee reporters, according to NCRA President-Elect Max Curry, RPR, CRI, who spearheaded the legislation. “A little more than 10 years ago, Tennessee did away with the employee status of criminal reporters in Tennessee and has moved to a contractual status for the criminal courts around Tennessee. Due to the substantially lower amount in per diem and page rate offered by the criminal courts, more and more stenographic reporters were refusing to cover the work in lieu of more lucrative private sector work. The situation was creating a shortage of coverage by stenographic reporters in the criminal court system, and the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), which administers the criminal reporters in Tennessee, had begun training electronic recording reporters to cover the criminal courts. Of course, as an association we don’t want that, so we got to work on trying to find a solution,” Curry said. 

“The clearest solution was to increase the funds being paid to attract stenographic reporters,” explained Curry. “The AOC expressed a lack of willingness to move the rate up.  We were only asking for them to increase it to the same rate as that offered by other state entities that use stenographic reporters for their hearings, depositions, EUOs, arbitrations, etc., including the Department of Labor, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and so on. All of these organizations offered higher rates. The AOC couldn’t even compete with the other State entities, much less on an open market. The situation was spiraling out of control quickly, with the AOC offering no solutions that kept the stenographic reporters involved.

“Since the new rate is competitive with other state entities, we feel this will effectively correct the issue and get the criminal courts back on an even keel with the other state entities,” Curry continued. “It will simply be up to the AOC to do rate increases to keep up with inflation and what the other State entities are offering.”

The legislation moved through the process quickly. Every other year, Tennessee’s legislature runs on a fast track, and 2019 was a fast-track year.  “Over three months, we managed to maneuver the bill through the committee/subcommittee system of both House and Senate, work with the legislature on balancing out the fiscal impact of the bill as a law, and get it passed,” said Curry. “It was passed on the final evening of the 111th Tennessee Legislature being in session this year. We literally did this just under the wire of one legislative session, which is next to impossible!

“I took the lead on lobbying to work the bills through the process in the Tennessee House and Senate. Various people from our committee would show up for some of the interviews with legislators, and I would be remiss not to mention them. They were: Dana Webb, TCRA president when the process started; Stephanie Falkner, CRI, CPE, TCRA’s state president as we finished up; Sheila Wilson, TCRA past president and legislative committee member; Sheryl Weatherford, RPR, another TCRA past president and legislative committee member; and Peggy Giles, another wonderful reporter who was part of the legislative team. Each of these people took turns to accompany me to meetings with legislators and advocated for and educated the legislators about our bill and about the court systems in Tennessee and how court reporters are used. In addition, criminal court reporters Lisa Moss, Lori Bice, Gloria Dillard, and Kim Davidson, and many others would show up for subcommittee or committee meetings to show their support of this legislation,” Curry said. “Many of TCRA’s members were involved in the grassroots portion, too, and they did a stellar job of emailing and calling legislators’ offices. I would often hear from the state senators and representatives that people were reaching out and how impressed they were with how organized it all was.”

When asked what he credits the success to, Curry said: “First, we had an excellent game plan. Sheila, Stephanie, and I had all been to NCRA’s Boot Camp in the past, so we had the training. Also, Sheila, Peggy, and I had been through the legislative efforts previously in Tennessee, so all three of us knew how the process worked, and we worked very hard to educate and train the others. In addition, our grassroots organization and ability to get info out to the membership via email blast at a moment’s notice was truly impactful as well…. and they then took action as a group!  Engagement meant everything!

“Most importantly, we had Judge Dee Gay, who is a criminal courts judge here in Tennessee, who worked with us closely, advocated for us, and got us in touch with key legislators to help us,” Curry continued. “One of the attorneys who practices in front of Judge Gay regularly is William Lamberth, who happens to be a State of Tennessee Representative, and who more importantly happens to be the Majority Leader in the House and was our House bill sponsor! This was impactful and quickly opened doors and conversations for us. We did the leg work, and he worked the power struggle in the back. He also worked very hard at making sure we found the money in the budget to address the fiscal impact of this bill as a law. Leader Lamberth also recruited as our senate sponsor a very powerful ally: Pro Tem Speaker of the House Sen. Ferrell Haile!

“That’s not to say that the process was free of problems. While the legislative committee was working to get the legislature to pass the bill to increase pay to the criminal court reporters, two competing bills were also working their way through the process. It took additional education and lobbying to make sure that the legislators understood the impact of these other bills,” explained Curry.

“One of the bills we called the ‘Free Copy Bill,’ which basically would allow litigants (or anyone for that matter) to get a free copy of the transcript once the original was purchased and filed with the court. The second bill was to install an audio recording system in every single courtroom in the state of Tennessee. Because of our involvement, the legislators just let these bills die in committee,” said Curry. “This has been an amazing legislative year in Tennessee and one I’m proud to have been a part of!”