Kendra Johnston wins the NCRA September membership renewal campaign

Kendra Johnston, RMR, CRR, Charleston, S.C.

Our congratulations to Kendra Johnston, RMR, CRR, of Charleston, S.C., who was randomly chosen among all those who renewed their NCRA membership in September to win a $300 Amazon gift credit. The renewal rewards continue: renew in October for your chance at a $100 prize.

When asked about why she initially joined NCRA, Johnston explained,”I became a member of NCRA (then NSRA)  because I wanted to be involved and learn all I could about my profession. I’ve attended many of the seminars, enjoyed spending time with other reporters, and learned so much from them.”

Johnston shared about her passion for the court reporting profession:

“I’ve been reporting for over 35 years and still love it, find it challenging and rewarding. I love working with familiar clients and meeting new people. I’ve had the opportunity to travel nationally and internationally. I went from typing transcripts from my notes all the way to realtime. Every job is an opportunity to improve my skills, brief on the fly, edit from my writer, learn.  It never gets boring!”

Court reporting in the Army in Vietnam

NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh
NCRF Chair Tami Smith presents 2019 Altruism Award to recipient Mervin Vaungh

By Mervin Vaughn 

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) presented the 2019 Santo J. Aurelio Award to Mervin E. Vaughn, RPR, from Runnels, Iowa, at this year’s 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo. He recently shared with the JCR Weekly details about his years of service as a reporter in Vietnam.

Having completed my court reporting courses and passed the CSR test, I was ready to begin my career.  Classes were completed in November 1965.  Since the Vietnam War was going full swing, I knew I would be called sometime.  However, my notice didn’t come right away so I freelanced wherever I could pick up work and finally bought a new car to get around the state in.  The car purchase was a Saturday, and my draft notice came the following Monday.  Fortunately, I was able to pick up just enough work before having to report for duty to pay off the car and then store it in a garage for 2 years.

Basic was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  This was a time when the draft decided to call up those getting older before they hit the age to not be called, so I was in with several college grads and older guys.  During basic they tested everyone to see what skills they had.  One of those tests was a typing test on a very old manual typewriter.  While I was going as fast as I could, I noticed a sergeant standing over my shoulder.  When the test was over, he asked what I wanted to be.  I informed him I had been a court reporter prior and would like to do that.  He sent me over to another building to see the staff there.  They wanted to know what I thought I was doing coming over there.  I informed them that the sergeant had sent me over.  They said that, if he had sent me, they had better see why because he never sends anyone over.  Apparently, my typing skills impressed him.  Basic was completed and everyone was being informed where they would next report and what their MOS (military job) would be.  The company clerk informed me I would be a 71E20 and was being assigned to Fort Hood, Texas.  He said he didn’t know what a 71E20 was but he would look it up.  Lo and behold, it was a court reporter.  I was thrilled that the Army was putting me in a position that I was already trained for.

After a short leave home, I enjoyed a long bus ride to Fort Hood.  Fort Hood is an armored divisions fort, so we had tanks, etc., running around.  After getting settled into my new position, everything was going well.  There was one other civilian court reporter already in the office, so we would share the trials as they came along.  As well as being a court reporter, you were required to participate in calisthenics each morning and pull KP duty when assigned.  The barracks were to be maintained in inspection mode at all times also.  This required beds to be made so a half dollar would bounce on them and the floors polished to a high shine.  The floors were concrete, so it took some doing to get a shine on them.  Being an armored division, the floors were dyed red and then wax applied and buffed daily.

One day I was called in and told I was to report to a general at North Fort Hood for a special assignment.  Reporting to a general was out of the ordinary for a lowly private second class.  I was picked up and taken to North Fort Hood.  That is where the National Guard did their summer training.  I reported to the general and was informed that a soldier had been killed and there was going to be a special investigation into his death, and I would be reporting the proceedings.  The general was very nice and appreciative that I was there. 

After reporting the investigation, it was quite late.  The general told his staff to take me to the mess hall and feed me even though it was closed.   When we walked in, the mess sergeant demanded to know what we were doing coming in.  Once he was informed the general had sent me there to be fed, he became very accommodating.  After eating, the staff said they would drive me back to my billets.  I mentioned that the general had said they might fly me in his chopper back, so they did and landed right beside my barracks.  The other guys in the barracks thought someone important was coming in since it was the general’s personal chopper landing.  Were they ever surprised when this lowly court reporter stepped off.  The general later wrote a commendation letter to me in appreciation for my services.

Life then went back to the regular courts-martial cases for a while.  It was just before Christmas in 1965, and I was eating in the mess hall when another soldier stopped at my table and looked at my name tag.  I knew where he worked and asked him what he was doing.  He informed me my name had come down on orders that morning to go to Vietnam.  Needless to say, my lunch never got finished.

I reported back to my office and informed the colonel in charge that I would be leaving apparently.  He became very upset and said he would see about that.  About this time there had been a very young man murdered off base by a soldier.  The other court reporter said she would not report the case because it could carry the death penalty.  The case was referred to the military by the local authorities because Texas at that time did not have the death penalty.  The colonel went to the base commanding general to see if he could get my orders cancelled.  The base commander informed him he could not cancel them, but he could delay them for 90 days and no one could touch me during that time.  This gave enough time for me to report the murder case and get it transcribed.  Once it was completed, I was allowed to take a two-week leave home before shipping out to Vietnam.

After my leave, I reported to San Diego for processing to Nam.  During this time the military was using commercial jets as well as ships to transport guys going to Nam.  After processing, we were loaded onto buses and sent to the airport.  Come to find out, they had no plane scheduled for us when we got there.  The military proceeded to inform the airlines that they would unload the plane currently sitting on the tarmac and load us on instead.  They had some very unhappy customers when they were informed their plane had been taken for us.  We were in no hurry personally.

We landed in Hawaii to refuel but were not allowed to leave the plane.  We also landed in Guam for refueling.  Then we arrived in Nam.  Stepping off the plane, I thought we had landed near the dump because it smelled so bad.  Sure different than the fresh air of Iowa. 

After processing, I was then assigned to a signal outfit.  Once arriving there, they determined that they had no need for a court reporter but needed a legal clerk.  Hence, I took over the duties of a legal clerk, which involved helping soldiers that were encountering legal problems back home with their spouses or financial institutions.  This also involved pulling guard duty at night sometimes.  Since my typing skills were beyond the other clerks, I was given the assignment of typing papers that could not have any mistakes on them.  If you mistyped, you had to start over.  We only had manual typewriters again.  Everything must be in multiple copies also, so there was carbon paper to deal with.  Copy machines did not exist then.

After about six months as legal clerk, the JAG (military legal office) discovered I was a court reporter and had me immediately transferred to them.  Once again, I was reporting general courts-martial.  In the military everything is transcribed and reviewed higher up.  They needed five copies.  The transcripts were on legal-size paper and single spaced.  There was no transcript fee either.  Using a manual typewriter and cutting five copies required real pressure on the key stroking.  As a result, I was a pounder on my steno machine forever. 

Being a court reporter, no one understood how you could capture everything that was being said.  I think it brought some respect as a result.  Other duties were still required outside the JAG office, such as guard duty and latrine duty, until you attained a certain rank.  After attaining that higher rank, your name was removed from those duties. 

Once again, during this time, I was required to report a murder one case.  A soldier had killed another soldier during a fight.  In both of the murder one cases, the defendants were found guilty and given life sentences.  If they had received the death penalty, the transcript would have gone to the president because he has to approve such sentence.

One day in the mess hall, I saw that they had wheat bread for a change.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered the wheat in the bread also had legs.  We were lucky, though, because we at least had a mess hall and a hooch to sleep in.  A hooch was a frame building covered in screen wire with a tin roof and was surrounded by a sandbag wall to protect from incoming fire.  Bathroom facilities consisted of a multi-hole outhouse with half of a 50-gallon barrel beneath each hole.  When you were assigned latrine duty, it was your job to pull the barrels very carefully with their contents and replace with an empty barrel.  You then carried the removed barrel to a location away from the buildings and poured diesel fuel into the barrel and burned the waste.  Luckily, you did not draw that duty too often.  Showers were in rough-framed wooden buildings with an overhead tank.  You tried to take your shower after the sun had warmed the water in the tank.  Each floor of the hooch contained approximately 20 soldiers.  The beds were covered with mosquito netting and you were required to take pills to help prevent malaria.  When the monsoons were going, your clothes would mold even though they were inside.  The poor guys in the field would have their clothes rot while wearing them.  Being a court reporter probably saved my life because at that time they were sending almost everyone to the field, including college grads, etc.

About 30 days before my time was up, I, along with two captain lawyers, were assigned to be flown by chopper into a special forces camp to investigate a possible war crimes situation.   We had to fly in because the roads were controlled by the Vietcong.  We were not overly excited about that assignment, but all went well and we were back to our home base before nightfall.

As the time approached for my departure, I was asked if I would be interested in reenlisting.  After declining, they then asked if I would like to go home and be discharged and then come back as a civilian in the same position.  This I also respectfully declined as I had a job waiting for me back home as well as a fiancée.  In exactly one year, I left Nam for good old Iowa.  The rest is history.

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.

Captioners shared history with NCRA highlights past, present, and future

NCRA members Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, Portland, Ore.; Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, Minden, Nev.; and Kelly Linkowski, RPR, CRR, CRC, CPE, Rittman, Ohio, presented a session at the NCRA Convention & Expo that highlighted the history of captioning and shared a vision of the future. The JCR Weekly asked the trio to share their thoughts.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your background and how you are connected to captioning?

Linkowski | We tell people all the time how diverse a career in court reporting can be. It’s my favorite part of being a realtime stenographic reporter. My career has evolved to fit my family’s lifestyle and mine, unlike many professions where you have to fit your life around your career. I loved freelancing and never knowing what the next day may bring when I was in my 20s; I enjoyed the challenges and opportunity to sub in courtroom settings; but my ultimate favorite has been captioning as an independent contractor. When my kids were young, they would tell people I watched television for a living! Little did they know, working my own hours — as weird as they were — helped our family dynamic work in the way my husband and I had envisioned.

Yates | In the mid-1990s, after 25 years in judicial reporting, I was looking for a change, a new challenge. I attended the NCRA Annual Convention & Expo and heard a keynote speech by Henry Kisor, author of the book What’s That Pig Outdoors? He spoke about his experiences as a man who is deaf and the importance of captioning and CART in his life. He urged our members to retrain to become captioners. I took up that challenge and have never looked back. I haven’t done broadcast captioning, but I have worked providing CART captioning in every possible setting, including onsite for individual students in their classes; for large convention and meeting audiences; in my hometown and in many other states; as well as across the globe in other countries. Now I work almost exclusively from my home office providing remote captioning.

Studenmund | I am one of the owners of LNS Captioning in Portland, Ore. We started LNS Captioning in 1993. I first worked as a captioner in 1992. I have served on NCRA committees involving captioning since 1994 and taught workshops about realtime writing and captioning back in the 1990s, and I am still involved in captioner education to this day. I was one of the instructors for the Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) Workshop held in Denver in August 2019.

JCR | What do you tell captioners who ask you, “What has NCRA done for captioners?”

Studenmund | In 2012, the NCRA Captioning Community of Interest (CoI) took the bull by the horns and developed the Best Practices for Captioning, the effort that led to the Federal Communications Commission establishing – in 2015 – rules for captioning quality. The NCRA Captioning CoI was tired of hearing everyone in the broadcast realm blame any problems with captions on the captioners. We knew our captions went through many hands between our steno machines and computers and the end user’s TV. We started the conversation to identify all of the roles involved in the creation and delivery of live captions.

Linkowski | Certification. Certifications are an immediate letter of reference. They guarantee I have the minimum requirements. You can’t fake it – you are a realtime writer. Sometimes you are writing upwards of 300 wpm, and companies are hiring you to be the accessibility link to their customers. Certifications get you in the door; CEUs and daily developing of your skills and knowledge base will propel you to the top.

Yates | You cannot talk about the history of captioning without acknowledging the central role NCRA has played. As some of our members pioneered the field, NCRA highlighted their outstanding work every step of the way. Through our JCR articles and conference seminars, NCRA educated and trained legions of new captioners. We created certifications that allow our members to demonstrate their mastery of this skill and differentiate themselves from competitors. Our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill put a spotlight on captioning and gained millions of dollars to enable our schools to train captioners. NCRA’s public relations department helped place articles about captioners in local and national media outlets, especially after national disasters. The Association works with other organizations, particularly those representing people with hearing loss, on all captioning issues. NCRA continues to be the leading champion for captioners, both within our own ranks and to all external audiences.

JCR | What do you see as the future of captioners? 

Yates | I see a continuing expansion in the demand for our skill. It won’t be strictly as captioners, but in a more fluid and flexible field of instant, clean, (nearly) verbatim text for every imaginable situation. The word’s out, and the simultaneous display of the written word as the speakers talk is now a service that people just expect to be available. While other technologies might be available at lower cost, a skilled steno captioner will continue to be the standard against which all others measure themselves. 

Linkowski | Opportunities are more abundant than ever before. Captioning is no longer for just the deaf and hard of hearing but is a key communication component to universal design.

Studenmund | In the near future, live stenographic captioners will adjust to new competitors in our marketplace. Over time, we will see automated speech recognition improve. Our consumers will continue to make their voices heard about the level of quality they need in live captions. And live captioners will see the marketplace recognize the need for human captioners who are professionals who are accountable to ethics codes and quality of captions.

Look for an article on the history of captioning coming in the November/December issue of the JCR.

Catching up with Realtime Champion Doug Zweizig

NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig
NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig

Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, of Baltimore, Md., was crowned the 2019 Realtime Contest champion at the NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo. He wrote the two legs of the Realtime Contest, a literary at 200 wpm and testimony at 225 wpm, with an overall 98.4 percent accuracy. The JCR Weekly reached out to Zweizig to learn more about this, his third win in the Realtime Contest.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your career?
DZ | My first job was as a freelancer in Philadelphia. A great place to learn. I had a lot of variety in the types of work I did. Lots of medical. I next worked in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court (the First Judicial District of PA). Talk about a variety of work. Lots of homicide trials, medical malpractice, mass tort. It was a great place to work and a job I truly loved, but I felt I needed a move. In 2014, I accepted a position with the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Md. My coworkers here are great. They’re extremely supportive of me. But at the end of the day, I’m just another one of the reporters, and I’d have it no other way.

JCR | How long have you been working in the profession?
DZ | Since 1989, so 30 years!
 
JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
DZ | I saw an ad in my hometown newspaper for Central Pennsylvania Business School (now Central Penn College). They had many different programs. I had a travel brochure and court reporting brochure in front of me. I thought that court reporting sounded interesting. My grades in high school, however, were not the best. My mom and I ended up having to go for an interview with the dean and the head of the court reporting program. I think I pretty much talked my way in, and they decided to give me a chance, and I’m so glad they did. It was an extremely difficult program, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I definitely need structure.

JCR | This is your third win. Does it feel like it gets easier? 
DZ | I can only speak for myself when I say, no, it does not get any easier. It’s not easy at all, actually. My first win was kind of a huge surprise to me and a lot of others. For years, I thought perhaps it was a fluke. So that was 2006 and I didn’t compete again until 2009, and I did not do well at all. When you’re a past champion, the pressures are high (both self-imposed and from others). But I’m ultimately human, so state of mind and focus at the time I’m competing plays a big role for me.

JCR | You compete in both the Realtime and Speed Contest. As a participant, what are some of the differences between the two?
DZ | Up until 2012, I’d only ever competed in the Realtime Contest. I never thought I could compete in the Speed Contest. I waited to register for it until literally the last minute. The convention in 2012 was in Philadelphia, where I lived, so I was playing host to many people. I wasn’t getting a lot of rest. And, wow, I placed third in my very first speed contest! Now, that was a shock! I also placed third in the Realtime Contest that year. That was fun and very memorable.

JCR | Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win? 
DZ | Well, I’m not complaining about winning the Realtime Contest three times now, but the Speed Contest, yes, I’d love to win it just once. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to give myself a shot at that.

JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
DZ | Sure. Why not? I make myself sick over the contests and overthink constantly. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t do it unless I enjoyed it on some level.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?
DZ | I guess I want to see if I can outdo myself, really. People assume I’ve got all this confidence. I mean, I know that I’m good, but I’ve always been my own worst critic. And I assure you that is not false modesty. It’s the real deal for me.

JCR | What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a contest before? How can they get started?
DZ | Well, I never thought I could compete in national contests. In 2005, I just kind of went and did my thing and got third place. A lot of it is just being in the room and getting a feel for it all. Talking to regular contestants wouldn’t be a bad thing, but until you’ve experienced it yourself, you won’t know for sure. If you’re planning to compete in the Speed Contest, by all means practice speed and not perfection. In my opinion, transcription is a huge part of the Speed Contest; e.g., figuring out misstrokes: “slop,” stacks, split strokes. I have all of the above when I’m writing for pure speed.

If you’re planning to compete in the Realtime Contest, my suggestion is to practice RPR and RMR speeds. Since it’s got to translate correctly, having control of your writing at higher speeds (not as high as for the Speed Contest) is a good thing. The Realtime Contest is rarely ever easy, at least to me. A 225 Q&A is probably nothing for most people with their RMR, but when it has to translate and you won’t be able to edit after, therein lies the pressure! And if you’re planning to compete in both, alternate your practice. I will frequently do a quick switch from a horrendously fast speed take to a realtime take. Being able to switch gears without blinking is a help. That’s something I’ve actually gotten much, much better at, but I’m still a work in progress.

JCR | How far in advance do you begin to practice for the national contests?
DZ | Well, for past contests, maybe a month before, I’d start to do some practice a few times a week. Maybe 10-12 hours total. No, not enough for me now. I have done very well in the past with little to no practice. But practicing every day has been a huge benefit to me. For this year, I actually decided I was going to start to practice in February. I even bought a student writer on eBay to keep at home. Most of the inspiration for beginning my practice regimen on Feb. 25, 2019, was positive; namely, the one and only maestro himself, Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, North Brunswick, N.J. The man lives and breathes steno practice and inspires so many to do just that, including me! He’s just amazing.

Anyway, I decided I was going to practice every single day, and it didn’t matter how busy I was at work. I started off by purchasing a bunch of practice material from the NCRA Store and added it to my library. Keeping a detailed practice log was an absolute necessity for me. This means that I pause between each take so I can note exactly what I’m attempting to write. And I give myself feedback on many of the takes, whether I wrote a perfect paper or a not-so-perfect paper.

I switch from speed to realtime and back again and again and again. They are two very different mind-sets to me. When I’m in “realtime” mode, my focus is usually razor sharp. Sometimes I honestly don’t know how I focus to the degree that I do when writing realtime, but I do (not always successfully).

For speed — and this is where I’m still a work in progress  — I try my best to just get it down because I know I’ll have time to transcribe it. I don’t punctuate as much. Writing for pure speed requires a lot of focus too, but it’s different to me. Sometimes I’ll look down at my hands on purpose just so I can realize how truly fast they are moving. I also started to sometimes listen to high-speed takes in the car. Some of the speed takes are so fast to me that I have trouble processing them in my brain so that I’m hitting the correct keystrokes.

JCR | Has your win affected you in any way? 
DZ | It’s been pretty crazy since it happened. I was going through a lot emotionally immediately before the contests. My cat of 20 years  — yes, 20 years  — Jasper started to go downhill shortly before Denver. I had to make the extremely difficult decision, the day before I left for Denver, to take away his pain, and I did just that. It was the least I could do for him. I was a mess, to say the very least. And it was no one’s fault except my own, of course, but the very first leg of the Speed Contest was about cats. I think that was in the first or second sentence. And that was it for me on the Speed Contest. But, ironically enough, the literary is the leg I qualified on. Go figure.

So I knew I had to pull it together for the Realtime Contest the following day. I’m pretty sure many people were chatting about what I was going through at the time (I know it made the rounds). I mean, we all go through things, but this was particularly difficult for me. I’m still getting e-mails from people asking advice. I only wish I had a “formula,” but it’s a combination of things for me.

JCR | Anything else you would like to share? 
DZ | Don’t underestimate yourself. I never thought I’d ever compete, much less win. I underestimated myself for years, but events were set in motion that caused me to start to compete, and was I ever surprised! I don’t always win and I don’t always do well, but that won’t stop me from trying.

NCRA member running for local city council seat

C&G Newspapers posted an interview on Sept. 25 with NCRA member Mindy Moore, a freelance court reporter and firm owner from Warren, Mich.,  who is running for a seat on the local city council representing District 3.

Read more.

New Professional Profile: Sara Galante

Sara Galante

By Ashley Stahl

Sara Galante attended the Long Island Business Institute.  She reports freelance and per diem court proceedings in New York and has been working for a little under two years.  She talks to us about what life was like in school and her transition to professional reporting.

JCR | Tell me a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the field of court reporting.

SG | I’ve been officially working for a little under two years. I’m a fur-mama to four pups and live in New York, specifically Long Island.  My father is actually a court reporter, and he’s the one I have to thank for introducing me to this wonderful career!  He began school when I was a kid, and I remember playing with his old machine and paper and was always intrigued.  I’ve always liked English, and I’ve always been a fly-on-the-wall kind of girl, so this career is perfect for me. 

JCR | What was your practice routine like as a student?

SG | When I was still working 40-hour weeks, I would practice before work about an hour and then another one to two hours when I got home.  I used my time wisely at work by bringing my notes in and transcribing whenever I had the opportunity.  Lots of long nights and not many social events, but it was all worth it!

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

SG | This is a tough question!  I guess for me the hardest part was making myself seem like a seasoned professional in the very beginning.  I never wanted anyone to think I was new or lacked experience.  I’ve always had a “fake it till you make it” motto, and this was no different.

JCR | How did you feel before and after your first assignment as a court reporter?

SG | Before, I was VERY nervous.  I wrote down the oath and other notes on sticky notes and made sure I had easy access to them throughout the first deposition.  When the attorneys asked me to read back, I thought I was going to be sick.  After I nailed the first three requests for read back, my confidence soared, and I left that job on cloud nine!  It’s been (mostly) smooth sailing since then!

JCR | What do you love about your career?

SG | The flexibility and the opportunity to learn something new every day!  I get bored easily, but there’s no time for that with this line of work. 

JCR | Do you have any advice for students?

SG | Work hard.  Practice!  Don’t hesitate to ask for help.  Know that you can do this, and that it will be 100 percent worth it.  I promise.

JCR | Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

SG | Aside from hanging out with my four pups, I love to travel, hike, read, and watch movies.

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.

Review: A Student Rates the NCRA Convention

by April Frederick

April Frederick

From seminars about live captioning Coachella to an inspiring keynote speech from Erin Brockovich; from high tea with professional speakers to speed dating with working reporters; from a Diamonds and Denim Gala to casual drinks at the hotel bar– every single minute of the conference was informative, enriching, fun, and inspiring.

My journey to becoming a court reporter began about two years ago. After getting the all-clear from my oncologist to return to work, and my daughter entering school full-time, it was time for me to decide what I wanted to do with my free time and second lease on life. I usually generate a chuckle when I tell the story of how I decided on the career of court reporting. Having pursued a degree in art after graduating from high school, I knew I would have to go back to school for something practical if I wanted to have a good-paying job. My second passion was always the criminal justice system and, to make a long story short, my husband brought up the idea of becoming a sketch artist in the courtroom. I quickly dismissed that idea but felt he may have been on to something. It was his next suggestion that changed my life. “What about becoming one of those “typie” people?” The lightbulb immediately came on and I knew he had hit the nail on the head.

I am fortunate enough to have been able to attend my theory classes in a brick-and-mortar school, and it was my being on campus that opened the door to forming personal relationships with the faculty and my classmates. It drew me into becoming involved with my school’s Captioning and Court Reporting (CCR) Club. The main purpose of our club is to facilitate students in attending professional enrichment events. It was through the CCR Club that I first learned about Ohio Court Reporters Association (OCRA) and NCRA conferences. I attended the OCRA conference, which was conveniently located near where I live in Parma, Ohio, in March of this year. The experience was invaluable to me and many of the working reporters I was networking with there suggested I attend the NCRA conference this year. I knew I would do whatever it took to attend. Miraculously, the conference was scheduled during my break from school and before my kids had to be back in their school. The timing was perfect, and the flight was booked.

The day I left for Denver, I was excited and nervous. I was not sure how different it would be as a student attending a national conference as opposed to a local one. Also, when I attended my state conference, I was one of many students from my school attending. This time, I was all by myself. I knew I had two faculty members attending, but I also knew they had educator seminars to attend, and I would have to rely on myself to navigate the convention center and socialize with strangers. In other words, I had to put my big girl pants on.

As soon as I stepped into the welcome area of the convention, I was greeted by a working reporter who exclaimed, “Yay! Another student!” I was whisked over to the registration table, all my nerves had vanished, and I felt completely at home. I cannot tell you how many professionals I engaged with during my three days at the convention, but I can tell you that I felt complete support and acceptance from everyone I had the pleasure of meeting. I have so many business cards that I need to invest in a Rolodex to fit them all.

In addition to having been accepted by the working professionals and attending seminars geared more toward them, I also attended ones geared strictly for students. The student events were some of my favorites because of the gracious and open nature of the speakers at those events. It also allowed me to meet other students from all over the United States and abroad and feel comfort in being able to talk to someone who can relate, right now, to what I am going through with school.

From seminars about live captioning Coachella to an inspiring keynote speech from Erin Brockovich; from high tea with professional speakers to speed dating with working reporters; from a Diamonds and Denim Gala to casual drinks at the hotel bar — every single minute of the conference was informative, enriching, fun, and inspiring. I would encourage every student to attend their state conference, but I would especially recommend doing whatever you can to attend at least one NCRA convention in your school career. I can promise you it will be completely worth the travel and expense because you cannot put a price on the information I learned, the contacts I  acquired, or the confidence and inspiration I felt upon my return to Parma, Ohio, to finish up what will hopefully be my last year as a student at Cuyahoga Community College.

April Frederick is president of the Captioning and Court Reporting Club at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio.

Hitting the Jury Duty Lottery

by Kindra Barton

Kindra Barton

Military spouse Kindra Barton taught fourth grade, traveled around the world, and raised four children before her path finally led her to court reporting school. At 42, she has just graduated from Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Iowa. “I hope that by going back to school I have taught my kids not to be afraid to do something difficult,” Kindra says, “and that it is never too late to change directions.”

Three years ago, I was chosen for jury duty.  I had been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years at that point.  I was so excited to dress up and listen to adults that I jokingly said I hit the jury duty lottery.  I was chosen for a weeklong trial, and every minute was fascinating to me.  The court reporter, Teresa Kordick, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, CPE, was amazing.  She was very polite and professional.  The day I left the courthouse for the last time, I called my husband and told him I wanted to be a court reporter.

After high school, I was interested in court reporting but chose a career as a teacher instead.  I taught fourth grade in Texas before marrying a military pilot and setting off for ten moves around the world.  In those ten years, I set aside teaching for unpacking and packing boxes, having four children, and waving flags for every deployment.

At the age of 39, I enrolled in the Des Moines Area Community College court reporting program in Newton, Iowa. Attending this program required a 45-minute drive four times a week from my home in Des Moines. I just turned 42 and passed my last speed test the same month. It took three years for me to graduate.  The advice that helped me the most during school was from my professors, and I repeated it over and over for three years:

  • Don’t compare yourself with others.  We will all reach the speeds in our own time.
  • Trust the process.  Start with your theory and really nail it down and then move to the next speed.
  • You must believe you can do this.  No one else can believe it hard enough for you.
  • Practice your theory.  (Repeat 20x)
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • When you are an amazing court reporter, no one will care how long it took you to get out of school.

One of the things that has been amazing about interacting with professional court reporters throughout my schooling has been the amount of support and encouragement they have for students. Every single one of them has said, “We need you.” They invite us to conferences and buy our lunch. They let us sit in with them for court and depositions. Without that experience, I am confident my speed would not be where it is today. We even had a firm owned by a female court reporter pay for one of our certification exams!

I have not heard anyone say that school has been easy for them. I have watched students graduate in 15 months and others take longer than three years. From the first theory test I ever took, I would turn to the person next to me and say, “You’ve got this.” As it turns out we need each other. When one student graduates, the water level rises, and we all swim a little higher.

My family has changed in the three years I have been in school.  My four children learned that failure isn’t an ending. (Don’t worry, Mom, you will pass the next one!) For Mother’s Day this year, my youngest daughter gave me a coupon for “5 free pep talks.” I hope that by going back to school I have taught my kids not to be afraid to do something difficult, and that it is never too late to change directions.

In the future I hope to become a freelance court reporter in Des Moines, Iowa.  I hope to figure out downtown parking, and I hope to perfect my steno face. For today, I need to go practice.

Kindra Barton is a recent graduate from Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Iowa. She is currently studying for her RPR skills exams.