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.

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.

Study suggests fixing gender funding gap would boost global economy

NBC affiliate Channel 41 in Kansas City, Mo., aired a story on Sept. 2 that quotes NCRA member Lauren Lawrence, creator of Stenovate, a platform that simplifies the court reporting process and allows editors, reporters and proofreaders to work more efficiently and save time.

Watch the story.

Full coverage of the NCRA 2019 Convention & Expo

NCRA 2019 Officers and Board Members

Keep up to date with voting results, award announcements, and more events currently taking place at the NCRA 2019 Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo.

Awards and scholarships

Information about voting

Special events

Media coverage

Bruce A. Matthews Honored with NCRA 2019 Distinguished Service Award

2019 NCRA Distinguished Service Award Honoree Bruce Matthews
2019 NCRA Distinguished Service Award Honoree Bruce Matthews

The National Court Reporters Association announced Bruce A. Matthews, FAPR, RDR, CRR, a retired court reporter from Lakewood, Ohio, as its 2019 Distinguished Service Award (DSA) winner. Matthews was honored at a special awards ceremony held at NCRA’s annual Convention & Expo taking place in Denver, Colo.

The NCRA DSA recognizes the distinguished work and service by an individual member for the benefit of the court reporting profession, including service to NCRA as a member, a committee member, a director, or an officer of the association. Other displays of distinguished work include contributing to the JCR, service at the state or local court reporters association, or in the field of public relations or public affairs. Award winners are nominated by their peers and are recognized at NCRA’s Convention & Expo.

Matthews began his career in 1973 after graduating from Clark State College. Among Matthews’ most notable reporting assignments has been covering Kent State Grand Jury hearing, the bankruptcy trial of American businessman Daniel H. Overmyer, numerous toxic shock syndrome cases, a lower Lake Erie Antitrust case, and patent depositions. He also took the deposition of Art Modell, former owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns on why the NFL Oakland Raiders should not move to Los Angeles, Calif.

Matthews has also presented numerous seminars about technology, ethics, and realtime.

Active at the national level, Matthews is a past president of NCRA and has served on a number of the Association’s committees as a member or as chair including the Legislative, Resolutions, Finance, Nominating, Realtime, Contests, Convention and Constitution & Bylaws committees. He has also served on numerous advisory and task forces, and is a past NCRA Secretary-Treasurer, and past chair of the National Court Reporters Foundation Board of Trustees.

At the state level, Matthews is a past president of the Ohio Court Reporters Association (OCRA) where he has served on numerous committees. He is also involved in the state’s A to Z(TM) Intro to Machine Shorthand program.  

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the past president’s awards from OCRA and NCRA, and the Past Chair Award given by NCRF. He is the only member of OCRA to have received the Glenn Stiles Distinguished Service Award and the Martin Fincum Award in the same year.

Matthews and his wife, Deborah, have three daughters and one son.

NCRA member is candidate in local council race

NCRA member Mindy Moore, a freelance court reporter and firm owner from Warren, Mich., was quoted in an article posted by the Macomb Daily profiling candidates running for the local city council.

Read more.

NCRA member making her dream a reality with Stenovate

Lauren Lawrence, seated, with Karen Fenaroli of the Fenaroli Minverva Fund and Karen’s husband, Paul.

Lauren Lawrence, RPR, from Kansas City, Mo., recently started a new business, Stenovate. She told JCR Weekly more about it.

JCR | Can you give us a little information about Stenovate?

LL | Stenovate is the only organization and collaboration platform built specifically for legal transcript professionals. There are two major benefits: First is streamlined project management. We designed a tool that allows reporters, scopists, and proofreaders to work together seamlessly on a single platform. Second, we’re in the process of building a freelance marketplace for finding help and picking up extra work. The marketplace will include professional profiles, ratings and reviews, and a job board so that it’s easy to find good help. The idea for Stenovate has been in my mind for years, but we’ve only been in development since December of 2018.

JCR | What made you see a need for Stenovate?

LL | Over the last six years, as I hunted for the perfect unicorn scopist and proofreader, I started to get really frustrated with the process. It takes effort to find good help. You can spend a lot of time vetting someone, and it still may not be the right fit. Then add in all the disjointed tools we needed to collaborate: Facebook, email, Dropbox, text, PayPal, etc. Everyone has a slightly different system, so it was tough to get on the same page and be truly efficient.

Finally, when I learned about the reporter shortage, I realized how important it was that reporters maximize their time doing what they do best: reporting. I started talking to a lot of people on the phone, asking about the tools they used, what they would like to improve about their process, and what the “perfect” tool would look like. Their feedback was fantastic, and the need for a new solution was clear. I just had to figure out how to make it happen.

JCR | Tell us about the big news of a new investor.

LL | When I started looking into creating Stenovate, I had no idea the amount of capital and connections it would take to make it successful, but I was determined to help reporters. So I started self-funding the project, but I knew that wouldn’t be sustainable if we wanted to make a great product. I knew the court reporting community was supportive. After all, we have more than 500 people on Stenovate’s waitlist, but there comes a point when you have to go out on a limb and look to the business community to see if anyone believes in you and your idea enough to back you up financially. Karen Fenaroli, my initial investor, is a crusader for small, women-owned businesses, and she was the first one to take a chance on Stenovate and on me. We all have to start somewhere, but if we have capital and support, it allows us to be user-focused. This opens the door for other opportunities that help us improve our product faster.

JCR | What will the new investment allow you to do?

LL | It takes a lot of brains and a lot of hours to build something like Stenovate. I’ve recently brought in a few amazing women to help me. While I know and love everything about court reporting, I’m not a software designer, a business analyst, or a client success manager. Those are really important roles, and our new investment is allowing Stenovate to establish a solid team of smart, compassionate, and innovative leaders who aim to help our community thrive.

JCR | Are you still looking for investors?

LL | The short answer: Yes. I’d be happy to talk to anyone seriously interested, especially if they can offer industry insight in addition to capital. We’re looking for strategic investors who can help guide us to do what is best for our users and the transcript community as a whole. Our industry is at an inflection point. With Stenovate, we have an opportunity to empower our users and benefit the industry at the same time.

JCR | What are next steps for Stenovate?

LL |We’re launching Early Access for our beta users Aug. 6! For the next 30 days, we’ll be hanging onto their every word of feedback and making continuous improvements. Then we will open up the platform to the public so that everyone can work better together. The current version of Stenovate has the project management component, but we’re furiously building the freelance marketplace as we speak. We have lots of other little features up our sleeve that we can’t talk about quite yet. We’re working as fast as we can, and we’ll keep you updated as we launch new features. If you haven’t already, join the waitlist at www.stenovate.com to stay in the loop!

JCR | What is your court reporting background, and are you still working as a court reporter?

LL |I graduated from AIB College of Business in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in court reporting and moved straight to Kansas City to start freelancing. I remember getting my first reporting job from a phone interview without a résumé. They really needed the help! Since then, I have focused on building my dictionary and getting realtime ready. Providing realtime has allowed me to cover big trials, have a transcript about Trump in the Huffington Post, and even travel abroad to places like Italy and Peru. It’s been a total whirlwind!

Now, I’m reporting very little due to Stenovate’s major time demand, which means I’m not getting paid either! Startups are not a walk in the park or for the faint of heart, but if I can keep my team paid, I can skip vacation and live on PB&J. Have you ever tried something and then wondered how you ever lived without it? I know that’s going to be Stenovate. I’m so inspired by the court reporting community’s work ethic. My sole purpose right now is to save us time and headaches. I know how hard we work. I know how bad we need this. As my mother always says, “I’m here to help.”

Melinda Walker honored in Congress

NCRA member Melinda Walker, RPR, CMRS, was recognized in the July 24 Congressional Record by Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland on the occasion of her retirement as Chief Reporter of the Debates. She was also recognized on July 22 by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

See Rep. Hoyer’s speech here.

NCRA member wins spot in 2019 National Small Business Week contest

Balboa Capital, a leading lender that specializes in small business loans and equipment leasing, announced in a press release issued June 6 that NCRA member Diane Emery, CMRS, founder of Executive Reporting Service, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., was awarded $500 as a runner-up winner in its 2019 National Small Business Week contest.

Read more.

Shining a light on NCRA members

Isaiah Roberts, RPR

There’s no doubt about it: NCRA members take on some exciting, fascinating, and downright inspiring work. At the beginning of June, NCRA launched a new Web page as part of NCRA.org and our NCRA 2.0 effort to capture some of these stories highlighting our members. Recent additions to the site include Isaiah Roberts, RPR, and Stan Sakai, CRC, and their work captioning Coachella; Lisa Migliore Black’s experience with a Project Innocence death row case; and the fun of being court reporters on film from Helga Lavan, RPR, and Kate Cochran, RPR.

The purpose of the page is to shine a light on all NCRA members – court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, scopists, proofreaders, teachers, and everyone else – who have an inspiring story to share with other members. Too often, people in this profession are noticed only when there is a mistake, and the high standards you hold yourselves to may some days feel self-defeating. Let these stories remind you of the many great opportunities these professions offer. Whenever you need a reminder of all the cool things that you can do with your skill set, please take a look.

And if you happen to have a story about a great experience of your own, please share it with us at pr@ncra.org.  The great stories you offer about your work can be help more people understand how exciting and important your work is. NCRA will consider all submissions for one of NCRA’s publications or possible use on a promotion website maintained by NCRA.