Mixing business with pleasure: Working in an RV

NCRA member Lisa Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, casts off ties in Melbourne, Fla., every year to travel across the United States with her husband. Rather than forgo her usual work
as a broadcast and CART captioner, she set herself up to caption from wherever she and her husband parked the RV. Mixing business with pleasure was just right for the two of them.

Johnston spoke to JCR Contributing Editor Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, about the journey and all the stops in between.

BAKER | How long was the planning process to make sure you had all the work equipment you needed, as well as possible back-ups?

JOHNSTON | I packed all my equipment as if I were going to an event to work onsite. I have two laptops, two writers, two realtime cables, headphones, etc. Over the years, I have developed a checklist to make sure I have everything before I leave. I also bring the huge notebook of prep I have accumulated over the years. I travel a lot with work, and so, by now, I know what I need.

BAKER | Did you forget anything or wish you had brought something?

JOHNSTON | No, I haven’t forgotten anything yet — hopefully, I won’t ever forget something! I’m not too proud to admit that I now and will always use a checklist to make sure I have everything I need.

BAKER | Was all of your work strictly through the internet, sending data as well as audio?

JOHNSTON | I do remote CART captioning while traveling in our RV using the internet. I have two wireless routers that act as mobile WiFi hotspots, one with Verizon and one with AT&T; and both work really well. In certain parts of the country, one wireless provider may give me a stronger signal than the other, so I use what I feel gives me the most internet strength at that location.

I get my audio by dialing in using my cell phone. I have also used Skype for audio in the past as well. That can be iffy at times, so I always do some testing before an event starts.

BAKER | Any glitches along the way?

JOHNSTON | When I first started this journey of traveling on the road and CART captioning, before there were cell towers everywhere, I had to take my wireless hotspot and check the strength where the RV was “docked,” and if I had bad reception, I would get in my car and drive and see where the strongest service was. Many times, I’ve had to write on my machine, with the laptop on the seat next to me in the back seat of my car (we have a car we bring on our trips, which we tow behind our RV). I’ve been in Nowhere, U.S.A., in some unique locations sitting in my car taking down an assignment! Fun times!

Cell towers are the norm nowadays, so I don’t have to necessarily always be in a “big city” like I used to be to find a strong internet signal strength. I now can get good internet service most anywhere, thank goodness!

BAKER | Are your clients aware of your traveling, or has it been that they haven’t noticed a difference at all?

JOHNSTON | I strive to provide my clients with seamless captioning services and have been able to do so successfully for many years. As long as they are receiving the product they need, they are happy. I provide only CART captioning while on the road; no broadcast captioning which may use a landline and encoders.

I hope my reputation speaks for itself. If I am requested to support someone who needs communication access, I will go out of my way to accommodate. I have been in this profession for 34 years now, I love what I do every single day, and I hope that shows. If I can leave a person or situation and they have a smile on their face, then I’m happy and I’ve done my job successfully!

BAKER | I’m “assuming” your husband was not driving at the time you were working?

JOHNSTON | No way do I work while my husband is driving down the road. First off, it’s not very comfortable doing it that way for me, as not all roads in the U.S. are nice terrain and can get very bouncy and unstable. So, if we’re driving to a destination and I need to stop to take a job, we will pull into a rest area or at a truck stop/gas station and that works well for me. My husband is my fabulous support staff!

BAKER | Was there a particular goal for your travels?

JOHNSTON | We have no goals in our yearly travels. One year we head northeast to Maine, with many stops along the way, and the next year we head somewhere west (last year was Washington state; most years to California) with many stops along the way. We’ve been from one end of Canada to the other. We’ve been to all 50 states, and 49 traveling in our RV. Maine is one of our favorite states, so every other year we enjoy traveling up Maine’s coast and enjoying some lobster!

BAKER | Anything unexpected pop up that you didn’t plan on?

JOHNSTON | Nothing unexpected comes to mind right now. Pre-planning pays off!

BAKER | How many other colleagues were you able to visit on your travels?

JOHNSTON | In our travels across the beautiful United States, I try to reach out to some dear friends and colleagues when I know I will be nearby. In Flagstaff, Ariz., I had dinner with you and Lori Yeager Stavropoulos, RPR, CRR, CRC, and their spouses; in Mobile, Ala., spending time with Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Elliot Carter was such a treat and highlight; in Seattle, I just missed seeing Darlene Pickard, RDR, CRR, CRC, as she was out of state the week I was there. And I keep promising Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CRC, that we will make a trip to the San Diego area soon! Such good friends that I love seeing!

BAKER | Would you recommend this as a way to travel and work at the same time?

JOHNSTON | For me, this is the best of both worlds. I work a lot with clients who have meetings throughout the week. That is all I want to cover while I’m traveling, so while traveling on the road, I choose to work 2-3 days a week, which is perfect, because I can cover their meetings and yet still “play” and explore the areas my husband and I visit.

I choose to keep my workload light and not be constantly working, because I enjoy my time off sightseeing where we are traveling. We usually stay in a location a few days, so in that timeframe, we like to play tourists and see what the area has to show us, so I don’t want to always be inside working. But I love the flexibility to do what I want and work when I want!

BAKER | What have you seen on your travels that really stuck out for you?

JOHNSTON | We’d both always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, and the first time was such a treat. We love going to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Living an hour from Walt Disney World, I’d always wanted to see Disneyland in California, and that was fun to go to. Growing up in Florida with no seasons really, it’s been a treat for us to see the beauty of the United States. Fall is our favorite time to travel; seeing the leaves change their colors is breathtaking!

BAKER | Anything else you’d like to pass along to the readers?

JOHNSTON | My husband and I have been RV travelers for 15 years now and love every single minute of our adventures. Come join me! The United States is a great place to call your office!

New Professional Spotlight: Haley Hermus

Haley Hermus

By Whitney Berndt

Haley Hermus lives in Little Chute, Wisc., and is a per diem reporter for the 8th District in Wisconsin. She graduated in May of 2018 from Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisc.

JCR | What theory do you use?

HH | Realtime Realwrite.

JCR | How long have you been an NCRA member?

HH | Since 2016.

JCR | How did you learn about the career?

HH | I was watching American Sniper and very closely followed the trial of the murder of Chris Kyle. It was after following his story that I realized that something in the court system was for me.

JCR | What was your biggest hurdle after finishing school?

HH | My biggest hurdle after finishing school was finding a job. I love my hometown, and I didn’t want to move, so unfortunately options are very limited with official positions. I guess that just goes to show how great of an area I live in!

JCR | What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

HH | My greatest accomplishment was being asked to read back for the first time and absolutely nailing it. It was not only the scariest but also the most rewarding part of the job so far.

JCR | What was the best piece of advice you received from another reporter?

HH |The best advice I received was to stick with it. School can be so challenging with so many close test scores, but the end result will be so worth the journey.

JCR | How did you feel going into your first assignment/day on the job, and how did you feel coming out of it?

HH | Going into my first day on the job was so scary and full of butterflies, as any other job would be, but when I walked out of my first day, I had never smiled so big; and I realized I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect profession for me.

Whitney Berndt is a student at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, WI. She is a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee and can be reached at wberndt828@yahoo.com

New Professional Spotlight: Tracey L. Tracy

Tracey Tracy

By Rachel Barkume, RPR

Tracey Tracy, RPR, is a freelance court reporter in Tacoma, Wash. She graduated from the online court reporting technologies program at Green River College in June 2017, attained her RPR in July 2017, and her Washington CCR in August 2017. She’s a true go-getter who radiates positivity and enthusiasm with a smile that is downright infectious. At the close of her first full year of reporting, she’s navigating through being a new professional with grace and tenacity.

JCR | Why did you choose to become a court reporter?

TT | During high school I was exposed to the field of court reporting by my aunt who worked as an official court reporter in my home town. I had considered following her path early on, but life had other plans for me. I spent the next several years raising children, working as an administrative assistant, and even had a stint as a barista at Starbucks.

With our youngest son approaching high school, I decided it was the right time for me to finally go back to school and accomplish my dream of becoming a court reporter. I set a personal goal to finish and be certified by the time he graduated. Well, it’s June 2018, our senior just graduated, and I’ve been working as a freelance court reporter now for 10 months.

I graduated in June 2017 at the age of 46, so I’m proof that you’re never too old!

JCR |   What is the ultimate goal in your career?

TT | I would say it’s too soon for me to predict my ultimate goal, but this first year’s goal has been spent learning the business side of being a freelance court reporter. We are essentially running a small business, which includes implementing a bookkeeping program to track all expenses and incoming revenue, preparing taxes, employing scopists and/or proofreaders, and time management.

Although the workload of a freelance court reporter can ebb and flow, I quickly discovered that work life can get so busy with transcripts that you have time for little else.  However, with a solid business foundation in place, a freelance court reporter can be successful in having a healthy work-life balance.

JCR | What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?

TT | Every day as a freelance court reporter has been a “cool experience.” Prior to court reporting, I never had a job where I could honestly say, I love going to work every single day.  As a freelance reporter, no two days are ever the same. We play a critical role in producing an accurate and verbatim record of proceedings, and we have a front-row seat into the most important legal matters of people’s lives.  Thus far, I would say the best experience has been the realization that no machine will ever be able to replicate the accuracy of the human brain for synthesizing speech and converting it to text.

JCR | How has involvement with state and national reporting associations benefited your career thus far?

TT | As an online student and now a professional reporter, I am very passionate about the importance of being involved with your state reporting association and the NCRA. One of the benefits of being involved with state and national reporting associations is attending the yearly conventions and seminars, which allow for many connections and reconnections with students and professional reporters.

My first experience with an NCRA convention was New York City in 2015, where I was honored as the recipient of the CASE scholarship award. I was welcomed, supported, and encouraged by all of the professional reporters I met while I was there, and I even had a couple of them who would continue to mentor and e-mail me along my journey in school, which reminds me: Debbie Dibble and Irv Starkman, if you’re reading this, I did it!

Through my state and national reporting associations, I enjoy promoting the field of court reporting through career fairs and other venues that actively encourage new students, such as the Discover Steno video with NCRA and the Career Outreach video with WCRA, which has benefited not only my career, but hopefully some new recruits!

JCR | What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

TT | When I’m not reporting, I love spending time with my husband, family, and my grandson, who calls me Noni. We enjoy anything that has to do with the outdoors, entertaining friends, music, and traveling.

JCR | What did you do to remain positive and motivated while in court reporting school?

TT | As an online student, you are somewhat isolated, so it was important for me to be involved with my state and national reporting associations. I had some amazing teachers, reporters, and fellow students along the way who mentored me in a way that both inspired and motivated me to keep pushing and never give up.  These same people continue to mentor and encourage me today as a professional reporter.

JCR | What do you love about your career?

TT | There are many benefits about this rewarding profession.  We truly have a one-of-a-kind career where we get to utilize our skill that is rare and in great demand worldwide.

As a freelance court reporter, I enjoy the benefits of schedule flexibility, a great income, job security, opportunity for professional growth, and the adventure of being presented with a new assignment and location every day.

Court reporting is rarely dull for people who enjoy learning!

Rachel Barkume, RPR, is a freelancer and CART captioner in Alta, CA. She is a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee and can be reached at rachel.barkume@gmail.com.

Angel Donor Profile: Marjorie Peters

Marjorie Peters

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) supports the advancement of the court reporting and captioning professions through education, scholarship, recognition, and programs critical to preserving the past, enriching the present, and securing the future of the profession. NCRF is able to do the great work it does with donations from individuals and organizations through various donor programs, including the popular Angels program.

Each month, NCRA will highlight one of the more than 100 Angels who support the National Court Reporters Foundation year after year. This month, the column kicks off with a profile of Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, who also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate.

JCR | Let’s begin with learning where you are based and what you do.

MP | Based in Pittsburgh, Pa., covering Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. I am a freelance reporter and small firm owner covering complex realtime and all types of litigation, large and small.

JCR | How long have you been an Angel?

MP | Since the Angel program started, nearly 15 years ago!

JCR | Clearly being an Angel is important to you. Why?

MP | I did not attend college, but having a skilled trade that has become a career has offered me the opportunity to achieve goals and work in places with people I never would have imagined. It has given me freedom of choice and flexibility in my life. I want everyone to realize their own goals as well, and the Foundation programs offer those opportunities to others as well.  How can I not support that!?

JCR | Are you involved with the Foundation in other ways?

MP | I am on the Angels Gatherers Committee! Ask me about being an Angel! It’s not as hard as you think. After I was an Angel for the first couple of years, I realized it was a commitment that I would always make to myself and others because NCRF’s programs really do help others. Foundation programs empower!

JCR | What is your favorite NCRF program?   

MP | Well, the easy answer is the Oral Histories Project. It is a labor of love and the best day you will ever have. The Foundation programs support education through scholarships, support reporting firms by offering legal education resources, and of course the Corrine Clark Professionalism Institute supports fledgling reporters and firms. The Foundation lifts students, reporters, and firms to success personally and professionally.  

Learn more about the NCRF Angel Donors program, or become an Angel.

New Professional Spotlight: Cathy Carpenter

Cathy Carpenter

Cathy Carpenter, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., currently lives and works as a freelance court reporter in St. Petersburg, Fla. She graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and from the court reporting program at Sheridan Technical College in 2015.  She’s a member of NCRA and FCRA and has served on the board of directors of FCRA as the southern director and is currently serving as secretary.  When she’s not reporting and fulfilling her association duties, she enjoys concerts, boating, and going to the beach.

JCR | What was life like as a student?

CC | Life was busy. I worked full time while in school and attended class online in the evening. I would practice before and after work and on weekends.

JCR | What is your next big career goal?

CC | My next big career goal is obtaining my RPR.  I have one leg to go!

JCR | What career would you have chosen had you not gotten into reporting?

CC | I previously worked in the construction industry and really enjoyed it. I would probably still be in the same field had I not learned about court reporting.

JCR | What are your “can’t live without” items in your steno bag?

CC | The obvious things, such as my machine (love my Luminex), laptop, microphones, and backup recorder, but aside from those basics, I would have to say my tilting tripod. I’ve been using one for about three years, and I can’t imagine writing on my machine without it.

JCR | If you could sum up your first year in one word, what would it be and why?

CC | Exciting. Even though we are continuously learning as court reporters, every day really was a new experience that first year. I was terrified and intrigued and looked forward to a new challenge every day.

New Professional Spotlight: Brad Benjamin

Brad Benjamin

Brad Benjamin is a new freelance court reporter in Chicago, Ill. A graduate of MacCormac College, he covers various types of work including court hearings, municipal board meetings, and depositions.

JCR | How did you become interested in becoming a court reporter?

BB | Court reporting always fascinated me. I remember watching the movie Drop Dead Fred when I was a teenager. Phoebe Cates plays a court reporter who gets fired in one of the first scenes. The judge fires her right before a hearing because she is late to court. I remember thinking, ‘Well, who will they find to replace her on such short notice?’

It wasn’t until I was 33 and looking for a career change that I came up with the idea to pursue court reporting during a brainstorming session with a friend. He had recently become a bailiff and encouraged me to consider the legal or law enforcement fields.

After researching a few programs, I concluded that I would complete the whole court reporting curriculum in about six months. I was wrong. But that’s another story.

JCR | Where did you first start working once you graduated/certified?

BB | I started working at Sullivan Reporting Co., a Chicago court reporting agency that has been around since 1937. Although Sullivan is no longer run by court reporters, they are extremely supportive of their reporters, and I feel I could not have thrived as a reporter had I gone a different direction when starting out. In addition to a few other agencies, I am happy to say I am still working with Sullivan today.

JCR | What do you love most about being a court reporter so far?

BB | Despite some pretty long hours, nothing compares to being my own boss. Nothing.

JCR | What advice do you have for students who are near the end of their education?

BB | Get out there and shadow professional reporters. Pretend like you are the reporter hired for the job and accountable for producing a transcript. I shadowed reporters and scoped their transcripts for over a year while in my higher-speed classes. It kept me engaged and enthused about the industry I was about to enter and, more importantly, not intimidated by my options when I reached the end of my education.

JCR | What’s your favorite gadget that you bring with you to every job?

BB | I always have my jump drive with me, and I’m always backing up.

JCR | How has certification helped you in your career thus far?

BB | I have my Illinois CSR and am planning to earn NCRA certifications in the future. My CSR has enabled me to work in a state where there is a massive demand for court reporters and desirable jobs are widely available.

JCR | Any other thoughts?

BB | Well, ok. If you insist, I will admit my education took a while, not the six months I deliriously envisioned at the outset. However, I do not regret a single day of it and would do it all over again to have the career that I have.

Michael Hensley, RDR, a freelance reporter in Dublin, Calif., is the chair of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. He can be reached atstenomph@gmail.com.

Reporting from the courtroom to jury deliberations

Theresa (Tari) Kramer, RMR, CRR, CPE, an official court reporter from Charlotte, N.C., recently provided CART to a juror. She described the experience for the JCR Weekly.

Tari Kramer

JCR | How long have you been a court reporter?

TK |28 years.

JCR | Have you been the reporter for a juror before?

TK | Yes, one other time, but the juror did not make it into the jury box. This was my first time one made it all the way through the trial process.

JCR | How did you get this job? 

TK | I obtained this assignment based on my skills, equipment, and experience and because our courthouse recognizes the benefit and convenience of utilizing a certified realtime reporter. The jury services office advertises CART as an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) option for hearing-challenged prospective jurors. They refer to it as a “note taker.” We have two full-time realtime reporters, and I was assigned to cover the assignment. The juror had requested someone to provide note-taking services during their jury orientation and during all phases of the trial process.

JCR | How would you describe the experience? What were you doing, and how did you do it? 

TK | This was such a rewarding experience. I can confidently say that it was the most rewarding week of my career. It’s one thing to be involved in the trial process on a daily basis, but it’s an entirely different and humbling experience to help one on one with someone who otherwise would not have been able to participate in the jury process.   

Through this experience I have realized that there are some folks who fall within a gray zone of not being deaf and only somewhat hard of hearing, people who don’t need a full-time interpreter and function well on a daily basis without any assistance. My juror was not fully deaf, has not been diagnosed with any hearing deficit, and does not read lips or communicate through sign language. She was fully capable of communicating her thoughts, articulate with her words, and responded appropriately to attorneys during voir dire. 

Her challenge, as relayed by her, came when people speak soft, there are other noises in the background, or when the speaker is not looking in her direction. The sound suddenly cuts in half, and she begins to panic. Knowing this challenge and realizing the importance of her role as a juror, she decided to ask for a note taker to fill in the gaps during these kinds of moments. 

The view from the juror’s seat

I met the juror at 8 a.m. on Monday morning in the jury assembly room. I discussed with her the services I would be providing, a little bit about the technology, and got some background on her hearing challenges. My employer provided me with a rolling cart, and I followed the juror wherever she was directed to go. She received my streaming feed through an iPad. I had two other iPads on a constant charge, ready to change out for the one she was using. I use a wireless router for the room only. While she was able to view the feed on the iPad, I noticed that my router would cut out when I moved the cart to another room. In the future, unless the juror is sitting in the jury box further away from me, I will just have them view the feed on my computer.

Eventually she was called into a courtroom and was put in the box on the first call by the clerk. I sat behind the official court reporter and provided a feed for her during the voir dire process. Shortly thereafter, she was approved and sworn in as a juror. 

When the trial began, I was sworn in as an interpreter. Having this be a new experience for myself and the judge, I took the liberty of printing out some information from NCRA, the state of North Carolina’s policies on ADA requirements for trial participants, and a few other articles. I highlighted and tabbed the areas most pertinent to the situation and handed it to the judge. It was soon determined that I would act as an interpreter of sorts. My sole job during the trial was to meet her needs. When the jury went in and out of the courtroom, I was with her. I purposely did not stay in the courtroom during the parts of the trial when the jury was gone. I wanted to remove myself from any knowledge of the case and/or any impropriety. 

She did express a desire to have me in the deliberation room because, when everyone was talking, she didn’t think she would be able to hear folks on the other side of the room. That moment came, and I got the enviable opportunity to be a fly on the wall during a jury’s deliberation process. I informed the jury of my role and that my iPad feed was just to be viewed by her, not to ask me any questions, and to treat me as if I was invisible in the room. I did, however, request that they “try” to speak one at a time. Any experienced reporter knows that this will not happen when you have 12 impassioned folks discussing an issue, but I felt I had to make the request anyway.

The deliberation takedown was fast and furious. One juror had been dismissed so it was a jury of 11 (civil case).  In my mind, that was one less voice to pick up and write. I sat in the middle of the room. My client was to the left of me. Eventually we got into a rhythm. She heard what the people were saying to her left and next to her. I wrote mostly what I heard on the right side of me. I would not write what she said. 

Logistically, I had literally five minutes to prepare for this, as the judge got the case to the jury rather quickly, so I had no time to prepare speaker IDs. As it turns out, I would not have had time to identify each speaker anyway due to the fast nature of the conversation. So what I ended up doing was adding two to three lines to my paragraphing stroke. When someone new spoke, I paragraphed and the screen went down a couple of lines. This provided space in between speakers. I know this was not the most ideal, but it’s what I had in the moment and it was my first time going through this experience.  

On a side note, I am so very thankful for the NCRA CART group inside of Facebook that I feverishly made requests in that day. Several reporters chimed in on suggestions for deliberation takedown. I have such appreciation for my seasoned colleagues who have journeyed through this before me. 

When the deliberations were finished, I had written 110 pages in one and a half hours. Mind you, this includes extra lines between speakers, but it was still extremely fast. What an exhilarating challenge that was! They threw the kitchen sink in, metaphorically, with the whole conversation. The terminology varied wildly — everything from religion to hematomas to DUI alcohol terms.

It was also interesting to observe the process. Eleven people who remained silent were suddenly full of thoughts and opinions, waiting impatiently to be the next one to voice their ideas. Most folks were boisterous while the minority were a bit reserved. In the end, however, they came to a consensus as a group because members were willing to compromise without relinquishing their principles. There was some heated conversation and one member who seemed to stand out from the rest on his opinions. This all reminded me of my bachelor’s classes in behavioral science. We studied things like this — what causes a group of people to respond and make a collective decision the way they do; how do outside influences, life experiences, and core beliefs affect a group decision? I was fascinated, like reading a book, to see this process unfold. 

JCR | Did the juror say anything to you about her experience?

TK | Yes. At the end, I was in the jury room with the jurors and the judge. Everyone was speaking frankly and openly about the case and the experience. My client made it a point to thank me and the judge for allowing her to be an involved participant in the process. She said she had been very nervous about the experience (as are most prospective jurors) but especially because she had serious doubts about her ability to serve successfully. She said that my services made that possible for her. The judge also said he had never seen this technology being utilized before. He was familiar with realtime technology but not how it was used for a juror. 

JCR | How long was the case? 

TK | The juror entered the courtroom on a Monday afternoon, was sworn in at the end of voir dire, then came back the next two days for the trial. So it lasted about two and a half days.

JCR | Would you be interested in doing this again? 

TK | I would definitely like to do this again. However, next time I would tweak my dictionary a bit to have more room sound definitions than I currently have; i.e., laughter, loud noise, private conversation held. I would also only bring my laptop into the jury room (thank you, NCRA Facebook group member suggestion). When someone recommended that, I metaphorically slapped my forehead like “oh, yes!” It would have made things go a lot faster had I just provided the juror with a view of my laptop instead of everyone waiting for my technology to reboot in a different room. But I don’t fault myself for any of this because it was all new terrain for me, professionally speaking, so I chalked it up to a wonderful learning experience.

While this appeared to have been a positive experience for the juror, it was eye-opening for me how beneficial court reporters are to the hearing-impaired community. There are folks like this juror who have no idea that this opportunity exists — people who do not fit the black-and-white description of a hearing-impaired client. I wish that CART was more readily known because so many people would find a genuine benefit from this technology. I would love to be involved in creating a CART-in-the-courtroom training program for our officials in North Carolina because, when preparing for and going through the juror’s time in our courthouse, I did not find much information on how to perform my role. It would have been nice to have a crash course of sorts or a cheat sheet to take with me throughout the assignment. We also need to update the verbiage in the interpreter oath, as it did not reflect my role during deliberations. All in all, though, I would definitely do this again because the experience far outweighed the challenges.

I love my job (my love affair could be yours, too)

By Brenda D. Blackburn, RPR

Brenda Blackburn

I have proven myself to be resilient, determined, and steadfast in my profession, and I have embraced many technological advances throughout the 35 years I have reported.  In 1979 I was majoring in English when I agreed to go with a friend to the business school at Ole Miss to check out something. I was killing time and without direction. When we entered the room in the business school, it was filled with these strange little machines. That was the first time I had seen a shorthand machine, although my dad had made me aware of the profession a few years before.  He had known a man that was a stenographer. When I saw that machine, the next thing out of my mouth was, “I want to do that.”  I guess it was love at first sight, and it has lasted.

Working as a waitress in college, I struggled financially to say the least. When it came time to buy a $500 manual shorthand machine, I was also short. I borrowed most of it from my roommate. I am certain she never expected to see the balance. I know I felt I would never make it. By the grace of God I made it beyond that to complete my shorthand requirement, 225 words a minute, and began freelancing in Memphis, Tenn. About six months later, I was appointed as an official in Chancery Court; and later Circuit Court in Mississippi. Sometime in the ’90s, Mississippi created a CSR board and required its reporters be certified. I was grandfathered at that time, based on my years, but took and passed the Registered Professional Reporter exam in 2004.  Around that time, I also qualified in the Magnolia Cup Speed Competition held in Tunica, Miss.: 96.5 percent accuracy, 200 wpm Legal Opinion; 95.7 percent on 200 wpm Literary; 96.2 percent on 250 wpm Jury Charge. After all these years, I keep striving to improve.  As I always say, “I’m not dead yet.”  I practice every day.

I have heard matters of child support, divorce, murder, city annexations, patent cases, and, most famous, the estate of Robert L. Johnson, the blues singer. I have taken the testimony of the medical examiner who determined that, yes, Elvis is dead. Most importantly, I know that each time I have reported the ordinary everyday type of case, I have remembered to put myself in that person’s place, whether defendant or victim, or parties in a civil matter. I always remained impartial regarding the record, and stood up against small-town public opinion at times to maintain the integrity of the record with regard to defendants’ rights.

Brenda Blackburn in 1979

The years I have had in this career have been a great gift. They have taught me a lot about others and myself, and they definitely remind me each day how blessed I have been through the good times and bad. I retired in 2015, after 32 years as an official. I felt a little lost at first because this work has been so much a part of my life.  I began freelancing again, and I am learning something new every day, regardless of my experience.

I volunteer for an NCRA program called the
A to Z™ Intro to Machine Shorthand program , and I have begun to try to encourage some young people into this profession that I hope will develop the same love I have for that little machine and fill some of those vacant positions we have in Mississippi.  What an awesome profession when you can work 35 years and not want to stop.

I don’t know why I had not done this before, but I recently attended my first national convention in New Orleans, La. I am glad I checked this off my bucket list. I was definitely inspired.  I also made some very special friends. Our profession is filled with such a unique and creative group of people. I am so proud and thankful to be one of the proud, the few, the brave in the most unique profession in the world.

Interested in joining the ranks of the elite and becoming a court reporter?  E-mail me to find out where A to Z classes might be held in Mississippi:  lakesidereporting@outlook.com.

Brenda D. Blackburn, RPR

Mississippi Delta (Greenville, Mississippi area)

From intern to official

By Callie Sajdera

Callie Sajdera

In theory, I couldn’t wait to get to Realtime VI (200-225 wpm). In Realtime VI, I couldn’t wait to intern. While I interned, I couldn’t wait to work. Here I am, six months later, working my dream job in my dream city. I’m Callie Sajdera, an official reporter for the Second Judicial District of Denver, Colo.  I graduated from Anoka Technical College in Anoka, Minn., in June of 2018. I have been an official reporter since October of 2018, and all I can say is that I truly love my job. 

In March, I did part of my internship in the very courthouse where I am now currently employed. I knew after I finished my internship that Colorado, specifically the Lindsey-Flannigan Courthouse, was where I wanted and needed to be. I was going to get there some way, somehow. Everyone has experienced the transition from a student to a professional, whether it be freelance, official, CART, or captioning, and we all know how terrifying it was at the very beginning. There’s no doubt that you will make a mistake along the way, there will be questions you’ll feel silly for asking, and you will fall into a “newbie  trap.” 

The hardest part about my transition to an official was finding a job. Like I said before, I knew I wanted to be in Denver and I knew I’d get there, but I didn’t expect it to happen right away. A challenge that I came across while job hunting was the intimidating factor of holding the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR).  So many times as I was filling out the application for a job, there would be a box that you check to confirm that you held your RPR. If you didn’t check that box, your application was terminated and you couldn’t move forward. That was discouraging since I was currently working on my RPR and still am, but I was not going to let that stop me.

A month later, I received an email from the Court Reporting Administrator for Denver, who is now my boss, and she informed me of a position that became open and encouraged me to apply. I was open and honest about not holding my RPR certification, and she said: “I want you to apply.” I applied; I got an interview; I got the job. I later learned the impression that I made as an intern here in March helped me land my job. My boss fought for me. She knew hiring a new grad with only internship experience could be a risk, but that was a risk she was willing to take.  

For students who are reading this, being a new professional is hard. The amount of knowledge you learn is astronomical, and at times it can be scary. As a new professional, it has been so important for me to know that it’s OK to make mistakes, just don’t hold onto them for long.  Ask every question that comes to mind, because having the correct answer is always better than trying to guess.  As for the “newbie traps,” they are unavoidable, but I have an amazing work family that picks me up and helps me through them. As I’m sure everyone has been told throughout school: “If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.” If there’s one piece of advice through this article, it would be to push yourself to be uncomfortable, grow in this profession, and always practice to be the best professional you can be.  

Callie Sajdera is an official reporter for the Second Judicial District of Denver, Colo. She can be reached at callie.sajdera@judicial.state.co.us.

Q&A: Checking in with Joe Aurelio

Santo “Joe” Aurelio, FAPR, RDR (Ret.), has always had an attraction to the English language, first as a court reporter and later as a professor of English. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. After he retired from reporting because of a hearing loss, he became a visiting professor at colleges in the Boston area. He teaches a variety of subjects, but mainly English grammar and medicolegal terminology. He will be teaching a live webinar, Homonyms & Pseudohomonyms: The Nemesis of Reporters, Part 3 on Jan. 30, 6-7:30 p.m. ET. The JCR caught up with him to find out a little more about his background and the reason behind his interest in this topic.

Tell us a little about your career.

I started night school at the Boston Stenotype Institute, and on the first night I met a girl, Josephine, who later became my wife.

I ranged all over Massachusetts during my career. During my 39 years, I had a wealth of experiences. I took some important cases (my first murder case was my first case in Korea!) I met some dynamic attorneys while working at the state labor department. My job at the federal agency was to travel around New England taking the testimony from disabled applicants for Social Security aid (some of that was sad). My first case in Superior Court was a criminal case (I was to take many of those). Other than some horrendous murder cases, possibly the two most important cases that I took in Superior Court: one involved the New England Patriots football team and the other, of course, was the Boston Strangler. In a sentence, I’ve had an interesting reporting career with fine memories and opportunities to meet and/or report important persons.

When did you become an NCRA member?

I became an NCRA member, I believe, in 1957. I did so because I believe in unity. When reporters gather together and unite, they have strength and can chart their future course or at least help to chart that course. When reporters join, their dues help to pay for professional advice and lobbying efforts. It’s patently unfair for unregistered reporters to have the benefit of all of the strides that their fellow registered reporters have worked hard for. I am solidly aligned with local, regional, and national unions!

What started your interest in learning more about language than just what you needed for court reporting?

Even as a little kid of 10 or so, I would fool around with language (I’ll be back in a flash with some cash in my sash). Later I remember saying such things as “She would feint a faint.” I was always very interested in homonyms (such as made/maid) and what I would call pseudohomonyms (accede/exceed). In short, I was interested in language many years before I started stenotype reporting. I remember when I was about 14, there was a manual typewriter at the train station where I used to sell newspapers, and I used to put in a quarter to unlock it so that I could type on it for 30 minutes.

If you remember your days from your master’s and doctorate, what did you find was the difference you brought to your studies as a court reporter?

I went back to school late. I was almost 50 when I started my serious studying. My bachelor’s was 1983, the master’s was 1985, and the doctorate was 1989. What I think I brought to my studies was a deep focus that I had to use as a reporter: listening very carefully to every word spoken. In other words, because I was so serious about listening to and capturing every single word in court, I think that that held me in great stead in listening to my professors.

Frankly, it was very difficult to earn three degrees at night while working full-time in a busy court. How’d I do it? By being very motivated because I saw the handwriting on the wall: my hearing loss was making my daily job hard to do. I only succeeded in performing a creditable job in court by having a lot of speed (I passed a 280) and knowing and liking a great deal of English. And that’s how I lasted until 1990. (I wanted to teach in college, and to do that, one needs a lot of degrees.)

You’ve given one seminar for NCRA members recently, and you’re planning another one. What do you hope court reporters and captioners learn from your sessions?

I’ve done one webinar, and soon I’ll do another. I know that a lot of people, including reporters, have great difficulty with English, especially homonyms and pseudohomonyms. Mistakes are being made daily, and the reporters who commit them are not even aware that they’re using the wrong word or spelling a word incorrectly or malpunctuating a sentence. Well, even though I haven’t touched a stenotype since 1990, I still consider myself a reporter, and I feel that it’s my duty to correct or to help correct those who make those types of errors — and I want to do that until I hang up my skates. What I hope reporters will learn from these webinars is that I’d like all of them to learn and use the correct word or punctuation always.

Is there some advice that you would like all reporters and captioners to take to heart?

My advice to all reporters and captioners is to have the highest respect and fealty to the art and profession of reporting. It is an honorable profession. Think of it: Reporters are responsible for taking and transcribing all of the words of everybody. What could be more important than that? I rest my case.