Mark J. Golden, CAE – NCRA - USA

The State of the Reporting Profession in the United States

Intersteno Congress - Vienna July 2005

Good evening. It is my great privilege to convey to all the delegates and guests of this World Congress the greetings and well wishes of National Court Reporter Association President Merilyn Marquardt Sanchez.  Ms. Sanchez was sworn in as President at NCRA’s 106th annual convention in Phoenix , Arizona just four days ago, and so, was unable to be here personally.  But she has instructed me, on behalf of the entire board of directors of NCRA and its more than 26,000 members, to express our congratulations to Intersteno for its success in convening this Congress. 

This is the first Congress I have had the privilege to attend.  And it is, for me, both an important and enjoyable event. Important because the biannual Intersteno World Congress provides a unique opportunity for the profession from across the glove to gather together in one place, learn from each other, share knowledge and information with each other and celebrate the achievements of the finest practitioners of the stenographic arts. 

And enjoyable for two reasons: First, because of the opportunity to spend time with some old friends, and make many new ones, who share a common passion for our honorable profession.  But also because opera is one of my greatest loves.  And what better place for an opera-lover to be than Vienna during the world famous Salzburg festival?

While this is my first World Congress, the National Court Reporters Association has enjoyed a long and close relationship with Intersteno, going back more than a quarter century. It all began when the late Al Weinstein, then a reporter at the United Nations, arranged an international breakfast at NCRA’s 77th annual convention in 1976. Among the guests at that auspicious breakfast was Tijs Boon of the Netherlands, then president of Intersteno. Mr. Boon took advantage of the opportunity to invite NCRA to become a member, and we accepted the honor of representing the United States in this global organization. The late Harry Foster, a well-respected, even beloved reporter from New Jersey, was named NCRA’s first representative to Intersteno in that same year and served in that position until 1998. I’m sure many of you remember Harry and his wife, Florence , both of whom dedicated so much of their time and energy to strengthening the relationship between the profession within the United States and our international friends. Not to mention, their tireless efforts to support and assist Intersteno in the successful conduct of these meetings and the keyboard competitions.  I know that many of you here had the pleasure of working with Harry and Florence and would agree that they hold a special place in the history of Intersteno.

Thankfully, upon the Fosters’ retirement, NCRA was able to continue its tradition of active involvement in and support of Intersteno through the dedicated efforts of Virgene Biggers, whose contributions I am very pleased to here acknowledge.

One of the benefits that NCRA receives from its close relationship with Intersteno is that it helps the court reporting profession within the United States answer the question: “What is the state of the profession overseas?”  We profit greatly from what we learn from our fellow societies throughout the world.

This evening, I am pleased to be given the chance to answer for you the question: “What is the state of the reporting profession in the United States?”

Put succinctly, we are strong, we are unique, we are diverse, we are innovative, we are in demand, and we are just getting started. 

We are strong.

While there are more than 135,000 associations in the United States, truly, an association for every imaginable industry, profession and interest, there is only a relatively small number who can claim a history that goes back more than a few dozen years or so.  NCRA, which has existed since 1899, is among a very small and select group of associations that have lasted beyond their 100th anniversary. Indeed, one of the highlights of our centennial celebration in 1999 was the presentation by Dr. Karl Gutzler of Germany , then president of Intersteno, of a wonderful trophy in honor of that milestone and our close relationship with Intersteno.  We proudly display that trophy in the lobby of NCRA’s headquarters in Vienna , Virginia .

In our 106 years of existence, we have grown from 156 founding members to 26,000. Moreover, we have established close, working relationships with 59 affiliated state and provincial reporting associations across the wide geography of North America, making NCRA an effective representative of and advocate for the reporting professions at the national, state and local levels.

Having such a large membership and strong ties to our state partners offers us a certain number of advantages, none more obvious than in our efforts to educate members of the United States Congress on the importance of the profession. As a part of this activity, every February more than 100 NCRA members and representatives from state associations visit Capitol Hill to keep our legislators aware of the importance of the reporting and captioning professions and sensitive to its needs.

Although NCRA is very well know for its advocacy efforts, one of our longest-running and, in fact, most mission-critical, programs often gets less notice. NCRA’s certification of reporter proficiency began nearly 70 years ago.  In 1937, , we offered a single certification designed as an entry-level standard, so that the general public could have some objective guideline by which to measure the skill and knowledge of those individuals offering their services as court reporters. Originally called the Certificate of Proficiency, 27 individuals earned the designation that first year. The certification is now known as the Registered Professional Reporter (or RPR) designation and incorporates both a skills and written knowledge exam. In the intervening years, it has very much become the standard by which the quality of reporting services is judged, to the point where we now have almost 12,000 Registered Professional Reporters in theUnited States.  Indeed, many states require the RPR designation of any person practicing the profession within their borders.

And let me remind you that the RPR is only the entry-level certification. NCRA now offers not one, but 11 certifications based on knowledge and experience or specialty. Attached to all of these certifications are continuing education requirements, meaning that every three years a certified member of NCRA must obtain a certain number of hours of continuing education in order to maintain that designation.

Why are these many certifications and continuing education requirements essential? As I mentioned, they offer the client or consumer a standard by which to judge the quality of the service offered. But there’s a more personal reason. As you may have noticed, court reporters push themselves to constantly improve their skills and knowledge. Yes, the urge to compete with their colleagues certainly plays a role. But I believe it takes a special person to succeed as a court reporter, a person always seeking to expand their skills, their knowledge, their expertise. A person who is never satisfied unless they are doing their very best.

It’s because of this that we at NCRA do our very best to ensure the integrity and objectivity of our certification process. To that end, NCRA offers the only national certification exams that are externally validated by an outside testing authority. Such a rigorous approach, though both time consuming and costly, guarantees that our exams are objective and relevant, something that both our members and their clients appreciate and which no other certifying entity can claim. 

In addition to its fierce commitment to professional competence and excellence, a second factor has been critical to the profession’s longevity and success.  Since 1927 NCRA has promulgated a code of ethics, requiring all members to adhere to the highest standards of ethical behavior. Some would say that ethics has nothing to do with business. I say, and I believe that NCRA’s members would agree, that ethics has everything to do with our business.  The public we serve places a high degree of trust in the hands of the court reporter, the “Guardian of the Record.”  Often, significant amounts of money or property, even life or liberty, are at stake in the proceedings that our members document.  If we do not discharge that duty in a scrupulously fair and impartial manner, if we do not have our integrity, if we do not have a sense of what is right and wrong and act accordingly, then we have nothing.

We are unique.

For the last 20 years, NCRA has focused a great deal of its attention on realtime. There’s a reason for that. Realtime stenographic court reporters offer the only proven method for providing immediate voice-to-text translation at a high rate of accuracy. In official judicial settings, 97 or 98 percent accuracy just isn’t good enough. It must be 99 or better.  And the properly educated and experienced realtime stenographic reporter, using the state-of-the-art in computer hardware and software, is the only proven method capable of consistently offering performance at that level. 

If I may offer an analogy, think of a world-class opera singer. To achieve such a level of success requires a natural skill, training, dedication, commitment, preparation, and a true desire to be the very best. The same can be said of the realtime stenographic reporter, for they are the virtuosos of the profession. They are the best of the best. They are the individuals who have helped to transform the profession in the United States.

We are diverse.

When NCRA first came into existence in 1899, we were composed of pen writers, men and women who had mastered the ancient skill of stenography, a skill first demonstrated by Marcus Tullius Tiro, who used a metal stylus to report a speech by Cato in 63 B.C.

For thousands of years, stenography slowly developed into various writing systems, yet it was only in the past century that the greatest advances have taken place, advances that have helped to propel NCRA to where it is today. First came the development of a commercially feasible steno machine just before World War I. Then, in the early 1970s, a small group of reporters urged NCRA to take a greater role in the development and use of computer-aided transcription, or CAT. CAT electronically linked the steno machine to a computer, which translates the reporter's notes into English text that can be researched, corrected, telecommunicated, stored on CD-ROM or other computer media, integrated with a videotape - or simply printed out in a conventional or condensed-format transcript.

In 1975 there were 22 U.S. District Court reporters, 10 officials in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia and a handful of freelancers trained in the use of CAT. In 2005, CAT is the standard for the profession and the foundation for its continued rapid technological growth. In fact, most of the new technologies applicable to court reporting descend directly from CAT and realtime.

This technology push has forever changed the face of the profession. One hundred years ago, court reporters captured the record in the U.S. Congress, in the courts, and for pretrial depositions. But now, with the introduction of realtime, we offer so much more, not only to our traditional clients, such as judges and attorneys, who can follow the stream of realtime text on laptop computers and monitors to ensure better rulings or prepare more effective lines of questioning, but also to almost 28 million Americans with hearing loss, who depend upon realtime services to make the spoken word accessible to them.  This has led to the growth of three new specialties within the profession: broadcast captioner, communication access realtime translation provider, and Internet realtime reporter.

Broadcast captioners use realtime to provide captions of live television programs such as news, emergency broadcasts, sports events, and other live programs. This is especially important in times of weather disasters or national emergencies. Moreover, rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission will require that by 2006 all new TV programming in the United States must be captioned.

Stenographic reporters' ability to transfer spoken words to readable text instantly enables them to provide even more specialized services to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Taking their realtime skills to a new environment, a growing number of realtime reporters in the United States work with deaf or hard-of-hearing students in high schools and colleges. They attend classes and provide an instant translation of the lectures and classroom discussions into readable text so students with hearing problems can follow and participate in classroom discussions. This service is called communication access realtime translation, or CART. CART providers also provide services for deaf and hard of hearing people in other settings: at churches, at weddings, in business settings, in doctors' offices - just about anywhere that deaf or hard of hearing individuals must communicate with a speaking world.

Not surprisingly, with the growth of online conferences, reporters also have found their services in demand on the Internet. They provide realtime reporting of sales meetings, press conferences, product introductions, and technical training seminars and instantly transmit them to Internet, making these meetings accessible to any interested party, any where in the world, who has a computer and Internet access.  As participants speak into telephones or microphones, a court reporter translates their words in realtime. The words appear on everyone's computers, accompanied by any relevant documents or graphics.

This service has grown increasingly important within the U. S. investment markets, where investment laws require that the financial performance of publicly traded companies be regularly reported upon my senior management.  U. S. law requires that this information be publicly shared on an equal and timely basis with all interested parties.  This is accomplished, in part, by the realtime reporting on the Internet of management’s verbal briefings to Wall Street. 

Indeed, similarly, for each of the last five years, NCRA members who were unable to travel to convention, have had access to the Annual Membership Business Meeting as it was occurring, through the realtime streaming of the text of the debates to the Internet.

We are innovative.

The use and adaptation of new technology has not only created new specialties within the profession, but it has expanded the services that our members can offer to their traditional clients and consumers.

One of the stellar examples of realtime technology in action is the computer-integrated courtroom, or CIC. CIC technology reduces appellate court delay by providing a quicker transcript turnaround time; provides swifter trials and improves the productivity of the trial judge, attorneys and court support staff; and offers more efficient and faster processing of complex litigation,where cases are of an elongated duration, there multiple litigants, massive pretrial documentation, expectation of high-priced damage awards, high probability for appeal, or the propensity to take weeks to adjudicate.

For attorneys, realtime improves their trial preparation and practice in numerous ways. Because of realtime and the reporter's ability to provide information in a digital format, opportunities for sharing this information through network links and for lawyers to access online legal databases have increased dramatically. CIC technology provides the capability for attorneys to use litigation support to load and search depositions, preliminary hearings, discovery summaries, legal memoranda, trial briefs and other related materials.

Lawyers can also send testimony by modem to other parts of the courthouse, their office or another state for proceedings to be observed by experts, other attorneys or support personnel.

Clearly, CIC technology is a gateway to the future, building a foundation for a paperless court system that replaces paper documents with electronic documents, permits electronic rather than library-based legal research, allows for electronic storage of records rather than expensive boxing and warehousing, and positions the court system for future advances in telecommunications.

This technology not only eliminates the need for the judge to take trial notes, but also enables the judge and lawyers to insert notes of their own in the testimony and to program the computer to highlight any keywords which they expect to occur during the trial. Litigation support transforms the court reporter into a data management specialist, as the stenographic reporter has assumed responsibility for securing and distributing needed information digitally to all parties.

Realtime enables the reporter to provide a simultaneously printed copy of the proceedings to the lawyers at the end of each court session. This daily transcript can also be used to prepare written orders from the court's orally announced decisions. And it can be released to the media covering a particular case.

More importantly, the success of litigation-support software is directly related to the reporter's expertise in using this technology to enhance and improve the courtroom experience while making the official record. It is also the reporter who will most likely be expected to take the lead in integrating litigation-support functions, troubleshooting hardware and software problems, and monitoring the entire process.

This functionality is being taken to a new level, through the deployment of wireless computer technologies.  This has increased the ease and flexibility with which the realtime court reporter can deploy himself, able to provide service quickly wherever it is needed in the courthouse, and even to submit their rough draft transcript to a scopist or proofreader while they are still involved in the proceeding.

Building on the litigation-support concept, video-text integration synchronizes video recordings with computerized stenographic notes. While the testimony of a witness is videotaped, the reporter creates stenographic text. The text is translated by realtime and fed as a data stream through an encoder that puts it into an integrated format so that the testimony appears alongside, or below, the video record.

The development of a fully integrated video/steno system promises to speed up the trial process as well as permit innovative searches and uses of the record.

Another example is Reporter Electronic Data Interchange, or REDI, which can be tailored to each court system depending on its automation needs and abilities. REDI uses the information captured by the court reporter to extrapolate specific data for administrative purposes. This enhances the process of case flow, streamlines the inputting of data currently used in court management without additional hardware costs, and provides a cost savings by allowing information to be efficiently accessed in greater detail.

The REDI process enhances the court's automation system and generates court revenue by providing additional information to attorneys, litigants and the public through access fees.

As you can see, technology has proved itself over and over again by transporting the reporting field well beyond basic transcript production. Today, reporters can offer their clients such services as compressed transcripts, indexes and concordances, realtime, closed-captioning and imaging. While some of these activities involve doing old things in new ways, they all point to one certainty - reporting as a profession is thriving on many levels, due in large part to groundbreaking technology. Technology that will always enhance the work reporters do, but never replace the much-needed human part of the equation. 

We are in demand.

One of the greatest challenges we’ve grappled with over the last decade, both as an association and as a profession, is a shortage of qualified court reporters and captioners. This shortage resulted primarily for two reasons: first, the number of individuals entering the profession decreased, as we faced a decade-long decline in student enrollment in the 1990s driven in part by the misperception that reporting was not a technology-oriented profession; and second, the huge demand for the services of realtime reporters.

This demand exists not only in the legal environment, where reporting firm owners often have a difficult time finding reporters to cover pretrial depositions and courts face the challenge of hiring qualified official reporters, but also in the area of communication access. The implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which identified communication access realtime translation as a legitimate auxiliary aid for people with hearing loss, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to the Federal Communications Commission requiring that 100 percent of all new television programming be captioned by January 2006, created a situation of both opportunity and concern. Opportunity because it presented stenographic realtime reporters with the chance to enter new environments; concern because we clearly don’t have the number of qualified reporters needed to meet all the requirements and requests for broadcast captioning and communication access realtime translation.

In response, NCRA has been engaged in a multiyear initiative for bringing more students into the schools and getting more qualified graduates into the field. Some of our efforts have included improving the quality of realtime reporter education programs, creating online seminars for schools to strengthen recruiting efforts, developing materials for schools interested in starting up reporting programs, placing hundreds of career articles in newspapers and magazines, running commercials on five national cable TV channels, and developing a five-minute presentation that ran on public television stations across the country. As a result of our activities, enrollment at NCRA-approved reporting training programs has increased 39 percent since 2000.

These activities have been aided by NCRA’s success on Capitol Hill. In the last five years, NCRA has obtained almost $12 million in federal grants for reporting schools to use in expanding or improving their programs. Moreover, the U.S. Congress has consistently recognized the critical role that court reporters and captioners play in American society, which has gone a long way in demonstrating how what was once described as a “dying” profession is now viewed as a “thriving” profession. Most telling is the prediction made by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports that we can expect to see 10-20 percent growth in the profession through the year 2012.

All this is not to say that the profession has been insulated from disruption or challenges.  Indeed, without the collective resources of a strong, national association, the profession in the United States would have been less successful in dealing with such threats as: budget cuts in court systems, often at the expense of reporter jobs; the assertion by certain commercial interests of patent rights that threatened the affordable availability of realtime technology; the challenge of adapting to and finding the opportunities contained within new, emerging technologies; and, as I have discussed already, the reporter shortage. 

But working together, court reporting, captioning and CART have been able to not only survive, but even thrive and evolve into the robust and varied profession that exists in the United States today.

Even with these successes and the willingness to regularly adapt to new technology and tools, we are just getting started.

During the past century, NCRA has played the part of both proactive leader and supportive parent within the membership ranks and among those industries affected by the reporting profession. From helping to make the computer-integrated courtroom a reality to providing captioning to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, NCRA continues to carve out a valuable and permanent niche for its members and the profession they so dearly love.

The court reporting industry has adapted to a great many technological changes in only the last few decades. Much of the credit goes to the profession's innovative approach to finding and mastering new applications for this specialized skill. Reporters can offer improved services to their clients or enter entirely new areas of practice, such as broadcast captioning, realtime in the classroom and reporting to the Internet.

Without a doubt, reporting has come a long way since the days of ancient cave drawings and the debates on the Senate floor in Rome . The history of court reporting points toward a future filled with new opportunities for a profession that - regardless of technology's contribution - will always require the human touch.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in Intersteno’s 2005 World Congress.

Mark J. Golden, CAE, is Executive Director and CEO of the National Court Reporters Association. NCRA is a 26,000-member nonprofit organization representing the judicial reporting and captioning professions. Members include official court reporters, deposition reporters, broadcast captioners, providers of realtime communication access services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people and others who capture and convert the spoken word into information bases and readable formats. Additional information is available by visiting