2016 Court Reporting & Captioning Week

Perspective by Debbie Dusseljee, CompuScripts President

As Court Reporting & Captioning Week draws to a close, I’d like to share a brief synopsis of my career to pique your interest in the professional life and career of a court reporter. While you will hear some people voice concerns about technological advances in voice recognition rendering us obsolete, I see expanding opportunities for using yet another tool in the advancement in the art of capturing the spoken word as written text. You will always need a neutral guardian to verify the integrity of a legal record, and into the foreseeable future, there are many environments where sounds cannot be processed exclusively by machinery. Harkening back to my Trekkie days, even in Star Trek’s original series, I remember there was a court reporter in its two-part episode of “The Menagerie” when Spock was on trial.

To say time flies is an understatement. Truthfully it doesn’t seem like just yesterday – maybe closer to just a “few” years ago that I left the familiar stomping grounds of my college’s campus to walk through the doors of the court reporting legal service industry. Back then, read-backs in a conference room were from the court reporter shifting through her paper tray to find the right testimony or question to read, not from a smart device’s screen displaying text in English for participants to read themselves. The first agency where I worked had most of their reporters dictating from the old-timey narrow steno notes using a strange electric contraption that automatically advanced the continuous paper that had spewed out the back of a steno machine during an earlier deposition. This helped the reporter rapidly advance her notes while dictating in to an audio cassette for her typist to transcribe. After participating in this form of post-deposition production torture, I decided I needed to go back to college for a different career choice or embrace the newest technology for court reporters.

Soon I hired on with a different agency and was using state-of-the-art computer equipment, which meant I was scheduled for time in front of a computer screen to translate my notes automatically using my personal computerized steno dictionary that resided on the agency’s hard drive. I would make edits to imperfect translations (because my “computer-compatible” theory was not a conflict-free theory), then proofread a draft transcript on continuous computer paper lined with tractor feeds, and then sit back in front of a screen again to enter more corrections. Finally, I’d print out the final transcript on multi-carbon continuous forms for office personnel to tear apart and assemble.

Fast-forwarding through my career, I was the first at my agency to have a “luggable” computer with a separate monitor to accommodate on-site immediate transcripts. I continued to retool my steno dictionary and was always active in discussions related to different developing steno theories with industry leaders. As hardware progressed, I was writing realtime for printed rough drafts, onscreen viewing, and primitive interactive connections. I was active in local and national advocacy for the court-reporting profession and held various positions in related organizations. These activities brought me in contact with visionary leaders at annual meetings of the then National Shorthand Reporters Association (now National Court Reporters Association). I hung out with pioneers pushing the envelope with broadcast realtime captioning and got caught in the excitement of utilizing my writing skills in a venue outside of the judicial system.

As realtime writing theories became more proficient for broadcast, I attended continuing education seminars in a quest for better translations. I was active in the local Quota chapter and spearheaded a Shatter Silence campaign to lobby local stations to allow viewers to see the studio’s teleprompter scripts from which the newscasters were reading while on air. At our local Self Help for Hard of Hearing chapter meetings and my church’s Sunday morning services, I provided realtime translations as a volunteer.

Eventually my efforts translated into an opportunity to take my writing skills from the conference room to broadcasts and now to server addresses. My career has done much more than monetarily rewarded me with a comfortable lifestyle. It’s allowed me to work with wonderful court reporters and employees, to be in the room where headlines are made, to meet some great friends throughout the nation, to serve the best Bar in the country (my humble opinion), to be in the presence of local/national political leaders as well as industry leaders from many disciplines, and to be behind the scenes of professional productions in performance and academic fields.

Who knows where tomorrow will take “the court reporter”? If you’d like to learn more about court reporting or captioning as a career, visit CRTakeNote.