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British Institute of Verbatim Reporters

Beautiful dedication!NCRA Member Paige Hanson posted this recently in the Encouraging Court Reporting Students Facebook group with the comment, "When you have a newborn but are two 225 QA tests away from finishing CR school. Do what you have to do!"
Hanson is a student at the College of Court Reporting and lives in Cooperstown, N.D.

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Shout out to court reporters (aka hard-working humans) from show host Rachel Maddow...

She ended her thanks with, “Someday I’ll be reincarnated as one, if I’m really good in this life.”


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And so now we come to our final profile of BIVR members - Andrew Howell.

Andrew featured as our very first Member of the Moment in July 2016, and what a great read it was, and is. Andrew has done it all - arbitrations, captioning, court, depositions, and the list goes on.

There’s some great advice for both students and seasoned reporters alike (see Question 9), and you may find that his parting words may resound with you if you’re a stenographer.

To close, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of our members throughout Court Reporting & Captioning Week (even though we extended it by a day) and how they came to walk the path of stenography, where that professional path has taken them, and the words of wisdom they can impart.

The CRCW campaign may be over for another year, but it never really stops, does it? We will continue to promote our members and the profession all year through, and be proactive in all spheres of stenography.


QUESTION 1: When/how did you realise you wanted to be a court reporter?

It was back in 1982 when I was honing my pen shorthand skills. I saw a news report about Hansard. I thought I would love to do that. I remember seeing on the report all these typists sitting there with the shorthand writers next to them dictating their notes. Naively, I thought everyone took everything down at the same time, compared notes afterwards and filled in the gaps!

QUESTION 2: What training did you do?

I taught myself pen shorthand so I could keep up with chemistry classes at school. I failed chemistry quite spectacularly but did really well in shorthand. At this time, the school I was at was keen for boys to learn to type and for girls to do metalwork, so I also learned to type at school on a big old manual typewriter. Thereafter, like most people at that time, it was on-the-job vocational training with a firm.

QUESTION 3: Tell us your progression through being a trainee court reporter to where you are now.

I left school and moved to London to be a trainee reporter with WB Gurney & Sons. It was at this time that I saw people using the Stenograph machines and Palantype machines (notably Diana Burden, Betty Willett, Lindsay Bickers, and Pam Woolgar.) I remember asking Diana Burden how her machine worked, and she gave me a ten-minute demonstration whilst we were sitting outside a Committee room in Parliament (I still have the paper notes she wrote to show me!). I was so impressed the outlines could be read instantly because they were printed and no struggling with thick or thin strokes, so less ambiguity about what you had written. I also saw at this time an early realtime demonstration. It was very exciting to see the Palantypist writing to what seemed like an ancient television screen, but the technology was incredible (remember this is the early 1980s).

I seem to remember Lindsay Bickers’ son setting up some equipment (I might be wrong) and plugging the writer in (I don’t recall who it was but would love to know). I thought this is the way things are going, so I made the decision to retrain on to machine shorthand. I needed a machine and was pointed to the Alan Knight Secretarial College in Guildford where I bought a machine – a Stenograph “Secretarial” model which held 50 folds of paper which would last you for about an hour in a slow court. I was given a brief lesson about where to put your fingers, how to ink the ribbon, and was given a book from the 1960s on how to write machine shorthand (or “Touch Shorthand” as it was called) along with short vowels and writing out every syllable. I left Gurney’s and concentrated on learning the machine, taking about 18 months to learn the theory and get to 140wpm, all the while temping to keep the money coming in.

I then joined Marten Walsh Cherer. Being a very forward-thinking company, they realised the value of computer-aided transcription. I received amazing training there at the strict hands of Bert Newman, Jenny Chandler, and Robyn Nott. I remember, like a contestant on Great British Bake Off with their first sponge cake for the judges, nervously handing in my first trainee transcript to Mr Newman. He glanced at it, handed it back to me and said, “We don’t have ‘judgment’ with an
‘e’ in this office.” Lesson learned! It was here I learned how to prepare a transcript, how to write faster and more cleverly, and how to use CAT software, which was pretty basic by today’s standards, but cutting-edge at the time.

After passing my BIVR exam, I then worked at Croydon Crown Court and was a real reporter. It was pretty scary then because we had no tape backups so you were on your mettle all the time. For some reason, I always was asked to read back a lot. My first readback? (Remember, I was very nervous here!)

“JUDGE: Could the shorthand writer read back the last question and answer in cross-examination, please?” Me (fumbling through my paper notes desperately looking for the last question symbol): “Question: I have no further questions. Answer: Thank you.” The judge was not happy, and what was supposed to be my proudest moment was shattered!

After this stint at Croydon Crown Courts, and after a change in contracts at the Crown Courts, I went to the Old Bailey for Newgate Reporters. There I met Susan McIntyre who artfully explored new markets and applications for CAT reporters as well as developing CAT writers’ skills.
Newgate sent me to the BBC as the BBC were looking to start live subtitling of the Nine O’Clock news. This was very exciting as it was a new service the BBC were offering, and I was lucky enough to be chosen to be the stenographer for launch night. This was a fantastic time as finally deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and anyone requiring subtitles, could watch the news along with their hearing counterparts. The BBC was an excellent employer, and working there was fun and lively. Our offices were right next to the newsroom so we met a lot of celebrities and TV personalities. Yes, Moira Stewart really does speak like that in real life! Anna Ford is even more stunningly beautiful in real life than she is on the television, Carol Smillie really is very smiley and lovely, and the food in the BBC Canteen was really as awful as was joked about. We also had to give lots of demonstrations for visitors, and I also appeared on children’s news (Newsround) showing how stenography worked (they told me not to say the word “phonetic” as it would confuse the kids!).

I loved the can-do attitude of the BBC and everyone who worked there. They also had in place a system where you would help each other in their career path, so managers would always be looking for ways to improve the service and to improve your growth. As a result of this, I was lucky to be part of the team that tested remote working, and we started the homeworking model that’s common now in subtitling. This was a new and fun way to work, although it does mean you end up looking like a caveman some days as you’re working so much and don’t get time to change out of your dressing gown.

QUESTION 4: What types of assignments do you cover now and which is your favourite?

I do anything and everything that comes my way. Mostly I’m currently doing freelance subtitling, STT work either onsite or offsite, arbitrations, and any other kind of hearing.

QUESTION 5: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever reported?

It’s all strange, isn’t it, as we’re dealing with humans at their best and their worst. There were always difficult and strange moments in any hearings whether it’s hearing of murders or terrible crimes in the Crown Court, harrowing stories of medical negligence at the GMC, and having to sit stony-faced while you take the evidence of someone who’s been involved in some really awful life experience.

The strangest thing of all was being an extra in a performance of “Trial by Jury” by Gilbert and Sullivan. Melinda Wieneke Cooper was involved in the production and asked me to fill in for her on the nights she couldn’t appear as the stenographer. It was absolutely hilarious to be surrounded by opera singers and taking down dramatically what was being sung. If only it was always that fun!

QUESTION 6: Do you have any humorous (after the fact, of course) mistranslates?

Hundreds, although, of course, they were often during the fact as it was usually when realtiming. I once thought up what I believed was a fabulous one-stroker for “Duchess of York” – DORK. I thought I had put it in my dictionary, but hadn’t. Thanks to the phonetic translator, my subtitle read, “Prince Andrew and the dork stepped off the plane …”

I also had one where, after a bomb attack, the accused organisation said, “That we planted that bomb was a total fabrication.” My subtitle read, “That we planted that bomb was a total fab occasion.”

Recently I had one where my subtitle read, “George Osborne has found time to Tweet about his bulge. We can have a look at that now and a picture of him preparing it.” (bulge – budget).

I also once did a Deaf Broadcasting Council job as a pro bono thing the BBC offered a long time back. They were talking about daytime television and “women who are housebound find it a lifeline …”, but my subtitle read, “women whorehouse bound …”. This was met with a lot of laughter. It was in the same job that I had problems writing “methodologically” – I had a shortform for it but couldn’t remember it and I was trying and trying. The speaker stopped and waited for me to get the word out. After a few attempts, I resorted to fingerspelling it. When it came out correctly, it was met with laughter and a round of applause.

QUESTION 7: What are you most/least favourite places to travel to for work? Why?

Most favourite: Zurich, because everything is beautiful and works – the same with Vienna, but a bit more beautiful and you can usually get to see an opera or visit an art gallery at short notice; Stockholm, so I can practise my rusty Swedish. The place I dislike working the most is the old part of the High Court with those high benches. You can’t hear a thing, and you can’t squeeze out of that cubby hole quickly enough to run after someone and get their name.

QUESTION 8: What is your favourite thing about this profession?

It’s the privilege of being able to go to and work in places you ordinarily couldn’t. As court reporters, we get to sit in on lots of confidential hearings, in-chambers discussions, secret meetings. It’s also a job that’s taken me around the world, and it’s a job that’s let me mix with some of life’s most interesting people. I also think that we, as court reporters, are a really fabulous bunch of people, and when there’s a group of court reporters, the stories that come out are absolutely hilarious. We are very privileged to have this job, and I’m very thankful for it.

QUESTION 9: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to (a) a student member of BIVR and (b) seasoned reporters of BIVR?

The advice I would give to a student member is just to be the very best at English, and know your language and its structure inside and out. This job, after all, is all about words. You need to love words, what they do, how they’re used, and their power. You should read everything you can get your hands on. This job requires you to be on nodding terms with an awful lot of different subjects, and you can never know too much knowledge in this job.

The next bit of advice I would give for students is to know the way you write inside out. Do not subscribe to one particular theory and wear it like a badge – there is no one totally correct theory that will cover all forms of reporting or will make sense to everyone. Take on ideas from all the theories and make your own theory. There’s no wrong or right way, just your way.

When people tell me “My theory won’t let me write it like that”, well change it. No theory is perfect. Of course, in the beginning phases, you need to have a good foundation, but change the way you write something if you don’t like it. If you always make a mistake writing an outline, then just live with it, put it in your dictionary and always write it like that.

And learn to fingerspell. Really, really learn to fingerspell. Did I say learn to fingerspell? Sometimes, it’s your only way out of a difficult realtime session, and when you fingerspell, your CAT software will throw up a one- or two-stroke suggestion for you anyway.

Also, one of the best pieces of advice I had was from Robyn Nott who said it’s not your fingers that can’t move fast enough, it’s your brain just not hearing the words in the first place. When the speech you hear is fast, your brain filters out words to try and make sense of what you’re hearing. Our job is to write every word, so you need to train yourself to hear every word first.

The next piece of advice for students is to read your steno notes. Stop looking at the English translation all the time and read your steno notes. Do it as often as you can, ideally after every practice take. The outlines will stick in your brain better and your fingers will magically go to the places they’re supposed to. Just relying on finger patterns isn’t enough. You must be able to read your raw steno. This also helps you to identify spots where you’re going right and where you’re going wrong.

For seasoned reporters: for us all, we need to realise the value we offer. This is a strange job. There are fewer and fewer of us every year, yet our rates stay the same or go down every year. This is just madness. It’s time this trend was reversed (it’s been going on since the 1990s), and we shouldn’t be taking such diminishing amounts for the work we do. I know agencies have to make money and be competitive, but we’re in the odd position of being at the bottom of the food chain and taking too many cuts.

My next bit of advice: don’t believe everything a software company says about their product. It’s usually stretching veracity to the limit. Look past the hype. And no software is going to make your really sloppy writing look good, no matter what the adverts say.

QUESTION 10: Do you have any unfulfilled steno goals/dreams/locations to work in?

I really just want to be able to do one job and come away not feeling like an incompetent. There’s always something or someone that makes you wonder if you’re cut out for this work. I do believe people are speaking faster and faster, usually with appalling diction. My goal is just to keep up with them and write what I hear.

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Our penultimate profile to celebrate Court Reporting & Captioning Week, which we have made overrun by a day, is that of Miriam Weisinger. The Institute’s current Chief Examiner, we profiled Miriam back in the autumn of 2016. Miriam is a pen shorthand writer, with her own successful business which uses the services of many of our members.

Miriam’s Question 5 response shows another side to the things we have to endure listening to as stenographers.


QUESTION 1: When/how did you realise you wanted to be a court reporter?

After leaving school at 16, telling my teachers I was “never going to learn nuffing again”, I was sent to college by my first employer to learn shorthand and typing. I have to be honest, it was the earning potential that attracted me in those days. £5500 as a possible salary represented untold riches to me as an Office Junior.

QUESTION 2: What training did you do?

Having achieved what in those days was a minimum shorthand speed of 140 wpm I was in the right place at the right time and started my training at Cardiff Crown Court with T J & E Fitzgerald-Kuhl. It was all “on-the-job” training.

QUESTION 3: Tell us your progression through being a trainee court reporter to where you are now.

In addition to Crown Court work in Cardiff and London I started covering various conferences and doing High Court work as well. Cardiff was a Tier 1 court so we had a “red judge” on a regular basis. In 1986 Harry Counsell took over the contract and I started doing more work outside the courts, covering public inquiries, depositions and various other types of private work.

QUESTION 4: What types of assignments do/did you cover now and which is/was your favourite?

Expanding on the answer above, I became fully freelance in the “noughties” I suppose and covered Parliamentary Select Committees, arbitrations, more depositions (thankfully they got to the stage where they only wanted stenographers not a pen writer), AGMs and started doing regulatory work. My favourite work was anything where people spoke clearly and intelligibly!

QUESTION 5: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever reported?

The Kerry Babies case in the 1980s in Dublin. A baby’s body was found on the beach in Kerry and a woman accused of infanticide; however, her dead baby was found where she said on the family farm. I never actually got to Kerry and it is still on my bucket list.

QUESTION 6: Do you have any humorous stories you could share?

Probably, but I’m at that age where you can’t always remember them when you want to!

QUESTION 7: What is your favourite thing about this profession?

The variety of life that you come across.

QUESTION 8: What is your least favourite thing about this profession?

Sloppy transcript production and people who don’t speak clearly.

QUESTION 9: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to (a) a student member of BIVR and (b) seasoned reporters of BIVR?

Read your work carefully and remember who your client is.

Question 10: Do you have any unfulfilled reporting goals?

Not really, just unfulfilled personal goals...

Miriam went on to run the Cardiff Half Marathon a few years ago.

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