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“Realtime” is the goal for many reporters – whether it’s a means to a more secure job, better-paying work, or a step into a new career in captioning. But when any group of reporters gets together, they can find that realtime can mean something different to each of them. The TRAIN Task Force asked its members and TRAIN participants what they mean when they talk about realtime. The diverse definitions may just offer a new perspective – and a new incentive to try it yourself.
To me, as an official or freelance court reporter, realtime is the art of writing a verbatim record with as much punctuation, capitalization, and so on included in my writing so that my raw transcript looks as much like a final as I can possibly muster. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I’m writing realtime for attorneys, producing an immediate rough draft at the end of the day, writing for a final that will go out within a week, or knowing that I’m going home with a big fat NT (“no transcript” order). Every day that I write, I write the same: I write as if the entire world can see what I’m doing, and I always write as though I’m “practicing” for something bigger than the present day’s task at hand. That means dictionary maintenance with anything that I see come up on the screen that I think I can improve upon, brainstorming for better methods that could make sense to me on the fly, and notes on a corner of my job sheet about areas where I need improvement.
I’ve learned that while writing realtime can feel like a tall order and seem fairly daunting and make you feel like a rookie all over again, it doesn’t happen to anyone overnight. There might be reporters who could be considered superstars, but it’s not because they just happened to be talented or skilled or have some hidden special gift that the rest of us don’t have. It took an investment in their writing to make it happen. It took determination and a plan.
I continually set goals so that I can be a better writer. Every job I write, I note the translate percentage on the right margin of the job sheet. I can keep track in my head or I can look back over the last year or two and actually see proof of how much progress I’ve made with those numbers. When I first started practicing for the Certified Realtime Reporter exam, I created a realtime notebook with different sections for the various things I needed to work on so that I could keep track of where I was and where I felt I needed to go. Seminars and articles on realtime writing “tips and tricks” have been so incredibly invaluable, as have seminars on realtime hookups and the experiences of others who are out there writing realtime for attorneys all the time. Learning what others do and then figuring out your own method of madness is key to ramping up your progress. Some of the best in the country are out there giving seminars around the nation. It can be a costly and time-consuming affair, but the investment in your future is definitely worth it. Knowledge is power!
After addressing the realtime writing itself, the issues of software and hardware and the actual hookups then, of course, come. Some feel they’re not as intuitive with the technology aspect and that, even if they can write well enough, they might never be good enough with “computer stuff” to be able to hook up in front of attorneys and then troubleshoot with all of that last-minute anxiety. I submit, however, that each and every one of us can overcome technological issues.
As a young girl, I remember walking in the back door of my grandma’s house and seeing her brand-new digital microwave (with a bright-green readout and a dial) blinking 12:00. Every time I’d walk in the back door, it would be blinking 12:00. I’d reset it. Again and again when I’d walk in that door, I’d head straight for the microwave and reset the time and show her yet again how to do it. It was intuitive to me; it was not to her. She marveled at how brilliant I was. This is how I felt just last month when the 11-year-old in my house started showing me what she could do with a brand-new touch-screen Windows 8.1 tablet/ laptop combo. She had to slow down, and I had to get quicker at taking notes! Learning can be painful. It can be frustrating. It can be humbling. But it is an investment in your career, and anything you learn is a building block for something greater.
Lots of great articles are available online as well as webinars, message boards, and Facebook groups (including NCRA’s Realtime TRAIN). Sue Terry, RPR, CRR, has created an incredible TRAIN app to put on your smartphone so you can take so much great information with you anywhere you go. Seek and you shall find! Or seek out and/or create your own local focus group/TRAIN group. Just because you feel you have things to learn doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable information for your neighboring reporter, and vice versa. Network, find support, create your own support — whatever it takes. Realtime means something different to each reporter, and it’s up to you to figure out what it means for you. The one thing that realtime means for all of us, however, is that realtime is our future. Embrace it! It’s totally amazing when that daunting feeling about realtime starts to be replaced with feeling like realtime is one of your very best friends!
Michelle Kirkpatrick, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP
Realtime – for me, it is a major frustration and a major accomplishment. There are days when my fingers cannot hit the broad side of a barn. Those are the times when I tell myself to just relax because it will get better. It always does, but sometimes it might not be until the next day.
I also have days where I am just so on top of things that I feel like I am on autopilot. My writing is never perfect, but it can be excellent. I try to focus on those days and remember them. We court reporters have the tendency to concentrate on our imperfections and not our victories. Writing realtime is no easy feat. It takes practice, perseverance, and a bit of a persnickety attitude. I came across this quotation, and I think it definitely applies to us: “Strive for excellence, not perfection.”
While I said that realtime provides me great frustration, it also gives me a sense of accomplishment. I have worked very hard to change my writing and to improve my skill. I still work at that very diligently. Writing realtime is one reason this is such a great career and so much fun. We can challenge and compete against ourselves and always strive to be better.
An added bonus for me is that my judge really appreciates that I provide realtime to her almost every day and for almost every hearing. She does not want to be without it. She values me and the part I play in the justice system.
Mary Burzynski, RPR
We can all write. We can all produce a transcript. Realtiming, to me, is what enables me to achieve both tasks more efficiently and accurately.
My first step to achieve that goal was to change some of my writing style. After tackling some of that, I realized I needed to then do a good bit of dictionary maintenance. Cha-ching — results seen via my translation rate. Of course, both processes are ongoing and never ending.
Feeling more confident, I moved on to the next track of my realtime journey: connecting attorneys. Along with this newfound challenge came a new track to tackle — nerves. Yikes! This is a mind over matter issue; I knew I had the ability to do this since I’d been a working reporter for a bit. While the nerves don’t go away totally, they do subside much quicker than they ever did before.
Along with the challenge of hooking up to judges or attorneys comes the continued education to keep abreast of any changes to my software and hardware. Since both are key to providing realtime, it’s critical that I also know how to troubleshoot when problems arise. While in my infancy of providing realtime, this education came via the school of hard knocks, but I have also found an immeasurable amount of education by reading articles about the various aspects of realtime. Those articles have helped prepare me for situations that have arisen while out in the field.
All in all, becoming realtime proficient has afforded me more time for my family and a better income due to providing a larger scope of services to my clients. It has also given me a continued interest in a profession that I do love dearly.
Linda Kaiser, RMR, CRR
Cedar Hill, Texas
When I think of realtime, I think of the great captioners and reporters who provide seamless translations that scroll across the screen, making this job look easy. Well, if that is what realtime is, then that feels pretty unattainable. But I’d like to think that realtime is attainable by any and all of us.
We all know realtime is the instant translation of speech to text, but what does it mean to be a realtime reporter? Sure, we all want to be one of the greats, but when you go to the heart of it, doesn’t realtime start with simply the ability to connect and have an instantaneous feed?
Like any other profession, there are varying levels in a career, and realtime is no different. Take a look at yourself and figure out where you stand on the realtime ladder. Do you hook up a realtime connection for yourself? If you do, hats off to you as you are standing on that first rung. There is something to be said about having that instant translation in front of you, with no one looking over your shoulder or at your screen, allowing you to write with ease, without the fear of judgment from others. Sure, there will be errors and untranslates; in fact, there may be a lot of them, but being hooked up to realtime allows you to quickly notice and tackle those errors.
This takes us to the next step. Have you made edits to your translation? You know, quickly defining those untranslates and adding them to your dictionary? If you have, then you’ve moved up one more rung as you are taking strides to improve your translation.
But it’s not just about your dictionary, there is also the ability to recognize your writing patterns and identifying changes that need to be made. Have you noticed anything you need to change? Better yet, have you made any of those changes? If so, congratulations as you’ve moved up yet another step!
Like I said, when I think of realtime, I think of the iconic reporters out there who make it look easy. But if you can relate to any of the examples given above, then you are a realtime reporter. The realtime title is not limited to those who make it look easy, as those reporters took the same journey we are all on.
It’s been said that realtime is our future and it’s true: Realtime will be increasingly important in our field. But the reality is that realtime is here. It is our present. It has become the staple of the modern-day court reporter, CART captioner, and broadcast captioner. You don’t have to provide realtime to a room full of people to call yourself realtime. You don’t have to be at the top of the ladder to be realtime. Realtime is every step on that ladder, so take a look at where you stand and reach for that next rung.
Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CBC, CCP
Realtime Systems Administrator
Eden Prairie, Minn.
Realtime is being the best writer you can be and taking pride in your work for others to see — “writing naked,” as some people have referred to it. Realtime reporters are always striving to improve their writing daily, beginning with writing realtime for themselves and, over time, resolving any conflicts that they may have. It’s a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but you will feel a sense of accomplishment as you see your accuracy increase. Writing shorter and using briefs also improves your speed, which improves your writing accuracy as well.
There are all sorts of resources to help you: realtime seminars (Mark Kislingbury’s seminars, Anita Paul’s workshops, and Certified LiveNote Reporter, just to name a few), a TRAIN realtime app for your phone (there’s an app for everything, right?), a set of helpful TRAIN documents in Dropbox that can be shared, or possibly a friend or co-worker who can help to show you the ropes.
Overcoming your fears is usually one of the biggest concerns of realtime reporters. For me, it’s about “thinking too much.” So, try your best to relax and have confidence. Attorneys aren’t expecting complete perfection, believe me; they’re amazed at the technology and appreciate having the testimony translated before their eyes. They can refer back to the questions and answers, to be sure the testimony came across in fine print the way they wanted it to.
Preparation is key. Having a list of words ahead of time that you can place into your job dictionary so things translate as seamlessly as possible is a great tool. Also, know your hookups and how to troubleshoot the best you can. Maybe have a lifeline person you can call if you run into a problem you haven’t encountered before, especially your first time. The more prepared you are with resources, the better off you’ll be.
Our jobs as court reporters are more valuable the more we embrace and thrive with technology, and realtime is taking ourselves to the next level to be the best reporters we can be. So, dive in, do your best, and have confidence in your skills! You can do it!
Janie L. Blair, RPR
Court reporters are service providers and must keep current with advancements in technology in our field. Rapid advancements in technology require constant updates and upgrades on standards and procedures in order to satisfy the demands of our workplace environment. Patients would never settle for surgeons operating using methods that are ten years old. Airline passengers assume pilots and air traffic controllers are constantly keeping up with changing technology to improve safety and quality of service. Attorneys, the courts, and the public are entitled to the best service available to record and produce a written record.
So what is the best service we as court reporters can provide given the tools we now have? The answer, of course, is realtime. It’s not only about realtime, though. It’s about the journey to becoming realtime-ready. It’s about keeping up with the technology to provide the best service possible with the tools that are available.
We all know and admire the “superstars” in our industry. Many of us think, “I’ll never write as fast or as cleanly as them.” But guess what? Those superstars have many tricks that have made them the writers they are today. They have embraced and applied the technology in an effort to improve and I daresay perfect their writing skills. And guess what? They are willing to share these tricks and skills with us through published books, seminars, Facebook, Twitter, or online clubs. TRAIN groups are popping up across the country, which is a perfect way to pull all of these resources together in a small informal support group.
If you feel that realtime is out of your reach, start small. Start working on improving your writing and cutting down on editing time. Eventually you will reach the point where you can produce a usable rough draft quickly by scanning through a file, editing all the untrans, and double checking areas that you have marked that need some attention. It is a small leap from providing a fast rough draft to providing a realtime feed to a client.
Many of us have fears in our life. I experience glossophobia, a fear of public speaking. I knew one day I would find myself in a position where I might have to speak in public, so I joined a local Toastmasters group and began preparing myself. Last year at the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association, I presented a TRAIN seminar and had to speak in front of approximately 100 attendees. Was my presentation perfect? No. Was I nervous? Yes. But I made it through without passing out with an anxiety attack. I even received some compliments afterwards.
It is not uncommon for court reporters to have a fear of providing realtime. Every working court reporter has the skill and ability to provide realtime to clients. It just takes preparation. Will your first realtime job be perfect? No. Will you be nervous? Yes. But if you prepare yourself, you will get through it and may even find yourself being complimented in the end. I guarantee you will feel accomplishment and satisfaction.
Kathy Silva, RPR, CRR
Next stop for TRAIN: Heading to the states
NCRA’s TRAIN (Taking Realtime Awareness and Innovation Nationwide) Task Force raised the gate on Nov. 1 and officially rolled out the launch of a nationwide effort designed to encourage the development of TRAIN programs in every state.
As part of the effort, Task Force members have been reaching out to state leadership over the past several months to learn about the types of realtime training activities and groups that already exist, and, if not, to identify the roadblocks hindering their development. Other efforts by Task Force members have included updating resources available online, supplying every state leader with more than 20 realtime-related articles for use in membership newsletters, and upgrading the TRAIN website to make it more accessible and easier to navigate and printable.
“We want to see TRAIN reach every state; we want to see TRAIN reach every courthouse and every freelance firm,” said Lisa A. Knight, RMR, CRR, TRAIN Task Force chair and a freelance court reporter from Littleton, Colo. “TRAIN is working hand in hand on a state level, working with the state leadership as well as the state TRAINers — court reporters who have passed realtime certification tests — to help get TRAIN state committees formed, as well as working to implement state TRAIN groups nationwide.”
In August, Knight and NCRA Director Sue A. Terry, RPR, CRR, a court reporter from Springfield, Ohio, addressed the National Committee of State Associations delegation at NCRA’s Convention & Expo in San Francisco and explained the Task Force’s charges and what state leaders should expect in coming months. Knight and Terry also fielded questions from the delegates about the importance of learning to write realtime.
The TRAIN Task Force was established in 2011 by NCRA’s Board of Directors after completing Writing Our Future, an initiative which established a number of priorities for the court reporting profession, including instilling within court reporters the absolute importance of being realtime capable.
The goal of the TRAIN initiative is not to teach realtime but to show reporters that writing it isn’t scary or difficult and to encourage them to just do it. Other goals of the initiative include increasing the number of court reporters capable of writing realtime nationwide by offering information about necessary equipment, hands-on training on setup and troubleshooting, writing tips, and overall encouragement.
“Realtime is what most notably distinguishes court reporters from electronic or digital reporting,” said Knight. “The entire TRAIN effort is really just reporters helping reporters … that’s what it’s all about.”
©Copyright NCRA 2015. This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of Court Reporting, the NCRA’s magazine.