A Guinness Challenge and an Acclaimed Documentary on…Court Reporters? Absolutely!

Have you ever taken a typing test and wished you could make it to 65 or even 75 words per minute? A new documentary featured at SXSW delves into the previously unseen world of court reporters at the pinnacle of their profession who are preparing to break a Guinness World Record by typing a blistering 400 words per minute. I’ll say that again, 400 words per minute. The speeds are really almost too much to be believed, even when you see them.

I recently entered the world of litigation support, and like most people who have never encountered a stenography machine, I was both fascinated and a bit puzzled at the art of court reporting. I was thrilled to see a clip from Marc Greenberg’s film For the Record and picked up the phone to ask him a few questions about stenography and his new film.

Casamo Staff: The Guinness World Record attempt was such a great emblematic event to show the superhuman power of these exceptional court reporters. It looks like a rock concert in the footage you shot. What was the dynamic?

Marc Greenberg: People still come up to me and tell me that the Guinness attempt was such a memorable event. Court reporters by nature seem to gravitate towards the quieter side—people who can sit on the sidelines and do their job without saying much—but when you put all of them in same room they are some of the most enthusiastic, vocal people and adamant about the importance of the job they do. When the competition was going on in the room, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop and then the crowd would erupt into a standing ovation. The reporters competing were definitely rock stars.

CS: How did you get involved in the court reporting industry?

MG: I got involved in the industry through my sister, who is a court reporter. My sister was pregnant and couldn’t attend depositions due to morning sickness, so she started working at a steno school. After about six months there told me I should come work with her and get out of the entertainment industry. I started as a reader at a court reporting school, reading to students so that they could learn to write more quickly. After 10 years I wanted to get out of the school model and started an online company to teach speedbuilding, SimplySteno.com

CS: Stan Sakai goes a long way to break the mold of what you think the typical court reporter looks like. I’ve done my share of stock image searches and he’s not it!

MG: Stan is definitely not the typical court reporter and he likes having that persona. He goes to EDM concerts and wears kandi bracelets—certainly not the average reporter. Stan really has a gift, and I don’t think he’d mind me saying he’s a little A.D.D. when it comes trying to master something. Whether it’s learning stenography or German, he sticks with something until he masters it. He taught himself stenography from scratch and now he’s doing steno in German and Spanish. He went to school for linguistics, so it’s really an obvious area for him.

The Road Ahead for Court Reporting

CS: Do you attempt to answer any of these industry-wide existential questions about court reporting? Where is it going?

MG: I see a younger more varied group getting involved and coming up in the next five years. With the advent of CART technology, they are more in the public face, especially on college campuses. Whether it’s writing in class for a student with a hearing impairment or writing at home to help a fellow student, I think people are more interested in it than ever before. That’s one of the things we see in the industry is that people are mesmerized by the machine. You see someone doing it and you’re mesmerized by it. The stenotype machine is a visual medium and a real source of attraction to people.

CS: Modernization seems like a potential Catch-22: if the image of the typical court reporter becomes more modern that would be great for the industry, but if that modernization includes innovation it could potentially hurt the industry. What are your thoughts?

MG: No, because that’s the same argument that people have been making for over 50 years. Granted, technology in voice recognition is getting better and better, but there are so many reasons to use a court reporter, interpreting the context of dialogue, accents, people speaking over one another, muffled words, and stopping someone who is not speaking clearly. Not to mention that you need a professional to transcribe the whole thing up anyway so it doesn’t make sense to add two steps by adding two different people. Also, keep in mind that as technology advances, so does stenography.

The Four Ways People Get Involved

CS: Did you focus at all on what drove people to court reporting? I mean, for some there is a desire perhaps to participate in a piece of history, preserving the record for the public good. For others maybe it is perhaps the drama of the courtroom or an interest in the salacious parts of criminal investigations.

MG: Actually I think there are really four things that draw people to court reporting. The first and most common is that they knew someone who was a court reporter and loved it and they suggested the profession to them. The second is they were introduced to the machine and fell in love with it, just being fascinated by the machine itself. The third is that they met with a guidance counselor or a job counselor who told them how much money they could make! The last is that they were a juror in a trial or a hearing and became interested in the profession that way.

The machine is the real star though. When we were at Hot Docs in Toronto, Stan Sakai was feeding the text from our Q&A to the large screen in real time and I don’t think anyone was even paying attention to me—they were just too excited about watching Stan on the machine. When people see it on a big screen, it is really exciting to watch.

Sources of Inspiration

CS: I haven’t had the good fortune to see your film yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. I loved Wordplay and Trekkies. Did those documentaries guide you at all?

MG: I used Spellbound as the basis: a documentary on spelling bees. That was a great film and really gave me the idea of how to tackle the subject, using the Guinness attempt as the centerpiece and then NCRA was kind enough to offer me the chance to take a wide tour of the industry.

The film should be out and available on DVD in three to four months. I need to do some edits and there are a few interviews I’d like to add. I think the movie works well now as it is, but with the material I plan to add, I think it will make an even bigger impact.

A version of this interview previously appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

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