National Court Reporting Week Recognizes the Fastest Fingers in New York

Students improve on the stenotype machine. Photos courtesy of Plaza College.

Students improve on the stenotype machine. Photos courtesy of Plaza College.

By David Brand

There is no shortage of trials, grand juries, depositions and hearings in Queens and throughout New York City. There is, however, a shortage of people to transcribe those proceedings — and to perform real-time captioning and other services where rapid, accurate writing is vital.

Court reporting is a particularly valuable job, though reporters’ essential function can be overlooked by people unfamiliar with courtroom proceedings.

“We’re guardians of the record and we want students to celebrate and be proud,” said Karen Santucci, Court Reporting Program chair at Plaza College, which celebrated National Court Reporting Week with games, events and a trip to Queens Criminal Court.

With their vital skills in such high demand, court reporters can make well over $100,000 a year while writing hundreds of thousands of words per week and millions of words per year. Freelancers often earn $3.25 for a standard 25-line page and transcriptions can reach 200 pages, or $650, Long Island Business Institute Assistant Campus Director Michelle Houston told the Eagle last year.

“The money could be phenomenal,” Santucci said.

Students typically arrive at Plaza with zero experience on the 26-key stenotype machine, a device much different than the conventional QWERTY keyboard. The skill is not called typing. It’s writing, and court reporters must reach a speed of at least 225 words per minute to graduate and enter the professional field.

The field has resisted automation because of the importance of the human touch.

“Since the ‘80s, they used to say, ‘Computers are going to take us over’ and they did try to do that.  The problem is, when you play a tape recorder, it can’t distinguish who is speaking, it can’t interrupt somebody if a word got muffled or there was slang,” Santucci said. “Only a trained court reporter can.”

“And we know that only we are responsible for that record,” she added.

Plaza student Brianna D’Amico said she pursued court reporting on the recommendation of her mother, who performed the skill before D’Amico was born.

“I went to Plaza and as soon as I walked in, I had such a good feeling,” she said. “I knew it was something I wanted to do. I’m a hands on person and I wanted to give it a try.”

She picked the right profession. D’Amico started as a court reporting rookie, unfamiliar with the device aside from watching her mother write. She quickly improved and now can write 180 words per minute — just 45 away from the magic 225.

“It felt intense at first,” she said. “Learning theories was a challenge and obviously you’re going to get stuck at some points.”

She said she plateaued at 140 words but powered through. Now she envisions one day entering the courthouse with her stenotype in tow.

“I plan to freelance for two years and start making my way into the courts and hopefully end up in Supreme Criminal,” she said.