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International Federation for Information and Communication Processing INTERSTENO

Can Virtual Reporting be a solution for freelance (court) reporters to get more jobs covered?

workshop lead by Ms. Patti Calabro

Prague, 30th September 2012

Introduction to the workshop by Ms. Calabro

We will use the same format as yesterday, with a brief presentation about a topic and four questions to discuss in the four groups.

As I researched a little about this subject I realized we are talking about several types of reporters: litigation support, parliamentary reporters and reporters who maybe just using a CART (Computer Assisted Real-Time) system or they maybe simply working in large venues reporting or captioning presentations, conventions, religious rallies. So it really does cover a wide spectrum of reporters and the opportunity for virtual reporting.

Now a little about me. My name is Patti Calabro. I am from the United States, from Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona. I do have several certifications within the National Court Reporters Association. I am certified in California. I hold my registered professional reporters designation. I am also a court reporter that is licensed in Arizona. I am a certified reporting instructor and I also have my masters degree in information recourses and library science.

I am practically seven days a week in my office, if I am not out on a job. I work on my Diamante stenograph machine. Unlike the machine shown on the back, I can press down all of the keys at the same time. It’s more similar to play on a piano when I write on that machine.

I am also a broadcast captioner and a CART provider. At my home office I also use a system for captioning. Many of my assignments are at night. It is safer and easier to be in my home office. Then I can just drop into bed when I am exhausted after the job.

Possible but not all inclusive are the following types of virtual reporting: telephonic, videoconference, Skype. To give a background for those of you who may not be familiar or conversant with Skype: it is listed as a software application which allows users to make video and voice calls and chat over the Internet. It is free, there are no long distance charges. You need the latest version of Skype, a web cam and a fast Internet connection.

WebEx is another system. It is a Cisco company product. It is on-demand meeting, web conferencing, video conferencing. Yesterday WebEx used for the presentation of D’Arcy McPherson and Lida Horlings. Finally, as to video conferencing, this is a communications technology integrating video and audio to connect users anywhere in the world. Again, you need a web cam, microphone, video screen, sound system and connection to a communication system.

There are two other options: the LiveNote Stream and StreamText. I use stream text frequently when I am virtually reporting at a, say, Fish and Wildlife Service presentation. I am not a participant. However, the information, the audio and video, is provide through StreamText.

I think the most important thing in my research has been the Internet connection. That can make or break any type of communication. And, of course, the faster the better. Good microphones are always important, because you are not going to do very well if the audio is garbled.

So what is the need to get more jobs covered. These are the types of question that we are going to talk about today. When we are finished talking in our groups, we will discuss what we have found and, hopefully, get a shortlist of best practices and the best things to use in certain situations.

I mentioned that we can cover several areas of virtual reporting. As I was thinking about this, one of the obstacles that I can came up with in my mind, since much of my work is litigation support, is that there are some legal restrictions to virtual reporting. For example, in Arizona we are allowed by our courts to do a telephonic deposition. We can swear in a witness who may be in Florida or in another country. But not every state has the same law, so it would be important for me and for my lawyer-client to know that when I give an oath to a witness, that oath will stand up in the jurisdiction where that case is filed. Otherwise, my client would have to hire a reporter wherever the witness is located. Again, the obstacles are Internet quality, telephone quality, and camera quality.

Now we can separate in groups and discuss. I look forward to what you all have to say.

The following feedback was given by the different groups:

Group 1 (Patty Calabro)

(The group is comprised of representatives from Poland, Korea, The Netherlands, and the US.)

In Poland virtual reporting is not really needed, although they do virtual transcription from the Parliament. They upload their audio files to a website. It is controlled there. It can be transcribed remotely by freelancers.

In The Netherlands it is audio only, not machine or pen shorthand. They prefer to be on-site. So it is recorded in-house. It can be transcribed elsewhere but there is no virtual reporting from off-site.

In the US we do some virtual things, because we have many different ways of making the record, different jurisdictions that require a record. This is largely determined by the distance between the places where reporters and makers of the record are located, and where the job has to happen. For instance, if you have a very small town and the lawyers or the participants in the meeting live some distance away, and it would take a long way to travel, it would make sense to use virtual reporting and recording.

In Korea they have enough reporters to cover the work locally. Virtual reporting is not really used there yet. There are few needs and financial benefits in Korea.

In terms of marketing opportunities. If there is no need and no financial advantage, then these would be small. Although to the end of our discussion we were saying: if the benefit of virtual is that if you do have a lot of people locally capable of performing the service, but maybe even outside of the country there is a need, you could provide that service over the Internet virtually. That would provide financial benefit both to the people who need the service and those who can perform the service.

What are the obstacles? There are some legal obstacles, because of sensitive material, the security of the information, in doing things virtually. Skype will be allowed in some countries and in some situations, but not in others. Having the confidential material transcribed or captured off-site may not be permitted in some jurisdictions. Certainly that is true in the US. In The Netherlands the police investigations and interviews are mostly done in the building on equipment that is owned by the police. It is not permitted to do virtual recording off-site.

We talked about audio quality and Internet quality. These are very limiting factor; if you cannot hear it, you cannot capture it. So in many cases it is better to have someone in the room, capturing the audio, whether that is on digital audio equipment, by pen or by machine shorthand.

In some large countries the distance between where recorders and reporters are available will drive the need for virtual reporting. Disability laws in some countries will increase the opportunities for marketing and may increase the need for people with our skill to provide these services and may increase the demand for virtual services.

Group 2 (Petr Peňáz)

(The group is comprised of representatives from Finland, The Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic.)

For parliamentary or legal purposes there normally is audio or video registration which is transcribed inside the same institution, and no virtual environment is used. We, from the Czech Republic, commented on speech-to-text-reporting in universities and other schools. For us this is the only way to survive.

A lot of difficulties have been described. On the one side we depend on it, on the other side there are a lot practical obstacles. For educational purposes it is not the same as for legal purposes, but basically parliament is by definition based on speeches. Education, hopefully, is not. For educational purposes it is much more about reality, such as pictures and documents, and the result, in order to be readable, usable, should be linked to those pieces of reality. If I have to make such links as a reporter, I need a lot of information within my virtual environment. Quality is really the main issue. How many channels do I have? How much information can I perceive as a reporter? All that sort of information can help a reporter to get oriented, and the user as well, by observing the report. Skype, for example, does not have the quality, so this is not used on a regular basis. There are other technical environments which may a much better quality than Skype. Then there are the legal difficulties, regarding the sensitivity of confidential information. It is different from one country to the other.

Concerning the marketing, it has been said that this is very important, but our group consists of small countries. Still, it is important. There are not so many speech-to-text-reporters, after all. Sometimes the user or the client is far away and sometimes the reporter is. In our country we have to use all speech-to-text-reporters in the country to be at the service of our university, independent of where they are. In order to do that, a virtual environment is absolutely necessary. So, yes, we must go that way, but the demands and the requirements are so high that we still perceive a lot of limitations.

Group 3 (Gea Duister)

(The group is comprised of representatives from Korea, Finland, Germany, and Poland.)

In Finland the first part is done on-site, and then the text and the audio are send to the rest of the group to make the text complete. It is also because of a lack of office space that this is done remotely. We were talking about the equipment used. Everybody needs to use their equipment. This is not provided by parliament or an organization. We talked about a server. Will all the information be on a server or in the cloud? In Finland and in Poland everything is on the server. You need a connection with the server. If the server breaks down, you are out of a job. Then you have to wait for a solution.

At this moment we do not see any financial benefits in our countries. We are not paid more when we do the job remotely or less when we do it on-site. Poland uses a remote sign language interpreter. In Germany the sign language interpreter was on-site. In Finland there is sign language during question hours, and the interpreter is in the parliament building.

We talked about quality. You need to have a good telephone and Internet connection. We did not start on the marketing discussion yet, as there simply is not a growing demand.

Patty Calabro thanks everybody for participating in the new format and reminds everyone that any recommendations and questions are welcome.

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