VITAC’s Men of Court Reporting

Far and away the most popular promotional item at this year’s National Court Reporting Association Convention and Expo, held August 8-11, 2013 in Nashville, TN, was a perennial fan-favorite, the Men of Court Reporting calendar. The calendar features a different male court reporter for each month of the year, often in silly or ridiculous poses that include at least one steno machine, and raises money for the NCRA PAC (political action committee), the stated purpose of which is to “develop and nurture legislative relationships that will work in the interest of the association’s legislative agenda.”

But why the men of court reporting?

Over the years, the gender balance in the court reporting industry has dramatically changed. Through the early 20th century, nearly every court reporter was male, dating back to a slave of Roman philosopher Cicero, Marcus Tullius Tiro, who invented a shorthand system for quickly transcribing Cicero’s thoughts. Today, the gender balance has flipped, with the industry consisting of about 90% women. With men making up such a dramatic minority in the field, it is easy to understand why a calendar that brings to light their contribution to court reporting might be such a hot-ticket item.

We sat down with some of the male Realtime Captioners at VITAC (all of VITAC’s Realtime Captioners are trained court reporters) to discuss what it’s like to be a man in a female-dominated industry.

The first point they agree on is that the gender difference doesn’t matter. They recognize the difference in demographics, such as Don Rombach, who describes being one of two guys in his court reporting class and never, in 24 years of captioning, working with more than 3-4 male court reporters. Lance Hannaford had a similar experience, working as 1 of 2 males in a company of no more than 17. Captioner Greg Hall is the one exception — he learned court reporting as a Marine, where after finishing his first enlistment, he was given a choice between driving a 56-ton M60A2 tank or attending Marine steno school (he chose the latter) with a predominantly male class.* “I never give much thought to working with mostly females,” Lance added on the topic. “The focus is more on your skill level, your certifications, and more importantly, your professionalism,” said Don.

The second point of agreement is that their female colleagues have been nothing but supportive of them. “I’ve received nothing but help…from the other Captioners of both genders,” said self-proclaimed captioning rookie Mike Cavagnaro. “I’m able to learn more from my more experienced coworkers at VITAC, who happen to be female,” said Lance.

Nor does the subject matter of a program affect the ability of a male or female Captioner to provide quality realtime captions. The interviewees agree that being male does give them an advantage when captioning sports or a disadvantage when captioning a jewelry-shopping network. Every Captioner, male or female, does an immense amount of research for every program, looking up terms and proper names, and adding them to his or her dictionary. What does matter: “It’s about what you like,” said Lance. “You either like sports, news, movies, or you don’t…the biggest advantage we can have as Captioners is a well-rounded vocabulary on all subjects.” Some are raised with an intimate knowledge of certain programming, and some — as Mike points out — develop an interest in sports or news in the process of captioning them.

Don, for one, likes sports. As a marathoner, weightlifter, and runner, he is a fierce competitor, and brings his game face to the steno machine. “I like individual sports where you are competing against yourself to improve all the time. Similar qualities are required for captioning.” In
deed, speed, dexterity, and drive are qualities of any Captioner, male or female, athlete or not.

As for the calendar? We asked each of the interviewees what month they would take, if they were given the choice (no VITAC Captioner has been selected for the honor yet). Mike humbly declined, and Lance and Greg chose their respective birthday months of June and January. Don chose January, too, “because it’s first. I never have liked to be second.”

At the end of the day, every Stenographer and Captioner who has finished court-reporting school is part of a different minority group. Court-reporting schools have an extremely high dropout rate, around 90%, which means every Court Reporter you meet is of the elite 10% converse — about the same percentage of men in the court reporting field. So if you think a male court reporter is a rare sight, that is about as rare as any court reporter is!

To view the 2006 Men of Court Reporting calendar, click here.

*Greg served on the NATO Commander’s staff in Sarajevo during their involvement in Bosnia/Herzegovina in the ’90s. He transcribed intel briefings and was the armed escort for the Commander’s interpreter.

by Carlin Twedt

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