Stenography – will it evolve or become a forgotten art?

Stenography? Do you even know what this means?

We have all seen those courtroom dramas on TV and somewhere in the corner of the screen there is a man or woman sitting poured over an odd looking machine typing nineteen to the dozen, that person is known as a Stenographer.


What is the difference between a Stenographer and a Typist?

Well stenography enables the capture of speech at the same speed at which it is spoken. The average speech delivers 180 words per minute, journalists writing shorthand can capture 100 words per minute, typists only average around 55 words per minute.

Given this context it is apparent what huge skill stenography is and how it is invaluable in complex and intricate court hearings.

But in this age of technological revolution, it is about to fall victim to more modern methods.

The Ministry of Justice has just completed a rollout of a system called DARTS (Digital Audio Recording and Transcription) the last courts to receive this technology were the Crown and combined courts which included the Old Bailey. The reason? The inevitability that it will save money and deliver good results. DARTS boasts clear audio quality and back up, an easy playback facility and a faster and more efficient, secure data transmission service.

The British Institute of Verbatim Reporters is not convinced however, a recent article in the Solicitors’ Journal quoted Mary Sorene as saying, “Just because it involves a computer people think it’s a modern step, but it is a short-term saving that could store up long term trouble. There are serious issues with the accuracy of the recording system.”

In the short space of time that has elapsed since the rollout the main problems cited are:

  • Recordings pick up every little sound and this can block out critical elements of a trial
  • It is difficult to recognise who is speaking
  • Some witnesses speak so quietly it is impossible to capture what has been said
  • Faulty microphones, human error and technical glitches are not picked up until after the Trial and then it is too late
  • The context and nuances of each case are lost in post transcription

Time will tell whether this new technology is here to stay. In the US this type of system was introduced 10 years’ ago and there is now a shift back to using stenographers again. However a decade is a long time and such a specialist skill can be lost very quickly leaving it costly to find and retrain people again

The good news is that stenographers refuse to roll over and kill their skills. They have found other industries that are happy to capitalise on such talent. They are being commissioned for public inquiries, Parliamentary select committees, AGMs, shareholders meetings, roadshows, press conferences, disciplinary hearings, captioning for television and the BAFTAs.

Like any business if you can diversify your offer and morph into the new age of thinking you can survive. Some stenographers are devastated at losing such interesting work, such as being at the Old Bailey for high profile cases, which is understandable.

If you are a Stenographer interested in diversifying into transcription services, give Nadine a call (07786 271871) as we are continually looking to build our team of high quality transcribers throughout the UK.


BBC News Magazine

Solicitors Journal


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