Dear Colleagues:
There's a nasty rumor going around that firms are giving away FREE ROUGH DRAFTS to attorneys. Now, I know times are tough out there, but this is a highly slippery slope! This could cause a landslide of freebies given away, not to mention page rates going down.

I BEG OF YOU: Don't give away a product that has value and that you've worked so hard to attain a level of expertise to be able to produce. Our work HAS VALUE. If the reporters refuse to give away their roughs, I'm not sure how the agencies would get around that, but reporters (staff and freelance) need to come together on this issue.

I know it's really hard to get work right now, but this isn't the answer. I'd love to hear if this is going other than in my little corner of the world.

Ly

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I happen to be one of those reporters that make it look pretty and all cleaned up for way less than half the rate. I was even putting in the caption, index, appearance and certs all filled out like a final to find out the firm doesn't pay for those extra pages, so I stopped doing that, and I think the firm even told me that I didn't have to send those extra pages. Now I'm going to take your advice and send it out with the untranslates.
I have one advantage over all of you. Being a legal assistant for twenty years, I get free legal advice. It's came in handy several times for traffic court and for a few other things, even used it for a friend. LOL The last time I went to traffic court, at the beginning the Judge goes through is standard opening of how to plead, guilty, not guilty, no contest, bla, bla, bla. He went through that whole thing looking straight at me. I had to plead no contest (driving without car insurance). It was dismissed.

If you want legal advice, sent an e-mail to the attorney you have a good relationship with - and wait for a response.
I cover jobs for an agency that request my backup files in order to process payroll. I wonder if they are giving the rough draft to the attorneys for free. I work in South Florida but, the agency is out of State will be asking them about this ASAP!!!
Shawn, what do you mean by your backup file? Your raw translated steno in ASCII format? If so,
run fast from that agency - they are up to no good. All an agency needs to archive is the final
transcript in a convertible format. Be interested to hear what they tell you they are doing with that
backup file(s).
Hi, Shawn and Karen. I've talked to at least one agency that required the rough draft "just for their files." They said they'd NEVER send it out without paying the reporter for it. Really??? I didn't buy the line. About a year later, in chatting with another reporter, she said she worked for a firm that made reporters send rough drafts in on every job, but they didn't pay the reporter for them. (Can we say 'bullshit' on here?) Anyway, they gave some BS reason about archiving, or "Then, if anyone DOES want a rough draft, we'll have it and won't have to bother YOU for it!" (Again, can we say 'bullshit' on here?) I asked why she'd agree to do that, and the reporter said with a sigh, "Because they're the only game in town, basically. If I didn't do it, they have a dozen other reporters around here who would gladly do it." The same firm that fed me that line about archiving was a bit more forthcoming with that second reporter, let her know upfront what they were doing, and why.

Once reporters know ALL the facts, then they can make their OWN decisions about whether to accept a job, including whether to let a firm use their time and talents in being able to provide that instant rough draft without being compensated for it. But if you're a skilled writer, and realtime or rough draft is your specialty, why in the WORLD would a reporter give that away? And that "only game in town" comment is very sad for reporters, and quite telling for reporting agencies, because when agencies know work is slow and reporters are hurting, they're starting to shop for reporters to work at the lowest possible page rates and make the most concessions in the form of free realtime and free rough drafts -- all to the benefit of the firm, and to the great detriment (in the end) to the reporter. I met a reporter once who said he always moves forward, never backward ... never worked for less than he did the day before with the same firm. Once you set a precedent by working for a firm and providing free anything, chances are you're not going to go uphill from there.

Yes, Shawn, I'm as anxious as Karen to hear the answer you get from that firm on why they're interested in your backup files. I can assure you that your backup files are the last thing payroll folsk are interested in.

M.A.
During the heyday of contracting, I determined never to work for a lesser page rate than I was receiving prior to the craziness. That was the best determination I ever made. Once you decide to sell yourself short, you can almost never regain what you sold off.

V.
MaryAnn: Reporters think the agencies hold the power because it's slow right now, and that's somewhat true - the pendulum swings back and forth - but if reporters would ONLY do what you say BEFORE accepting jobs, and continue to educate themselves about what is going on in our profession, I'm sure they'd agree the sacrifice of their work product for NO compensation is NOT WORTH it.!!
Karen, you're right when you say "Agencies hold the power because it's slow." I just read an article in Time magazine, I believe it was, that said employers all over the country, in scores of trades and professions, are taking advantage of a huge glut of workers standing in line for the same job. If they can offer less and get more, they're doing it ... so it's not happening just with the reporter/agency relationship. The thing that's really so very sad for me is that I've lived and worked through what we remember as The Golden Age of Reporting, where firms made money WITH you, not OFF you! The reporting profession got off track, took a wrong turn somewhere along the line ... I suspect it was when contracting came in vogue and firms HAD to crank out huge volumes of work to survive.

Firms say, "Oh, you greedy reporters. Shame on you!" I say back to agencies with questionable business practices, Shame on YOU!" Reporters aren't greedy when they are doing the bulk of the work that keeps agencies in business, especially on rough draft and realtime assignments. Rough draft and realtime assignments are gravy for a reporting agency. They don't have to lift a finger to collect a commission off of realtime pages written, or rough draft pages sent out. How good of a deal is that???

I'm not saying the scheduling function, production facilities, sending out the transcript packet with full, condensed, index and final ascii aren't important and valuable -- they are! But IMO, reporters do the bulk of the work, AND if they don't have an agency to print for them, they can print their own transcripts. Agencies, on the other hand, are closed for the season without their reporters.

I still hold out hope that there are firms out there who work the old fashioned way, making money with us, not off us ... just because it's the right thing to do.

M.A.
I'm not saying the scheduling function, production facilities, sending out the transcript packet with full, condensed, index and final ascii aren't important and valuable -- they are! But IMO, reporters do the bulk of the work, AND if they don't have an agency to print for them, they can print their own transcripts. Agencies, on the other hand, are closed for the season without their reporters.

M.A.,

You KNOW I agree with a lot of what you say, but I just have to inject a comment here. And I know we're getting off base from the original post, sorry.

You're forgetting about the most important thing (yes, sorry, it is), and that's the retention of the client. There are many reporters out there that want nothing to do with acquiring their own clients, so the ability to "print their own transcripts" isn't available. (No client, no job to print.) They're depending on the agencies to get the client and then be able to pick up jobs from the agency.

And, yes, the agencies do have to lift a finger to FIND the reporters that say they can do real realtime/rough drafts vs. the ones that do it well. Agencies can put out SOSs all day long for a realtime reporter and will get dozens of reporters that say "I'm a realtime reporter." And then you find out, "Ewww, really? That's what your output looks like?" So it's not as easy as just putting the next reporter on your list on that job.

I agree, there's a lot of nastiness going on nowadays with agencies. There's good, bad, and downright ugly agencies out there. And thank goodness we have CSRnation now so we can put out feelers for an agency and get a real response back from a reporter with firsthand knowledge. (I wish there were a "Have you ever heard of this reporter" section though, just like for agencies, b/c there are some very bad reporters too.)

But unfortunately, in this economy, the reporters that are hungry for work WILL take those low page rates and WILL give a free rough/realtime in exchange for $$, any $$. Just pay them so they can make their rent/mortgage and feed their kids. But hopefully the reporters that are working for scrap wages will be putting just about that much effort into their final product (you get what you pay for, no?) and the agency will, in the long run, fail.

I do believe the economy is starting to turn around. When it does, while it will never be the pre-golden era (the '90s, of course you knew that's what I was talking about), the reporters will once again hold the cards and will be able to say "NO."

Heck, I remember the days when reporters would insist that, nope, they ONLY take all-day business lit copy jobs. You couldn't get them to answer their phone unless that's what you were offering them. Nowadays, most reporters will accept any job offered.

Yes, it is a great time for agencies to be able to cover their jobs. Covering your calendar now is easy-peasy. Put an SOS on CSRnation and you'll have no fewer than a dozen reporters respond within the first few minutes. And while CSRnation (hopefully) will always be here and give agencies the opportunity to cover jobs through their site, there will be a day when "I can take that job for you" is going to turn into "What type of a job, how long, any copies" is going to be the response.

But back to the original topic.

Reporters need to learn to say "NO." When reporters learn to say "NO," the agencies will not be able to cover their calendar. When the agency can't cover their calendar, the client will go to another agency for coverage. Hopefully they'll go to an agency that knows how to treat/pay reporters.

So we really need to start a campaign of "Just say NO to free rough, free realtime, free copies, sending in your unedited files for the 'payroll' department, waiting longer than 60 days for payment of YOUR services," etc.

How about instead of looking for firms that work the old fashioned way, we get a new mindset and say there's a new way of doing business with reporters. Going back to the old fashioned way isn't going to work, I don't think. Agencies hold the power of owning the calendar/clients, but reporters hold the power whether they're willing to cover that calendar for that agency.

Let's get the word out that free is now the old fashioned way (and the old fashioned way and is dead and has been officially buried) and let's start getting used to the new and improved way.

There's no use looking back and hoping the good ol' days are going to return. But the good new days are just around the corner. Let's restructure the working/payment scale of reporters now, before it's officially here.

Let's get the word out which agencies are requiring reporters to give away valuable services, etc. It's not libel/slander if it's true. Instead of hiding behind a thread labeled "Ever heard of this agency," let's get it out in the open. A section needs to be started where real scenarios are posted. Just the facts, nothin' but the facts. Let everybody be able to see what's going on. If Agency ABC is requiring free roughs from the reporter, if Agency XYZ tells the reporter after the fact that that room full of attorneys is "really" only an O&3, let somebody monitor a thread where the reporter can report it and it gets published, so we know who NOT to work for.

This is the golden age of the Internet. Let's use it to our advantage and put the bottom feeders out of business.
Judy, what a very passionate plea! As Debbie says below, "What amazes me, though, is that reporters truly do not take the time to understand and question what they ARE being paid." Educating reporters on good, solid, ethical business practices is a monumental undertaking, even with the wonders of the Internet. Look at the pathetic turnout for online voting on important matters concerning NCRA. There are thousands of reporters ... no, tens of thousands of reporters in the country who simply do not care about anything except whether they have pages tomorrow. That's as far ahead as they care to think, and page rates or incentive gift-giving practices don't give them a minute's pause.

What we call the bottom-feeders are here to stay, as are reporters who work for them. Best way for reporters to move out of the Red Ocean is to develop and perfect a specialty, then respect yourself and your talents, and get business-smart to protect yourself from predators.

M.A.
Judy,

I agree with you 100%...on all counts. As a working reporter I understand wanting to be paid a fair wage and I am abundantly fair to my reporters, staff or otherwise. What amazes me though is that the reporters truly do not take the time to understand and question what they ARE being paid. Often I hear 'well, so and so pays XXX". I think to myself, clearly you don't realize I am paying you .40/page more. So if my staff reporter that has not taken the time to figure it out, imagine the reporters that are just looking for a job, any job, anywhere.

Now as firm owner, I am happy (and yet not) that the market has turned in our favor a bit. No more trying to hold out for the best job possible at the end of the day, or being told no, it's too far, too short, too few copies, too few 'extras'. Frankly, my job is to keep MY client happy...and it's pretty darn hard when the reporters are being picky.

When reporters are willing to work for the firms offering $200 gift cards for setting a depo, and $25 per depo setting or even $50 per depo that the secty has taken off of someone else's calender, I say those reporters should be paid less, and a lot less because they do the great harm to the ethical practice of court reporting.
Very true, they don't ask. They don't ask what they're being paid, when they're being paid, or how "extras" are handled. All they want is to be told, "I've put you down for it." They want to be the winner of getting their name put down on that job... heck, any job.

But I think they do read. These boards have a good number of lurkers. They're interested and reading, just not brave enough to find their voice and start asking. If we give them the info they need in written form, maybe that will start the snowball rolling so they think twice before they answer the e-mail or phone or CSRnation post. The first time they'll think twice. Maybe by the third or fourth time they'll actually pass on taking the job. The snowball's got to start somewhere. While the snow hasn't even started to fall yet (it will!), we need to start preparing everybody for the day it does.

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