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People urged to consider court reporting as a career

The stenotype keyboard has fewer keys than a conventional alphanumeric keyboard. Multiple keys are pressed simultaneously to spell out whole syllables, words and phrases with a single hand motion. Clint Austin/ / 2
Tracy Bennett of Duluth, a court reporter, uses a stenotype machine to record spoken words. Digital technology allows the court record to appear on the judge's monitor in real time. This week is National Court Reporting and Captioning Week. (Clint Austin/ / 2

Tracy Bennett enjoys her job as a court reporter because she gets a continuing education in criminal, civil and family law, as well as learning the latest developments in the medical and insurance industries and a variety of other topics.

Bennett records every word spoken in the courtroom -- even when some people are speaking more than 250 words a minute -- and preserves the complete and accurate written record of the spoken word for potential review.

During National Court Reporting and Captioning Week, Bennett is encouraging young people to consider a career as a court reporter.

"Court reporting is consistently ranked as one of the top career options as it offers both flexibility and significant income potential," said Bennett, president of the Minnesota Association of Verbatim

Reporters and Captioners. "Court reporters and captioners are able to begin a career without a traditional four-year college degree, and these highly trained professionals experience the continuous growth associated with an in-demand career."

Setting aside a week to promote the occupation is part of a nationwide effort to highlight the contributions of stenographic court reporters and captioners and to showcase career opportunities in the court reporting and captioning fields.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for court reporters in 2010 was $47,000 and $22.93 an hour.

According to the Minnesota Department of Economic Development, the current median hourly wage for court reporters in Duluth-Superior is $24.27 and $32.42 in the Twin Cities. Community colleges and technical institutes, including Anoka Technical College, offer postsecondary certificate programs for court reporters.

"Some of the qualities that are helpful for a steno reporter are being an avid reader, proficient at keyboarding, being a good speller and good with punctuation and if you have learned a foreign language or played a musical instrument," Bennett said. "It's an exciting career because you are involved in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the court system."

The most common misconception about a court reporter's work, Bennett said, is that most people think they are typing every letter and that they are typing on a keyboard.

She said that learning the theory of steno writing is comparable to learning to read a foreign language. The machine she types on has 24 keys, but no letters. She doesn't type every letter in a word. She writes words and phrases phonetically. Every sound has a beginning sound, a vowel sound and final sound. There also are common phrases used that can be written in one stroke. When she is typing or stroking a steno machine, she hits more than one key at a time.

Concentration, the ability to sit still for long periods of time, being a good speller and proficient with punctuation and keeping up with current events are all important traits for a court reporter to possess, she said.

Bennett enjoys the variety of her job, but said the favorite part of her job is how every day is different, but she doesn't like listening to "the bad things people do to each other."

To help her cope with that, she practices yoga and meditation, which she says counteract the physical and emotional aspects of the job.

Bennett works in the St. Louis County Courthouse for 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke, who calls her work simply excellent. Floerke said the accurate recording of testimony and preserving the court record is crucial to the judicial system and the appellate process.

"And in litigation all the time they are doing depositions so that what a witness says is held and preserved so you can't change what you say without being confronted with it," Floerke said. "So either way, it's all about accuracy, especially in the appellate rulings that are based on maybe three or four sentences or things said or not said."

Bennett said that she and her colleagues take pride in being an important part of the justice system.

"The transcripts I produce are used by the appellate and Supreme Courts to decide issues affecting citizens," she said. "The steno skill I have also can be used to caption television shows and movies. Captioners help people who are hard of hearing to be able to watch TV shows and movies."

Bennett and other local court reporters are working with the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center to record oral histories of local veterans. The prepared transcripts are archived at the center and also have been sent to the Library of Congress.