Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do you suppose they read as fast as they type?


I've always had a soft spot for court reporters and I wondered, back in the days before text messaging, how anyone could type so fast on anything so small.

Now that good kharma has been returned, and this blog has made it onto a list of 50 Best Blogs for Crime & Mystery Book Lovers at courtreporter.net.
The site is designed principally for aspiring court reporters, which leads to the question: If you spent all day transcribing court testimony, what kind of crime reading would you do when you got home?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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32 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Something I've been wondering for quite a while: with the advent of videotape, why is there still a need for court reporters?

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm guessing because written transcripts are still required. Post-literacy's progress is incomplete, in other words.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Julia Buckley said...

I'd read stuff that was moody and atmospheric. I'm guessing that court dialogue doesn't have much style or nuance, so I sure wouldn't want to read lots of straight dialogue.

And congrats on the blog listing.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Probably not a procedural. I think I would've had enough of how the justice system works. Maybe a nice black slice of noir.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Julia. Yeah, maybe court reporters would want something lush and lyrical in their crime reading.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, maybe you could go the other extreme and write a courtroom drama ... until you flipped out and carried on like the protagonist of a nice black slice of noir.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I forgot to mention that Julia's and Loren's suggestions -- "moody and atmospheric" and " a nice black slice of noir" -- could apply in common to quite a bit of crime writing.

Hmm, I'm reading Allan Guthrie now ...

February 24, 2010  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I know two court reporters and neither of them read at all. My son is a prosecutor though and he reads a lot of crime fiction. Henning Mankell is his favorite since he doesn't have to worry about him getting things right.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! Are your court reporter friends so sick of words, words, words by the time they home that they can take no more? And are all your offspring involved in crime? (For those who may not know, the excellent Megan Abbott is one of those offspring.)

Hmm, now I'm wondering what prosecutors like to read in their spare time. I have read that Richard Stark's Parker novels were popular among prison inmates. I wonder if other groups involved in one way or another with crime have particular tendencies in their crime reading.

My verification word could be a language spoken by certain teens: emotese

February 24, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

I was a court reporter in the military, and I can think of no correlation between the vocation and reading interests. I would, however, point out an anecdotal observation:

Military court reporters used (when I was in the trade) closed microphone systems that required the reporter to repeat everything said in the court room. This takes a while to learn. What the reporter is doing is repeating what he hears, and there is--of course--something like a one or two second delay between hearing and speaking. To an outside, it probably sounds impossible, but it is rather easy to learn. Now to my point: On more than one occasion, I caught myself day-dreaming about God knows what (nothing related to the court proceedings), and I realized that I had compartmentalized my mind so that I could hear one thing, speak (repeat) those words into the recorder, and--at the same--think about something quite different.

Now, what all of that has to do with the topic at hand is really beyond me. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to share the experience.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Postscript:
If I had thought of it, perhaps I should have had a book with me in the courtroom in those days. I could have read instead of day dreamed. Perhaps THE CAINE MUTINY would have been a good selection. Or BILLY BUDD. Or even MOBY-DICK. No, they aren't crime novels (per se), but they would have been an entertainment during the mostly dreary court-martial proceedings.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., so you were not typing up a transcript, but rather repeating the speakers' words into a microphone?

That must be a fascinating experience to listen to and repeat words while thinking of something different, but I would not necessarily have thought it impossible. After all, drivers can drive, at least briefly, while asleep.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And you could have classified trials' length in literary terms: This one was a Moby Dick, that one was a tale of mystery and imagination.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Yes, the microphone (wired to a cassette recorder) was encased in an enclosed cone shaped device that the court reporter held over his (or her) mouth and nose. It looked really bizarre. For all I know, they are still in use in the federal system; in fact, I think I've seen them used in congressional hearings.

February 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I'd have thought there might be microphones at the witness stand, defense and prosecution tables and for the judg,e and that these would be wired to recorders. But even if these were in place, courts might want back-up.

February 24, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

RT that sounds kinda like the navy guys that used to write backwards on the back of the situation board. I actually think that's a cool skill. However I've spent too much time in court rooms and have often wondered how everybody stayed awake.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, I rememnber covering a two-week-long murder trial earlier in my career. The case was packed with drama and thrills, but the frequent down time left ample occasion for jokes, wandering minds, and wisecracks. A skill such as R.T.'s would be exceedingly useful for anyone who has to spend lots of time in a courtroom and is not personally invested in the case.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

A former neighbor of mine was a court reporter and she liked to read any type of mystery. She just liked a good read.

But I think I'd gravitate to humorous mysteries, whatever the genre, to break the dreariness of the proceedings.

Or maybe one would read mysteries which expose the issues--such as corporate/financial themes--if one is sitting in during such a trial.

And then one could laugh out loud during breaks--if one could read then in the courtroom.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But then one would run the risk of recalling at work the humorous mystery one had read during one's break and laughing out loud at a moment of high tension in the courtroon.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Peter, I imagine that even the Navy (where I was a court reporter many decades ago) has caught up with the twenty-first century, which would mean that the ancient technology I used has been replaced and improved. Of course, even microphones in front of all people involved in the trial would require a backup, which is provided by the court reporter. Perhaps it would interest you to know that court reporters were often surprised during the transcription process (i.e., typing out the verbatim transcript after the trial); reporters (like me) had not realized much of what had been actually said (because of that day-dreaming I commented upon earlier).

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What do court reporters do in the case of outbursts from a spectator? Do they transcribe them? And would they transcribe a judge's admonition to the spectators to shut up?

Once again, it does interest but not surprise me that court reporters would be surprised by how much they had transcribed. One would hope that the post-trial description permitted the same sort of mental detachment and day-dreaming that the in-court work did.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Peter, my experience is limited to the military courtroom, and--as you can probably imagine--outbursts and high drama are almost nonexistent issues (notwithstanding fictional movie depictions). The largest problem for court reporters--at least based on my experience with the closed microphone verbatim repetition system--involves people who speak at the same time as someone else and people who speak too quickly. Here is another anecdote: one of my first court reporting assignments involved a larceny case in which many of the witnesses (from the Philipines) spoke with an accent; my verbatim repetition--I was surprised to discover--included mimicry of the accented English. But, you have probably heard enough from my court reporting memoirs. Isn't it odd how your simple question about reading habits became highjacked by a former court reporter? As the highjacker, I apologize.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not at all. Such highjackings are the pearls of conversation. And, good god, what would you do when people would interrupt each other?

And have you read any of Martin Limón's crime novels? Here's what I wrote about him after a panel at Bouchercon 2009:

Martin Limón noted the dreadful toll of the Korean War and the country's current success as a robust, if sometimes spectacularly fractious, democracy. The intervening years, he said, offered "tremendous conflict of gangs, the black marketeers ... In the interim there was a lot of room for crime." Limón, who served twenty years in the U.S. army, said there was much to admire about that institution. Nonetheless, he said, "the military does not talk about crime unless it has to." And that sounds like a superb source of tension for a crime novel.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

The military, to my mind, has always been careful about (allergic to) publicity about whatever crime problems it might have in its ranks. Military society is, after all, a closed, specialized society for many practical and sensible reasons; naive civilians gawking at the military's management of justice has never been in the military's interest. Still, with that having been said, and building upon your comment about Limon, I would simply point to the Fort Hood terrorist murder case as a perfect recent example; yes, the media (i.e., the public) had what seemed to be plenty of access at the outset, but you will notice that the media has said virtually nothing for quite a while, and I suspect that this has more to do with the military's aversion to outside observation and interference than with any other factors. Now, as for fictional renderings of crime in the military, there may be plenty of good examples (though I can think of none at the moment), and perhaps we ought to attribute that to the foregoing division between military and civilian interests; in other words, civilians understand police and society (largely due to experience, television, and movies) but civilians do not really understand the military justice system (largely due to limited exposure and few examples from television and movies).

February 25, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Postscript:
NCIS, by the way, like its ancestor JAG, is a bizarre fictional distortion of the real world of military investigations and military justice. I was with the JAG Corps for the last half of my career, and I can promise you that both of the aforementioned television programs are twisted and laughable visions,

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I haven't read Limon yet, though I have one of his novels in the TBR pile. But I suspect you would enjoy a chat with him. His discussion at Bouchercon took in precisely the issues you discussed: the military and its aversion to publicity. And he is certainly in a position to know what he's talking about.

His protagonists are military, at least one of them an MP.

February 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I am well prepared to believe that a novel would be superior to a network television show in its depiction of reality. I hold forth against television here.

February 25, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Re: crimes and the military: What about the movie, "A Few Good Men," with Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore and Tom Cruise.

And there's a movie out, "High Crimes," with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, based on the book by Joseph Finder. Judd's husband is accused of an old murder which is covered up by the military.

There's also, "In the Valley of Elah," with a superb Tommy Lee Jones, about a murder of a member of the military near a military base.

There are also some older movie classics on this topic.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

High Crimes, esepcially, sounds worth a look. I wonder how many of the older movies deal forthrightly and convincingly with the military's aversion to publicity. Or the newer ones, for that matter.

Thanks.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger polusladkaia said...

This link was just forwarded to me by a friend. I am a court reporter whose lifetime reading obsessions have focused on classic literature from several cultures. Now I read primarily mysteries. Sitka's John Straley is a favorite -- lush and lyrical indeed. Currently reading Robert Wilson and Henning Mankell and Dennis Lehane. Coming to terms with mortality and the human capacity for evil are huge questions I confront every day in the real world. For some reason it is harder for me to read any type of "true crime," although I respect Ann Rule and her work and its reasons.
By the way, as a court reporter I use both that little steno machine and the voicemask system (alternatives, not together). Each produces the same result nowadays, a transcript appearing in realtime on the computer screen. Editing still required via keyboard.
Oh, and my experience is that what happens in the courtroom is often far funnier than any fictional situation, or far darker.
To get away from all of it, I paint pictures.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And pictures with rich, vivid colors, I might add.

I normally write about crime fiction from outside North America, but Sitka might be unfamiliar enough for me to take a look at John Straley. Thanks.

Thanks, too, for your mentioning your reluctance to read true crime. I can well imagine that you get enough true crime every day.

Do you edit on screen after a court session is over? And I think I mentioned above the down time even in an exciting to-and-a-half week murder trial I covered years ago as a reporter. Quite a bit of it was filled with humor, some of it necessarily of an, er, gallows variety, though the trial took place in a non-death-penalty state.

February 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and thanks for your comment. Thanks, too, to your friend for forwarding it to you.

February 26, 2010  

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