City News speaks with a court reporter from a local news organization (who cannot be named) to find out how those reports make their way so quickly into the next day’s papers.
How do you manage to catch everything that is being said in court?
Shorthand! It’s very important to know shorthand—it saves you a lot of time. Shorthand is basically a combination of many squiggles and shapes that we are able to read and understand. For reporters, we attend a course to learn this. However, even after attending the course, you really need to keep practicing. Court reporting is a good way to practice, simply because of the sheer speed information transpires. The more you use it, the better you get.
And how do you manage to stay alert during the less stimulating parts of a court proceeding, for example when going through technical details?
We really cannot afford to fall asleep at all, so if there are really dry moments, I’ll start scribbling on my notebook or flipping through documents, just to keep myself doing something apart from waiting for the information to flow. And if I see that my writing is starting to trail off, then I’ll change what I’m doing. For example, instead of writing, maybe I’ll check my e-mail for a minute or two.
How about sweets or snacks?
I usually won’t eat anything to stay awake, because I want to try my best not to miss anything.
How do you deal with the tight deadlines?
It’s one of the requirements of the job—you just have to be able to think fast. For myself, while still in the courtroom, I’m actually already thinking about the arguments, and I have a sheet ready in front of me, which I use to write down what I think are the main points. As the trial progresses, I will keep adding to the list whenever I hear a good point, and I keep signposting and highlighting important quotes during the course of the trial, so that makes it fast for me to draft out my article.
What are some of the interesting aspects of court reporting to you?
Sometimes, even the hearing of charges can be very interesting, especially in cases where there is public interest, because the persons involved only appear for a really short time yet you have to be able to capture all that is being read out.
Concurrently, in your mind you will have to quickly make sense of details like who the person is, why he or she is being charged, what did this person do etc. Sentencing hearings are interesting too as you will be excited to know which side won, especially in cases where the arguments are compelling on both sides.
Finally, what makes a good court reporter?
I think you have to be very objective and not biased towards any side, so that you can constantly keep your balance in assessing the arguments put forward by both the prosecution and the defense. You have to be very sharp too, so that you don’t miss out on arguments. People are not going to alert you whenever there’s a key point being raised.
Accuracy is of paramount importance as well; if you quote people wrongly, it may possibly put a different spin on what was being said, and that may end up damaging somebody’s reputation or testimony, so you have to be very sensitive to that.