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Court Reporter fails to beat stenographic record

TOM GARDNER, Associated Press Writer

SPARKS, Nev. (AP) — A fictitious traffic accident wrecked a court reporter’s chance Friday to beat an 81-year-old stenographic record.

Taking dictation at speeds rivaling an auctioneer’s chant, Mark Kislingbury set out to establish a new speed record during the National Court Reporters Association’ annual convention at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

But in a simulated question-and-answer session about a collision at an intersection, Kislingbury fell behind the staccato delivery in a section describing the traffic light.

“I had to drop (words) to catch up to where they were at,” he said. “That one spot was a little harder than I thought it would be. On any given day, anyone can write poorly, including myself.”

The dictation consisted of 360 words delivered in one minute. Kislingbury’s goal was 95 percent accuracy, or 18 errors. He had 27 for 92.5 percent.

“I just had to cut nine of them,” he said, vowing to take another crack at the record.

His intention was to exceed the 350 words a minute set in 1922 by Nat Behren, with some differences.

When Behren set the standard recognized by the association, he used a pen and shorthand. There is no record of his accuracy and it’s not known if unfamiliar material was used.

Kislingbury used the stenotype machine common in courtrooms and new material.

“I thought it would inject a little excitement into our profession,” he said. “It’s a really exciting career.”

Kislingbury, a freelance court reporter and closed captioner from Houston, is a repeat winner in the association’s speed competition with a rate of 280 words a minute and 99.5 percent accuracy. He practiced at up to 450 words a minute.

He said his purpose is to attract new recruits to the profession.

“If students knew we existed and what an exciting career it is, they would come flocking in,” he said.

“I’m competitive and I like challenge and I want to give back to this profession by inspiring and motivating people.”

Most court reporters go to school for six to nine months to learn the stenotype machines and to hone their language skills, particularly in scientific, medical and legal areas, Kislingbury said.

Words are typed into the machines in a brief form by hitting a combination of keys on the machine, “like a piano player hits a chord,” he said.

The speed is just slightly slower than an auctioneer’s spiel.

Greg “Lightning” Williams of Lightning Auctions in Sparks said every auctioneer’s chant is unique, with some words clipped and filler words added.

As an experiment, he counted to 100 by 5s — 28 words — at auction speed in 4 seconds, a pace of 420 words a minute.

Along with speed, Kislingbury said court reporters and caption writers — both use the same machine — have to be accurate.

“With baseball players and their batting average, 40 percent is fantastic,” he said. “We feel 99 percent is fantastic.

“We have to know the difference between those words that sound alike but are spelled differently and you’ve got to hit the right one on the fly,” he said.

He likened court reporting to basketball.

“When you learn shorthand, it’s like a high school varsity player. The general public can’t do shorthand. When you go from school to become a court reporter it’s like a college Division I player. But to become a captioner, 99 percent and higher, is like an NBA player. We want to take some kids and turn them into NBA players.”

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On the Net: National Court Reporters Association Web site: http://www.ncraonline.org