“But it’s the feeling of being a fly on the wall as history is happening. That’s what really turned me on about [the job]. That’s what I try to make people realize when they would think, ‘I don’t know if I want to come here.’ It’s like the best job! It is. If what you’re going to do is sit in a room quietly and listen to other people talk—you know, they’re going to run for President! You know what I mean? It’s like, it’s history. That’s, I think, the most important thing.”
—Joe Strickland, November 14, 2018
From 1993 to 2015, Joe Strickland worked as an official reporter in the House of Representatives, becoming chief reporter in 2005. In the first half of his oral history, Strickland explains machine stenography—the action of writing shorthand on a machine—and how it differs from typing on a computer. Instead of typing each letter in a word, stenographers record syllables. Strickland demonstrates the technique, which he likens to playing chords on a piano, using a circa 1950 La Salle stenotype machine from the House Collection. He compares the older machine to his modern model, pointing out the dramatic difference in technology.
In the second half of the interview, Strickland describes his career in the House of Representatives. He discusses the differences between reporting on the House Floor and in committee hearings and recounts the State of the Union Addresses and other memorable Joint Sessions of Congress he witnessed. Strickland reflects on the Transcript (PDF)historic moments he experienced throughout his tenure and encourages young reporters to seek a career in the House.
For more than two decades, Joe Strickland worked as an official reporter in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2005, he became chief reporter.
With help of modern machines, stenographers use shorthand to record speech at 225 words or more a minute. Strickland began learning stenography in 1990, in Richardson, Texas, after he earned advanced degrees in music. He practiced on an electric manual machine which used ink, paper tape, and an electronic component that advanced the paper. When he graduated from court-reporting school, he purchased a computer-compatible machine and started his career as a live closed-captionist with a local TV news station in El Paso, Texas. A year later, he moved to Washington, DC, and worked as a freelance court reporter. With the encouragement of one of his colleagues, Strickland interviewed with the House of Representatives and was hired as an official reporter in 1993.
At the time, the House split reporting work between two offices: the Official Reporters of Debates Office covered the proceedings on the House Floor and the Official Reporters to Committees Office reported committee work. Strickland began his House career in the committee office. When the offices merged in the 104th Congress (1995–1997), Strickland volunteered to cross-train and work on the floor, which involved learning parliamentary procedure and a specialized rotation schedule. As chief reporter, Strickland oversaw the production of transcripts for the Congressional Record and led the transition to a completely paperless reporting process. During his time in the House, he reported several Joint Sessions of Congress and State of the Union Addresses.
Strickland retired from the House in 2015 and continues to work as a freelance court reporter. His current machine is completely computerized and translates his stenography into English on the screen.
Stenography and Shorthand
Joe Strickland defines shorthand and machine stenography.
Thinking in Sounds
Joe Strickland remembers learning machine stenography theory and building speed in court reporting school.
Keys on a Stenotype Machine: Part One
Joe Strickland explains the stenotype keys and different grouping of letters that translate into specific sounds.
Keys on a Stenotype Machine: Part Two
Joe Strickland highlights a special key used to distinguish one homonym from another and shorten repeated phrases.
Two Reporting Offices
Joe Strickland recalls the administrative structure of the House reporting offices in 1993.
Joe Strickland describes the administrative changes among the reporting offices under new House Leadership in the 104th Congress (1995–1997).
House Schedule: Part One
Joe Strickland explains the effect the House's legislative schedule had on his work schedule.
House Schedule: Part Two
Joe Strickland recalls the longest day he ever worked.
Rotation of Reporters
Joe Strickland outlines the specialized schedule reporters follow on the House Floor.
Davis, Davis, and Davis
Joe Strickland describes reporting a committee hearing and methods of differentiating between Members with the same last name.
Before the Internet
Joe Strickland remembers the reference notebooks he and his colleagues created before the internet.
Joe Strickland recollects procuring paperless machines for the House.
"Fly on the Wall as History Is Happening"
Joe Strickland reflects on the historic nature of being a House official reporter.
1950s Stenotype Machine
Joe Strickland explains how to use a stenotype machine using the House Collection's 1950s model.
Joe Strickland remembers the maintenance required for older stenotype machines.
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