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Training Matters: From deputy editor to shorthand tutor

Jon Simcock was deputy editor and news editor at the Shropshire Star for 10 years until leaving the paper in 2013 to set up his own independent media business. He now works with a number of magazines and PR companies, and teaches shorthand to NCTJ students at Glyndŵr University in Wrexham. He is currently one of three journalists who teach shorthand on NCTJ-accredited courses.

It is 9am on the coldest, wettest, bleakest morning imaginable in Wrexham.

For my sins (and there have been many) I am standing in front of a class of 10 journalism students in a cavernous lecture room. We are about to set out on a great journey that leads to 100 words-a-minute shorthand.

Just a few months earlier I had been running one of the country’s finest newsrooms, living the minute-by-minute, blood-and-guts thrill of putting together a multi-edition, same-day evening paper.

It was a job I had done for 10 years. And, in truth, it was a job I was damned good at.

So how did I come to be here, revisiting skills I had first acquired a quarter of a century earlier in a subterranean classroom in Wolverhampton, where I had somehow managed to pass the 120 words-per-minute exam?

The simple answer is fate.

I had left the Shropshire Star of my own choice to seek new challenges and immediately found myself rushed off my feet. Work was pouring in and everything was looking pretty rosy. Then my sister, who runs the NCTJ course at Glyndŵr University, was hit by a family tragedy. It was my offer of help that led to my current position as a shorthand tutor.

My lack of formal teaching experience was not a huge drawback, as I am being trained on the job. What really counts is my first-hand knowledge – and I certainly bring plenty of real-life newsroom experience. I am able to convey the need for shorthand in a way a non-journalist can’t: I relate the seemingly endless drilling and dictation to life at the coal front and place it firmly in the context of their budding careers.

My students seem to appreciate the fact that I have been through exactly the same ordeal as them, albeit in the very dim and distant past. When I told them the secret to success was practice, practice, practice, they believed me. When I guaranteed them pain and misery, they accepted it. And when I told them they would succeed, they did succeed.

Their results have, quite frankly, been better than I could have dared hoped for. With each success I have grown more proud of each of them. They are a terrific bunch and have taught me as much as I could have hoped to teach them.

From that first lesson to this day, there has been no looking back. I am a lecturer now. And I love it.


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  • April 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I have to take my hat off to this man! I have been teaching journalists for twenty years and at times it has been hard going (and I was trained!)
    I first learned Pitman shorthand in 1966 and then had to adapt to Teeline, actually learning the system whilst I was being trained to teach it! Now that was hard going! I always tell my students that and it seems to spur them on.

    It is not an easy subject to teach. I think the fact that it involves a lot of repetition is also hard to convey. However, once this sinks in I (usually) find they knuckle under and endure it for the few months it takes!

    I also teach other workers, but I find that journalists generally have ‘ants in their pants’ (speaking metaphorically). They want it done quickly so that they can move on!

    However, I have had some great successes including a girl who passed at 140 wam in 1999. I even taught a girl who was deaf and she had to lip read and write shorthand at the same time. She was not a journalists but reached 80 wam.

    I still bump into ‘old students'; and they always say that they could not manage without their shorthand.

    I did meet an editor one day many years ago who swore me to secrecy and told me had never passed his 100 wam! No I won’t be blackmailed into giving his name! I still remember him telling his journalists that shorthand skills were imperative!

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  • April 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I once worked with an old journo, recently deceased sadly, who had been working for about 50 years covering everything from murder trials to council debates , sport opera and theatre. He did not possess a squiggle of shorthand and never had a single complaint of misquoting, let alone a court case.
    Its ironic that there are still news editors etc out there in charge similarly unqualified , not all old, while their reporters are better qualified.

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