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Dyson at Large: The passionate debate about shorthand

Superman's shorthandOne of the best things about the UK media is the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) – upholding widely-respected benchmarks for skills and standards since 1951.

The majority of today’s journalists – especially in newspapers – were only able to enter the trade after passing four mandatory building blocks of competence on NCTJ-accredited courses: reporting, law, public affairs and shorthand.

For many that last subject – shorthand – was the biggest and sometimes most frustrating challenge, often involving daily 9am-10am sessions for months to work up the wrist-aching frenzy needed to pass the 100wpm exam that employers demanded.

But once passed, the skill became a crucial, flexible and reliable tool, enabling journalists to record what anyone was saying – in any situation – using nothing more technical than a pencil and paper.

It’s perhaps this background to so many careers that’s led to such a passionate debate about shorthand, following the NCTJ’s proposals to make that skill an optional one for some students.

Everything changes, of course, and over the years other elements have been added to the current Diploma in Journalism which now includes media regulation and ethics as part of its core modules.

But the proposed structure for the new Diploma – created after an in-depth review – only has three ‘mandatory skills’ modules: media law and regulation; journalism (including digital, data and social journalism, as well as traditional news writing); and ethics.

The details describe how students will then have to choose at least one of the following six ‘sector skills’ modules, also termed ‘pathways’ by the NCTJ:

  • advanced digital journalism;
  • broadcast journalism;
  • news journalism;
  • magazine journalism;
  • PR and communications; and
  • international journalism.

All other modules – including shorthand – are termed ‘elective skills’, which means that would-be journalists may no longer have to worry about Teeline (nor, for that matter, public affairs, but that’s another story!), depending on their chosen pathways.

This is no issue for some, including David Higgerson, digital publishing director for Trinity Mirror’s regional titles, whose blog on the subject was headlined: ‘The long and short of shorthand is this: it’s useful, but not proof that you can be a journalist in 2015’.

He argued: “A reporter going to court surely needs shorthand, a sports writer who feels confident relying on their mobile phone for interview transcripts probably doesn’t. A brilliant social media editor will not be defined by whether they can do 100 words a minute shorthand.”

But others appear more concerned at the proposals, including Graham Dudman, The Sun’s former managing editor, now a consultant at News Associates, officially the NCTJ’s top journalism school.

He blogged: “A reporter isn’t the finished article until they’ve passed their NCTJ shorthand at 100 words a minute. Why?

“Because the ability to write down what somebody says at the same time they’re saying it then read your note back instantly is essential … Smartphones are wonderful devices but listening to and transcribing an interview takes way longer than reading a shorthand note which could mean failure in a race to a deadline.”

Leo Whitlock, editor of the Kentish Gazette, described the wider essentials of shorthand in a blog published before the NCTJ’s proposals were launched.

He wrote: “It’s reassuring to know the reporter answering the phone to someone with a tip off, an eyewitness account or a complaint will be able to take the details down and relay them to you, accurately, in an instant.

“You know you can send a reporter with 100wpm shorthand armed with just a pen (possibly a spare) and a notebook to a council meeting, court case, film premiere and to an all-important interview and be certain they will come back with the story.

“It will not matter one iota if the battery died in their dictaphone or smartphone, if background noise drowned out the key quote or if they thought they had pressed record when they had not. They will not be fazed by the unfriendly football manager holding his post-match press conference close to the groundsman cutting the grass.

“They will be able to transcribe the killer quotes for a breaking news story quickly and accurately without forwarding and rewinding, forwarding and rewinding the audio they have collected. Shorthand can only help them to break news before their rivals, vital in every marketplace.”

It’s worthwhile emphasising that the NCTJ has no intention of abandoning shorthand; it’s simply proposing to make it a choice rather than a compulsion for its Diploma, unless you’re taking the ‘news journalism’ pathway where it’s still required.

But there is concern that by making shorthand ‘elective’ many students may be able to do just that: select a sexier-sounding pathway – ‘international journalism’ sounds good, for example, as does ‘advanced digital journalism’ – with no requirement for shorthand.

That’s fine, some might say, shorthand’s not essential in such roles, although others would argue that any journalist will, at some point, have to interview to verify digital facts, provide balance, add human interest colour or get off-the-record guidance – which is when shorthand’s so useful.

And what’s to stop a student taking the non-shorthand route but then later applying for and getting a newsroom role that needs it?

No-one wants this to result in any confusion about what’s currently a universally-accepted ‘gold’ standard, but that’s the worry for some, as summarised by a media employer who told me: “There should be space for all the skills – old, new and emerging – but we shouldn’t cast off seven decades of tradition on a whim …

“Right now I know I can trust an NCTJ Diploma as gold standard – I know what I’m getting. If some are allowed to opt in and out around different pathways … that kitemark could be devalued …

“Our biggest concern is devaluing the qualification and seeing some students … being taught the ‘NCTJ Lite’ (non shorthand) and getting into the workplace and finding out they’d wasted their money.”

A little mischievously, I ran a quick survey on the proposed changes via @stevedyson on Twitter on Saturday 28 November, asking: ‘Should shorthand remain one of the compulsory core skills for @NCTJ_news diploma?’.

Of 173 people who voted, 68pc said ‘Yes’ and a mini-Twitter storm ensued, although it must be said that the survey question offered little background.

Today’s blog is my attempt to provide that context, and if you’re interested you should read all the consultation information and send your views to lyn.jones@nctj.com by 15 January 2015.

For what it’s worth, here’s my feedback: the NCTJ (for whom I regularly work and have great respect) is right to be proposing a newly-shaped Diploma that caters for all media sectors and journalism jobs, not just newspapers.

But is it absolutely necessary to make shorthand non-mandatory for five out of six ‘pathways’ leading to the Diploma?

Shorthand could be retained as a must-have for all students, making their skills even more marketable and flexible in a fast-changing media world – and at the same time preserving positive perceptions of the NCTJ’s ‘gold’ standard.

Even if all the proposed changes go ahead, stronger language is arguably needed for the labels outlining the new structure.

Shorthand could, for example, still be listed under the ‘mandatory’ section, with brackets explaining that it can only become ‘elective’ under certain circumstances – which might make students think more carefully before avoiding it.

And the resulting Diploma could be given specific titles depending on the different skills it’s taken to achieve, making sure its value is unequivocal to all in the marketplace.

33 comments

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  • December 9, 2015 at 9:57 am
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    A great journalist is, rightly, defined by the possession of those certain skills that CAN’T be taught – knowing when to speak and when to listen, how to assess information, being able to get over the threshold of a tricky interview, and suppressing personal feelings and politics sufficiently enough to prevent you from appearing like a colossal wazzock etc.

    They are all wonderful assets that cannot be delivered in a classroom. They are the instinctual skills which enhance the NCTJ qualification. Good instinct sets great journalists apart from their peers.

    However, of all the key pillars of an NCTJ Diploma – the things that we can teach to prospective journalists in classrooms – shorthand must be, above all others, the most vital. It’s the lifeblood at the core of all those things that make a journalist.

    Without shorthand, you lack a vital skill. One that enables you to be on your way to becoming a complete journalist, whether you possess the unteachable attributes or not.

    If the NCTJ chooses to make shorthand optional, then, in my view, it is heading towards creating a separate, less prestigious qualification – a diploma designed for content creators, not journalists.

    Here’s a thought: If you do not have the ability to create a contemporaneous record of a conversation or event, are you really a journalist?

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:08 am
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    ‘And the resulting Diploma could be given specific titles depending on the different skills it’s taken to achieve, making sure it’s value is unequivocal to all in the marketplace.’

    Do subs need shorthand?

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:19 am
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    OK admission time folks. I’ve worked in journalism for nearly 25 years and am not NCTJ-qualified and do not have shorthand. My first three years as a reporter I spent on two different newspapers – part of that time was spent covering proceedings in magistrates courts and much of it at council meetings. Somehow I coped, with a mixture of my own hastly scribbled notes and by asking other reporters about court/council procedure. I’ll be honest it was a hairy time and I was always worried that I’d be exposed as an unqualified journalist by making some huge bloomer in a story. It was for this reason I switched to working in production and have been a newspaper designer/subeditor ever since. Bizarrely, even today I still feel guilty that I’m not a “qualified” journalist although I’m sure my skills are much better than most new entrants to the industry who are qualified. I’m grateful for the time I spent in courts and councils as it’s given me an insight into how these places work and the language they use. I regret not knuckling down and getting my shorthand because it’s stopped me moving back into reporting, which was mostly something I enjoyed. Do I think shorthand is essential for a career as a reporter? Well, yes, I do actually. Although in a lot of stories you can paraphrase the meaning of what someone’s said and put it in quote marks and no one will be any wiser, in court cases I think a verbatim record is essential. You are dealing with important issues here and misquoting someone could have serious consequences for how either the accused or the victim are viewed by members of the public. There is also the danger that you could write something that could interrupt proceedings. For my own part I twice started shorthand lessons but really struggled with it and lacked the motivation to continue. Just wondered what other people’s views on this are.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:24 am
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    Indeed … and I genuinely don’t understand Higgerson’s suggestion that a social media editor doesn’t need shorthand. Unless they spend their professional lives communicating in sound-bites of 140 characters or less, how do they talk to people and precis their thoughts? How also might they move to other positions in the news-room which aren’t focused on social media?
    I recall during the Twitter-storm mentioned by Steve that someone in editorial management inferred that it didn’t make sense to train someone in shorthand, only for them to fly elsewhere.
    Commercial/financial ‘sense’ I assume he meant, rather than journalistic
    I recently covered a 90-minute debate (for colleagues of Steve at 501 Publishing as it happens) involving eight speakers, one of whom rattled along at 180 wpm – and as he was the VIP guest, he did a lot of rattling.
    I recorded everything on my little Olympus, but shorthand was vital to highlight key moments, to note the time at which different speakers came in, and to get a feel for the flow of the debate.
    Without shorthand, I’d have had to (very slowly) transcribe all 90 minutes, then to start sifting through the notes to see who was speaking and when, and finally to start thinking how my precis of the debate should flow.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:24 am
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    Good spot, Citizen Sane… I’ve now corrected. Would you like a very part-time job as my proof-reader?

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:33 am
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    As someone with 100wpm shorthand who still uses it on a daily basis at work I still find myself agreeing with Mr Higgerson.
    There are some, select times when 100wpm is crucial: court cases, inquests, press conferences and perhaps some council meetings. Beyond this most reporting circumstances simply do not require verbatim quotes and it is indulgent of those who possess the skill to suggest that they do.
    In four years on newspapers I cannot recall a single interview I had in which the person was, or would have wanted to be, quoted entirely word for word. Not least because people speak in ways they wouldn’t wish to be quoted; they cut themselves off, they use too many clauses in sentences and they backtrack.
    For the same reasons that face-to-face or phone interviews are vastly superior to email contact in getting someone’s true feelings or views (because the interviewee doesn’t have time to go away and consider their answer) verbatim quotes are, more often that not, of no real use.
    What is of crucial importance, is that the reporter gains notes which allow them to get across a full understanding of what view or feeling the person was trying to portray and of course gets down any particularly juicy quotes.
    That is the real skill of reporting, not the 100wpm shorthand. I’ve met many reporters in my time who had fantastically speedy and legible shorthand, but didn’t possess the journalistic nous to pick out that killer quote or the real gist of what a person was saying and they missed the real story.
    I agree with the point that reporters shouldn’t routinely rely on playback on devices to record what people have said, not only because it wastes time but because barring certain circumstances it is simply not necessary.
    I expect a stream of comments to follow this story exalting the benefits of 100pm but my guess is that will largely come from a place of ‘well I had to do it, so you should to’.
    As someone with the skill I can say that it has proved useful on many occasions in my career. But do I think that I would have fallen foul of any laws or had any complaints about misquoting had I not possessed the skill? I can honestly say ‘no’. Because with very few exceptions the quotes I used in stories were a fair, accurate summary of what the person had said including the best verbatim titbits from the conversation. Not once did this result in a person contacting me to say they had been misrepresented.
    Moreover, some of the best journalists I have known were unable to progress to senior level because they were not able to get the 100wpm shorthand preliminary and that situation is a travesty.
    So for once I find myself agreeing with the approach the body is taking here.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 10:52 am
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    Given the choice, I would certainly have opted out of taking shorthand but it’s the single-most useful skill I took out of the NCTJ and an asset which gives candidates with it the edge in any future career that involves manipulating words. Anyone taking the NCTJ would be well advised to grit their teeth and go for the 100 wpm regardless of whether they end up as a journalist, sports writer, teacher, social worker or ice road trucker. What’s more worrying, but not at all surprising, is the proposal to make public affairs elective, but I suppose you don’t need to know how local authorities are structured or how the houses of parliament interact to post pictures of cats farting on your ‘newspaper’ website, I suppose.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    We weren’t allowed to cover courts unless we had shorthand because if any question of accuracy in reporting arose, a note in anything other than shorthand wasn’t considered contemporaneous and was therefore harder to defend. And you can’t use electronic devices in court in any case. Though I did know a news agency boss who reported juicy local court stories for the nationals in longhand and got away with it, as far as I know, though perhaps he wouldn’t have if the news editors commissioning him had known. I’ve seen feature writers spend all day, literally, on a piece a few hundred words long because instead of eight pages of shorthand with all the best quotes highlighted with a quick dash of the pen in the margin, they had to transcribe thousands of words, most of them useless verbiage, from a Dictaphone to find the couple of quotes they wanted. Not having Teeline just seemed like a colossal waste of time. And I still find it useful even though I no longer use it every day, or even every month. More than anything, however, I think its marginalisation symbolises the simultaneous reduction in skills and increase in pretentiousness which infects the industry. How many of the aspirants opting to train in ‘international journalism’ will ever get within a mile of such a job? I’m reminded of a friend who took the journalism course at City University and was the only one in her intake who actually wanted to be a reporter; all the others fancied themselves as TV presenters. Fat chance. If they’re lucky, they’ll end up like the rest of us, cutting our teeth on the local rag, if it still exists, or doing agency work, and shorthand remains vital, for all the technical reasons outlined above. Though if the NCTJ is determined to drop it as a compulsory element, perhaps it’d consider replacing it with qualifications in basic spelling and grammar, which would earn it the undying gratitude of subs and literate readers everywhere.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 11:20 am
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    I have seen several journalism courses that waste time delivering shorthand but neglect the real core skills – what is a story?, social media etc. They simply can’t cram it all in. Focus on the future of journalism, not the neglected tools of the past.

    As for me, I haven’t used shorthand since passing my exam in 1988. And, yes, I am still a journalist.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 11:40 am
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    Unqualified journo: The only thing you seem unqualified for is court reporting. Recording devices are allowed in council meetings; in most settings recording an interview is fine.

    Court reporting tends to be a specialism these days, even on the regional press.

    It will be argued that recording is time consuming when it comes to writing. It’s not if use the recording in conjunction with a notebook. In the notebook, put down the times of the good quotes.

    That means they are easy to find.

    It is no different to puttting marks next to your shorthand to indicate where the good quotes are.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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    I find shorthand a massive time-saver, as much as anything else.

    I frequently write large (1,500 to 2,000 words or more) features for my paper and the process is far quicker when I take carefully selected shorthand notes.

    If I record the whole interview, I get all the boring or irrelevant parts and have to replay it in real-time to pick out the key aspects. That’s a real chore if you’ve been talking to someone for an hour or near enough.

    With shorthand I can quickly flick back through my notes as a refresher then get straight into writing.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm
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    As someone who worked for the author of this piece for several years without shorthand, I can safely say it didn’t hamper my development. I firmly agree it should be optional. Journalism is – whether we like it or not – no longer a one size fits all profession. For every editor who says he wants shorthand, there will be another role where they would prefer things such as data skills, community management and the all important ‘what’s a story?’.

    No two jobs are the same so why should the required skills always be the same? If people choose not to do shorthand then it’s just that – a choice. They know it means they probably won’t get a court reporting job, but then they probably never wanted to do that in the first place.

    Newspapers have spent so long struggling with digital because they didn’t understand the idea of choice and assumed people would stick with their tried and trusted content. It seems they’re in danger of playing the same game with skills.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 4:06 pm
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    For me, making shorthand optional for an aspiring journalist is like making cement mixing optional for a bricklayer.
    All this talk of ‘choice’ and ‘digital’ is doing my nut in, quite frankly. If you don’t want to acquire what is one of the central skills of journalism, then don’t be a journalist.
    Pull out your hashtag and your listicle and find yourself a job among the ever-growing band of ‘social media content creation executives’.
    It’s all well and good having a keen nose for news, but if you haven’t got the ability to get the facts down on paper, what’s the point?

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  • December 9, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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    As a shorthand failure, I have to say I’ve managed perfectly well without 100wpm.
    Listening to what your interviewee is saying (and meaning) and writing down only the quotable quotes gets the job done.
    Shorthand writers don’t always seem to listen with a trained ear for what’s important and blather. I have known people to transcribve their notes before they will start a story.
    If you’ve listened and engaged properly, the story’s already threequarters written in your head without reference to anything.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 5:07 pm
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    I did 40 years and Pitmans was a god-send. In courts, in the scrum at Heathrow etc, umpteen council meetings, and all the usual bump and grind moments over the years. So often I’d be asked by non-shorthand bods “What did he/she say? I didn’t get a proper note.” Inaccurate quotes appeared in their papers and radio/TV.
    Seems to me that, to do the job properly, shorthand is just about vital. We should not let standards slip further while the quality of so many papers has worsened due to cuts. I’m glad I worked in happier more quality times on plump papers with good content.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm
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    ….and…can I add that Pitmans enabled me to often get on a phone fast and dictate copy just a minute or two after taking the notes. Just a quick marker in the margin next to the best quotes as someone spoke meant the job was so much easier. To be able to rattle off a tale to a copytaker in the early years without having to sit down and write all the story out first. I just didn’t want to be beaten by the competition. Newsdesks were delighted and later news editors in the studio wanting a quick take for the next bulletin. Seconds/minutes counted…

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  • December 9, 2015 at 6:28 pm
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    “Shorthand writers don’t always seem to listen with a trained ear for what’s important and blather. I have known people to transcribve their notes before they will start a story.
    If you’ve listened and engaged properly, the story’s already threequarters written in your head without reference to anything.”

    What absolute nonsense. Interviewing somebody, either face to face or via the phone (or Skype or whatever) and using shorthand engages the journalist, sharpens the mind, makes sure you concentrate on what is being said. As you transcribe into shorthand you stick a big tick mark, smiley face, asterisk, by the killer quote(s). It isn’t rocket science (thank you, Captain Starlight). And what do you do when you are engaged in off-diary stories when you meet a member of the public in a social occasion over a pint who has a cracking tale. Bang a few squiggles on the back of a beermat, tatty notebook, pocket diary. No, sorry, can you hold on? I’ll pop home and charge up my whatever. Call me a dinosaur. They were around for millions of years. In the final analysis, it is a discipline, a bit like mirror signal, manouevre. What has this job come to?

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  • December 9, 2015 at 7:07 pm
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    Digital types should be looking for digital solutions. Hour long audio file? Get it transcribed for naff all via a provider etc.

    I am not going to pay for a translator nor learn several languages but recently did some WW2 research on historical dutch newspapers using Google Translate. Point your iphone at the page and the image changes with the translation.

    There is a fair bit of magic out there, all that actually works and is not just some poxy app or hardware that is crap based around a nice idea. It is like teaching hieroglyphics rather than the future.

    Sorry to those who have been ‘in the game’, but it is simply wrong to hold people back on such things. Excuses of ‘what about being near a lawnmower or batteries running out’ come across as stupid, but *could* happen, as wondering if pens run out or notepads get soaked.

    Ignoring all that, aint it all about a fast track to working in a PR company nowadays?!

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  • December 9, 2015 at 7:36 pm
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    A lot of comments here that hark back to the past.

    Copytakers is the clue.

    Now it is mobile journalism – none of this old-fashioned phoning your copy over for the subs to turn into decent readable copy.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 7:56 pm
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    I’m talking about the need for 100wpm here, Barbarossa.
    I got to 80wpm and plateaued through admittedly a chronic lack of effort. (I was probably in the pub enjoying myself and picking up stories – in that order).
    I’ve done okay and was a court reporter for quite long stretches in my distant past without any problems. Longer quotes were a mix of longhand and shorthand.
    If someone puts me on to a good tale in the pub, I scrounge a pen from somewhere and write down a few phrases on a beermat in longhand! And/or I take their telephone number. Shoot me.

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  • December 9, 2015 at 7:59 pm
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    Barbarossa. Shorthand is useful but it does not always help smooth interviewing. Youngsters especially concentrate so hard on getting their outlines down that they listen to sounds and not sense, so they ask questions parrot fashion. it shows in stilted copy.
    Incidentally the finest journo I ever worked with survived 50 years in the job covering everything from murder trials to council and opera without a note of shorthand and never had a complaint over accuracy. Yes, I suppose he was an exception.

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  • December 10, 2015 at 12:16 am
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    You’re welcome Steve. It’s refreshing to be in a space where such pedantry is greeted with equanimity.

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  • December 10, 2015 at 8:41 am
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    When the hell did we get this lazy? Have a word with yourselves, people!

    “If you’ve listened and engaged properly, the story’s already threequarters written in your head without reference to anything.”

    “I cannot recall a single interview I had in which the person was, or would have wanted to be, quoted entirely word for word.”

    “I haven’t used shorthand since passing my exam in 1988. And, yes, I am still a journalist.”

    “…writing down only the quotable quotes gets the job done.”

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  • December 10, 2015 at 8:47 am
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    Shorthand: an essential, transferrable skill. The real question is why would you NOT want to learn it?

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  • December 10, 2015 at 10:59 am
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    The truth is clearly that journalists can get by without shorthand – we’d be hearing about constant misquoting complaints if they couldn’t.

    Would having shorthand make them better at their job? Yes, it probably would. So I guess it just comes down to motivation and how good you want to be.

    But anyway, debates like this are just a sideshow from the real issues when looking at the future of local journalism – namely, will it still be here in 20 years?

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  • December 10, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    I learned Teeline from Harry Butler and used it constantly as a daily reporter. I’d say it’s an essential skill and one which cannot be replaced by recorders. Pen and paper go anywhere, don’t need batteries and are very discreet. The only problem I ever had was if it rained …

    Now I teach primary age children and it’s still invaluable for making cryptic notes which the nosy little ****s can’t read!

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  • December 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm
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    Re Richard Weston’s remarks.
    My long career straddled the days of old typewriters half filled with fag ash to the latest new fangled electric powered keyboards linked to a screen with words on it.
    But… Thank god we’ve all moved on into technology and dear old Pitmans is still a great asset if you’re to do the job properly and with more satisfaction.

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  • December 10, 2015 at 6:28 pm
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    I’m pretty confused. Why is the NCTJ making this change?

    I’ve read all their consultation reports, and the only inkling I get is that they (the NCTJ) want to make themselves attractive as the accreditation body for PR, TV and online courses.

    But how would this diversification help the NCTJ when they’re so widely respected for upholding standards in journalism?

    And can they not see – from some of the comments above – that the only people who seem keen on ‘no shorthand’ are those who talk about accuracy as if it was passé…

    I’d love to see the NCTJ address mine and the above worries.

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  • December 10, 2015 at 8:08 pm
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    Re: Richard Weston
    “Now it is mobile journalism – none of this old-fashioned phoning your copy over for the subs to turn into decent readable copy.”

    Yes, and we don’t use the same noun twice in the one sentence, whether you use shorthand or write it in the sky in jet streams of gold. But don’t worry, the subs will sort it out.

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  • December 11, 2015 at 5:44 pm
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    I loved watching the young kids proudly boasting about their zillion words a minute shorthand taking every word down at an inquest (including the routine coroners preamble) or council meeting and then spending the rest of the day writing one story! Edit as you go kids! I always have and it has never let me down. Shorthand is useful, make no mistake.

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  • December 15, 2015 at 5:39 pm
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    I passed my Pitman shorthand exam at 113 wpm in 1965 and can still use it effectively, even though I retired from journalism years ago.
    Its greatest benefit was that it was so much more efficient than the alternatives.
    With good shorthand you could turn a story round much quicker than if you were lumbered with a recording device.
    On old-style evening papers – the most demanding of all – it was often necessary to get on the blower pretty damned quick if you were trying to catch the last edition.
    Composing a story in your head from shorthand notes was a great skill
    which the best reporters mastered to perfection.
    With little time to spare for a sub-editor’s intervention, it was necessary to dictate flawless prose at breakneck speed.
    Without good shorthand, it was nigh impossible to do that.
    Though paraphrasing is a useful device, direct quotes undoubtedly add quality to a newspaper story.
    Trying to become a real reporter without shorthand is like trying to become a sprinter with a pulled hamstring.

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  • December 16, 2015 at 9:08 am
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    About time the NCTJ updated a qualification that is about 20yrs out of date.

    I personally think allowing shorthand to be optional is a progressive move too. I know of great long-serving journalists who have reported on things like Champions League nights at the football and various other meetings, events or press conferences without using any shorthand. It sure is nice to have and can be very convenient in some situations like phone conversations etc……..but really if we are still judging and measuring an individual on outdated benchmarks, then journalism is going to lose out.

    An NCTJ Diploma in the modern day should, for me, including things like social media- how to market your content and master SEO, how to newsgather online, the ethics of speaking to a potential source or asking for their video/photo material online etc. Then there’s data journalism and how to best harvest/ present complex stats in a readable format- there’s whole stories waiting to be written off the back of some raw data that may be lurking in a spreadsheet. When studying my degree and NCTJ Diploma I didn’t feel like there was anywhere near the adequate time spent teaching how to best use FoI…………or crucially in times where there’s still job cuts left, right and centre……how to freelance and pitch your own stories!

    All these things need to be held in the same regard as shorthand, public affairs etc and be incorporated into a beefed up, modern NCTJ Diploma…….journalism needs to keep moving forward at the end of the day.

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  • December 22, 2015 at 6:03 pm
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    I’ve found that, quite apart from being a highly dependable way of recording information, shorthand is amazing to people when they see you write it.
    I’ve lost count of how many times someone has seen me jot down their comments and looked at me like I’m an alien writing out a note for my home planet.
    It’s something of a conversation piece.
    Of course, much more importantly, it’s a fantastic tool to have in your news reporting kit.
    The pay rise I got when I passed the test didn’t hurt either 😉

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