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Training Matters: Shorthand still vital in the digital age

kg leowhitlock 30.12.10For Kentish Gazette editor and journalism lecturer Leo Whitlock, shorthand is still a vital skill in any newsroom that wants to break stories and set the agenda. As guest speaker at the NCTJ’s annual shorthand seminar today, he explains why it’s still relevant even in the digital age.

A quick glance at Hold The Front Page or any other journalism-related website and it quickly becomes evident life in our newsrooms is changing fast and has been for years.

Reporters once dedicated to filling a newspaper are populating websites, promoting their stories on social media and using their smartphones to send video and audio back to base.

So why do editors still set so much store on their reporters having 100wpm shorthand?

It all boils down to trust. We have to be certain they will get the stories that matter to our audiences and we have to be certain the story they file is right.

A shorthand note is vital in ensuring we can get rid of the spurious complaints that land on all of our desks and are confident when replying to lawyers or the team at IPSO.

You know that a reporter armed with a certificate for 100wpm is really serious about being accurate.
Cracking Teeline is tough, a rite of passage, so you also know they are determined and tenacious in acquiring a skill they will use every day of their working life.

Those are two qualities every great reporter needs in abundance.

For an editor, 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 or equivalent 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.

None of this stops a reporter making an audio or video recording of events too, especially if they have a sister radio station or carry audio on their website.
If there is any truth in the maxim, if it can go wrong it will, then having a plan A, B and C that includes shorthand is only sensible even if some regard it as old-fashioned.

The digital world has made being fast and accurate more important than ever. Shorthand can only help with those demands. Why would you not learn it?

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  • June 18, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    wouldn’t get too hung up on it. One of the finest and most versatile hacks I ever worked with did not have a scribble of shorthand.
    Some with a zillion words a minute cannot put a story together in plain English using good grammar or sense a story angle. Useful to get a job though.

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