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Examiners issue warning over declining shorthand skills

Steve NelsonJournalism examiners have issued a strong warning about what they see as declining standards of shorthand among would-be seniors.

Steve Nelson, left, chief examiner for the National Council for the Training of Journalists, said weak shorthand had left some candidates “guessing” at quotes rather than reporting them verbatim.

His comments came in his report on the March NQJ exam, published today.

Despite the examiners’ concerns, the thrice-yearly exam resulted in a record pass rate of 74pc with 43 candidates qualifying as seniors.

Wrote Steve: “Weak shorthand continues to pose problems with errors in transcription, missed phrases and key words, or leaving the candidate guessing when trying to read back what they have taken down.

“There was a distinct tendency in March for candidates to guess at direct quotes, keeping a similar meaning, but definitely not verbatim. This is a bad habit which will eventually lead to a major mistake on the job. There is no excuse for not keeping shorthand up to speed.

“In recent years shorthand has become steadily weaker. A speed of 100wpm when passing the diploma has tailed off during 18 months on-the-job and too many candidates are not picking up on this, presenting themselves for the NQJ with abilities well below the speed needed.

“With the news report speech varying between 90 and 120wpm it is essential trainees work on their shorthand during their on-the-job period, not just maintaining their speed, but improving it.”

Candidates had to pass each of the four sections in the exam – media law and practice, news report, news interview and logbook.

Here is a summary of Steve’s report on how the candidates performed in each section.

MEDIA LAW AND PRACTICE

Candidates: 59
Passed: 53
Pass rate: 90pc

The media law question was designed to highlight the dangers of retweeting defamatory inferences and was based on the infamous Twitter scenario between Sally Bercow and Lord McAlpine.

Examiners praised “a good set of results with a very worthy award-winning paper” from Luke Sproule of the Oxford Mail.

Their report said it was “pleasing” that many candidates were aware of the new Editor’s Code of Practice published at the beginning of the year.

However they also highlighted some “confused thinking” in the answers to a question based on the Lincolnshire Echo’s coverage of a couple killed in the Tunisian terror attack, testing knowledge of the clauses on accuracy and intrusion into grief and shock.

NEWS REPORT

Candidates: 66
Passed: 52
Pass rate: 79pc

The section featured a story about a top girls’ school poised to open its doors to boys, in a bid to solve the country’s shortage of scientists and engineers.

Although the pass rate increased, the examiners cited “carelessness, laziness and weak shorthand” as the main problems encountered by markers.

“Weak shorthand continues to pose problems with errors in transcription, missed phrases and key words, or leaving the candidate guessing when trying to read back what they have taken down,” said the report.

“In recent years shorthand has become steadily weaker. A speed of 100wpm when passing the diploma has tailed off during 18 months on-the-job and too many candidates are not picking up on this, presenting themselves for the NQJ with abilities well below the speed needed.”

NEWS INTERVIEW

Candidates: 61
Passed: 47
Pass rate: 77pc

The news interview concerned a dramatic story about an attack on a train. Three men punched a female conductor when she asked for their tickets, took her ticket machine and then beat up a male passenger, who went to intervene.

Examiners were looking for candidates with “good chronology and a readable writing style” who caught the drama and had strong quotes.

However, several interview assessors noted that some candidates’ questioning was haphazard, leading to “unstructured.” copy.

The report said:  “Overall, some candidates just did not seem to be able to picture the story before they put the words on the page, ending with a disjointed attempt at what was a dramatic story.”

E-LOGBOOK

Candidates: 55
Passed: 50
Pass rate: 91pc

Examiners praised the e-logbook submissions as “generally good” and described award winner Rachel Conner of The Northern Echo as “a worthy recipient in a cohort which had strong entries.”

However they also highlighted some issues with candidates failing to upload the necessary examples of their work.

The report said:  “While almost all candidates had a clear understanding of what was required in the compilation of this category, there are still some who failed both because content was missing and because their submissions did not match the criteria of the key task.

“Once again there was also the problem of a number of candidates failing to upload either a published story or original copy for their key tasks.”

8 comments

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  • April 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm
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    There’s an increase in tendency to employ untrained media students into new digi roles. Although these roles don’t require journalistic practices such as conducting interviews with shorthand, it’s not a great indication of the future newsroom. Last newspaper I worked in had too few reporters and twice as many digital writers. No one had a clue how to use the phone, take notes or book a photographer.

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  • April 13, 2016 at 12:14 pm
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    oh dear. Learnt Pitman’s shorthand 50 years ago when I started on a paper where the chief reporter was an examiner for the NCTJ so had no choice but to learn it. Has stood me in good stead – esp when challenged by court judges abt reports in the papers. Drive my wife mad, though, as I will write down instructions to go somewhere (sat nag too complicated ) in shorthand and forget to translate them for her to navigate !!!

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  • April 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm
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    Having failed my 100 wpm shorthand exam for the fifth time, received timely boot up the backside from exasperated boss who suggested that if there was a sixth time I’d be back herding sheep down on the family farm. Guess what? I subsequently passed! Farming’s loss was journalism’s gain. obvs…
    Shorthand remains utterly abysmal but I can transcribe it and that’s what counts…

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  • April 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm
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    Outlines ready. Take down this. “Do you do shorthand?”
    “Um, sorry. Can you send me an e mail please”.
    A PR writer who was once a very good news editor told me that they regularly come across young “reporters” who are terrified of going out to meet people to interview them. Has it come to this?

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  • April 13, 2016 at 8:36 pm
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    I may be moving away from the angle of the piece, but congratulations to Luke Sproule on his award. Well deserved, a credit to the Oxford Mail.

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  • April 14, 2016 at 7:33 am
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    I am a shorthand tutor and used to be all over the place even coaching for the speech part of the NCE. With cuts I am afraid editors do not show the interest. I think it would not hurt every journalist to have refreshers now and then which is I what used to do, but there is no money now.
    The whole world of ‘reporting’ is so different now with issuing of press releases which are just re-jigged. Young journalists used to cut their teeth at all sorts of functions. I know because I used to see my learners out and about at shows etc. I never see one now.
    I know someone who finished a degree (??) in journalism two years ago and she still does not have her 100 wam shorthand because the paper won’t pay.
    I used to be able to go to a paper and chivvy students along every week. I used to call it fine tuning of their skills.
    Unfortunately taping conversations is not reliable and people sometimes do not like to be recorded.

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  • April 14, 2016 at 3:43 pm
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    Shorthand lady: Taping conversations not reliable? In what way?
    Anyway I once worked with an older reporter who did have a squiggle of shorthand and survived 50 years doing features, court, inquests, reviews, you name it without a single adjudication against him.
    Shorthand is good: a nose for sniffing out exclusive stories and writing ability are essential.

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  • April 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm
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    sorry. meant did NOT have a squiggle. Where’s a sub when you need one?

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