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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”