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Would-be seniors ‘not maintaining shorthand skills’ say examiners

Steve NelsonWould-be seniors are failing to maintain the 100wpm shorthand gained in their Diploma in Journalism exams once they enter the newsroom, examiners have warned.

Steve Nelson, left, chief examiner for the National Council for the Training of Journalists, said candidates should be improving their shorthand skills rather than allowing them to fall back.

His comments came in the detailed report on the March National Qualification in Journalism exam published alongside the results yesterday.

It follows a series of previous warnings by Steve about “weak” shorthand skills which he said had left some candidates “guessing” at quotes rather than reporting them verbatim.

Candidates had to pass each of the four sections in the exam – media law and practice, news report, news interview and logbook – with 41 of the 57 candidates proving successful.

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


Candidates: 50
Passed: 41
Pass rate: 82pc

Question one of the media law and practice paper was designed to test knowledge of the legal and ethical dangers in taking and publishing photographs while the second question focused on reporting of a rape case.

In their report, the examiners said many candidates showed “poor knowledge of privacy problems and how to overcome them.”

“While few candidates failed the ethics question, there were not many outstanding answers. It was disappointing that a few candidates were not aware of the changes to the Editors’ Code.

“Candidates with a good writing style and a logical approach, allied to knowledge, tended to do better. A bullet-point approach when answering these questions is recommended but candidates will not be penalised if they do not adopt this.”


Candidates: 54
Passed: 39
Pass rate: 72pc

The section centred on a story about the closure of a sixth-form college as part of a county council’s £45m ten-year regeneration project for Victorian schools and colleges on its patch.

The examiners said many candidates had made statistical errors in their stories, chiefly around the cost of the rebuild and the government contribution.

Once again, examiners highlighted poor shorthand as an issue, saying: “It is clear that trainees in today’s news rooms are not maintaining the 100wpm gained in their Diploma exams, let alone improving it to the required ability to take short bursts at 120wpm.”

“In addition, they are not listening to what the speaker is saying and putting the story in context.”


Candidates: 54
Passed: 42
Pass rate: 78pc

The news interview concerned a story about the rape of a 14-year-old girl by an attacker who later apologised to her.

Those who passed had a readable writing style, caught the drama and had strong quotes, the examiners said in their report.

There was plenty of detail given about the attack, but despite this many candidates went for what the examiners described as the “pedestrian” intro starting: “Police are hunting….”

“Further candidates seemed afraid to use the word ‘rape’, and one used ‘alleged’ throughout the copy,” the report added.


Candidates: 43
Passed: 42
Pass rate: 98pc

In the logbook section candidates have to present a selection of their work in a digitised format.

Examiners praised a good round of submissions with all but one candidate achieving a pass.

The report said: “The logbook continues to provide an excellent vehicle to determine just how well a candidate writes and their grasp of the knowledge needed to address the various subjects.

“The problem of uploading the correct information when it comes to original copy and cuttings still persists for some and we would always recommend a double check on all copy which has been uploaded and also to seek a second opinion.”


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  • April 12, 2017 at 9:21 am

    This really boils my p**s!

    The thought of journalists guessing at quotes because their shorthand isn’t up to scratch just reflects the shocking attitude towards quality by newspaper organisations these days.

    Shorthand is one of the key skills that distinguishes a journalist from a ‘content monkey’. It must not be allowed to fall by the wayside.

    And before any new-age, click-bait-peddling, never-leave-the-desk keyboard jockeys say otherwise, I’m afraid the answer is ‘no’ – I won’t be accepting any arguments for the case against shorthand.


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  • April 12, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Disappointing indeed.

    Digital may be “the new black” but the internet is the medium, not the message. Readers’ desire for news and features to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible hasn’t changed. You’d be mad to ignore things like SEO, social media, mobile optimisation and all that jazz, but that doesn’t mean the fundamentals of newsgathering are any less important.

    It’s not the fault of the current generation of trainees, of course, nor their immediate superiors – many newsrooms are simply too understaffed to properly train new recruits, for which the publishers’ bean-counters can be thanked.

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  • April 12, 2017 at 10:53 am

    This has to be down to the increasing reliance on press releases to fill news pages. Ten years ago a trainee reporter would be using their shorthand skills all the time. Sadly you don’t get much Teeline practice hitting CTRL C/CTRL V all day…

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  • April 12, 2017 at 11:14 am

    If I told you a “reporter” perched at a council meeting clutching a digi-recorder you would not believe me.
    God knows how long it would take to transcribe.
    Anyone remember the days when you sprinted out of court, took ten seconds to draw breath, found a phone box that had not been vandalised and gasped a report right on deadline to a grumpy copy-taker who more often than not said: “Is there much more of this?
    Dead without shorthand in those days.

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  • April 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I suspect you’d be hard-pressed to find a BBC journalist who does shorthand these days – unless anyone knows otherwise.

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  • April 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Shorthand? What a quaint idea. Did the candidates finish off with a dance around the maypole?

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