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Shorthand: Just How Important Is It?

shorthand notes

Shorthand notes: a familiar site for trainee journalists

By Catherine Hancock (@catherineha1991)

Most trainee journalists have a difficult relationship with shorthand at some point, and I’m one of them.

With newspapers frequently gathering their material online, I often wonder: is shorthand still needed in the newsroom?

The answer seems to be YES.

News UK’s editorial development director Graham Dudman once said that a journalist without shorthand is like a footballer without boots – “it’s not going to happen”.

“It’s essential for accurate court reporting. Without it you are a potential liability to your newspaper and we don’t want you in the newsroom.”

Ok fair point. As amazing as technology is, mobile phones or laptops sometimes don’t help if you need to get something down quickly.

If something is disputed about what you have written in court, shorthand notes are often referred back to and looked at by the judge as evidence.

Accurate shorthand notes are essential and imagine trying to keep up with what people are saying in longhand? It wouldn’t work!

Another time when shorthand is handy (sorry for the pun), is when you’re doing phone interviews. Trying to quickly scribble down or type up what the other person is saying can be stressful and you could miss an important quote.

With shorthand you can sit down and read all the information you have without worrying it didn’t record properly or you’ve accidentally deleted it.

Whichever route journalism decides to take, shorthand will always be an essential tool to have.

If you’re struggling, do shorthand with a friend, take shorthand notes down to music or the news, and make sure you do a little bit everyday.

Is shorthand still important for journalists? Join the debate on Twitter @JournoGrads or on FacebookHere’s what you’ve been saying:

Amina AhmedJason Craig

Dougie BoltonAndy TriggSarah Jordan

Gaz CorfieldSam Park



Journo Course Costs Can Be ‘Huge Barrier’

Oli Rahman

Oliver Rahman – studying hard for media law

NCTJ trainee Oliver Rahman stresses the importance of formal training but questions the costs…

Ex Sun-Editor Kelvin Mackenzie expressed his views on journalism education in 2011 by saying: “I’d shut down all the journalism colleges today. If you want to be a print journalist you should go straight from school and join the local press.”

To some extent I agree. I’ve already written about how much I love local journalism, and the way it can be a brilliant training ground for budding reporters.

But the idea that formal journalism education is a waste of time has problems. Being taken on as a trainee directly after school with minimal qualifications, as Kelvin was, seems unlikely in today’s world.

I take his point about how colleges have become a great business model for semi-retired journalists, and in some cases are exploitative.

But the world is less forgiving of reporters in the wake of Leveson, and much more is expected of them.

As an editor you can’t just send a person with no understanding of media law or shorthand to do court reporting. You might end up on the wrong end of a defamation lawsuit.

Nor can you expect a high standard of news copy from someone without some formal training.

Mackenzie’s assumption that journalism education focuses too much on theory is something I disagree with, as my own experience of the NCTJ suggests that it is more practical than theoretical.

Education is never a bad thing, although affordability can be a huge barrier.

Less privileged kids stand little chance of breaking through; their parents might be unwilling to support them through endless stints of unpaid work experience, or perhaps they are unable to afford the training.

Take for example The Guardian’s masterclasses. A feature writing course costs £400, and an investigative journalism course £500.

It seems hard to justify these prices, and there’s no doubt that they would only be available to a privileged minority.

It would be brilliant if newspapers were still prepared to snaffle up the smart school leavers and train them up into premier news hounds.

Getting onto a traineeship with the BBC or a great local title is what most people would do if they had the opportunity, but with the dramatic increase in the number of hungry university graduates, this can never be guaranteed.

Mackenzie would be right if we lived in a perfect world.

What do you think? How important is formal journalism training, and are the costs always justified? Tweet us your views @Journograds or leave a comment below

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