Shorthand: What is it good for?

Whenever I’ve given talks at schools about journalism, there’s one thing that always fascinates my young audience.

It’s not the dazzling array of digital storytelling techniques available to the modern reporter, funnily enough.

It’s those strange squiggles that are part and parcel of a reporter’s life – and which have their roots in the mid-19th century.


Children find this weird anachronistic secret language endlessly alluring.

Which is more that can be said for some young journalists.

Persuading them that shorthand is worth it can be a bit of a challenge at times, to put it mildly.

I usually tell trainee reporters that learning shorthand will be the hardest thing they ever do.

After their initial resistance and frustration, the penny normally drops – and it’s always satisfying when people finally ‘get’ shorthand, in every sense of the word.

In the last few days, a debate has begun about the role of shorthand in journalism, with the National Council for the Training of Journalists suggesting that it should no longer be a compulsory part of its first-tier qualification, the diploma.

The NCTJ has come up with interesting ideas to reshape the diploma, and I like the idea of tidying production and video journalism into the mainstream.

It’s a shame that there’s still no formal way of assessing a skill that is fast becoming the most important in the modern journalist’s armoury – time management.

But I think the NCTJ has more or less got it right with shorthand.

If reporters want to take the senior level National Qualification in Journalism, they will still have to have 100 words a minute shorthand.

But the new regime – which could come in as early as next autumn – allows a more flexible approach for journalists who might never see the inside of a courtroom or council chamber.

What I do think is needed is an awareness campaign from the NCTJ to ensure that students go into their courses with their eyes firmly open.

At the moment, too few of them take any notice of which body accredits those courses, and too few of them make informed decisions about shorthand.

There’s a good reason why the bosses at Sky insist that new newsroom recruits have shorthand, and why some of the best feature writers I know still rely on it.

When the clock is ticking, there’s no better way of getting quotes into a story.

I would hope that anyone wanting to be a writer in the regional media would think long and hard before deciding shorthand’s not for them.

But the industry needs people with new ideas and instincts – and the diploma consultation is a good starting point in recognising that.




One thought on “Shorthand: What is it good for?

  1. Agreed, Paul! I loathed every second of learning shorthand, but it’s the best skill I ever acquired – and I still use it 30 years on. It was still useful when I was sports reporting – it went places that a tape recorder didn’t!

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