The UK Press Gazette has a very interesting online feature – a student journalism blog. A recent post by Dave Lee suggests that all young journos should not only be on Facebook and other social networking sites; they should also be using them as generators of story ideas and as a good place to find sources. This is not such a new idea any more. There’s a recent and growing movement in the US for something the proponents are calling “beatblogging”. There’s even a blog site devoted to it. The mission of this collaborative project is to figure out how journalists can better use social networking sites to improve their reporting and writing.
A big ask perhaps, but it does, in a round-about way, lead me back to shorthand. I’ve been canvassing opinion on three continents about this and, to be frank, it’s a bit of a circular argument.
There are two entrenched positions.
Shorthand is essential. It’s the only way to get accurate quotes quickly; it has legal status; it’s the only way to cover court satisfactorily and why would anyone want to laboriously transcribe an interview.
The alternative I’ll call the “Shorthand is passe” school. This group argues that shorthand is way passed its use-by date. It’s out-moded; recording is just as (if not more) accurate and technology has basically replaced the need for shorthand.
There’s merit in both arguments; though my position does tend to fall within the second camp. In the days of digital media and convergence having audio or video is important. Websites are moving away from being text-dependent and multimedia grabs from interviews are valuable online assests. So too are transcripts.
The argument here – that transcription takes a long time – is essentially valid, but the pro-tech group is not suggesting that an interview has to fully transcribed before deadline. Anyone who’s worked in radio and/or TV knows that the time-line attached to any actuality is a quick and easy way to find the key quotes and transcribing just these grabs is no slower than having to write up the quote from shorthand notes.
However, that was a clever digression to allow me to put up more of my arguments. There is an interesting post on the Press Gazette student journalism blog where Dave Lee argues that it is still an essential tool for all journalists (even though, he admits, he doesn’t have it himself).
It may look like dribbly scribble on scrappy bits of notepad, but shorthand has long been a skill that journalists have come to rely on to report accurately.
No matter how advanced the technology gets, it’ll still, every so often, come down to that. Learn shorthand.
So we’re not closer to an answer on the vexed question of keep it or ditch it. For now the status quo remains and it stays in our syllabus.
In the meantime, what do students think? Here’s one comment from an American journalism student who’s resorted to teaching himself.
You can track this debate through these links.