Blogs, bar talk and corridor commentaries – shorthand #2

My colleague Helen doesn’t like the idea of virtual discussions, she doesn’t really fancy blogging as a way of having a “conversation”. As a “hackademic” she still thinks like a journo and prefers to yarn with mates and peers in the bar. It seems a lot of journos feel that way.

I’ve had a few comments on my recent “why do we need shorthand” post, but it’s been interesting to find out from doing the rounds of newshound watering holes that it has been much more widely read and discussed than the few comments on the blog would lead us to assume.

A meeting in my office with Mike Fletcher of the JTO elicited the information that my comments have caused some traditional hacks to palpitate at the heresy of thought that shorthand might no longer be a core skill for our young graduates. The day before, a phone call from a senior Auckland news editor alerted me to the fact that there’s a subterranean conversation about shorthand underway. “Ah,” I thought, “this is interesting”.

It seems there was an impression (mistaken) that I was calling for an immediate and total ban on the teaching of shorthand in tertiary journalism courses. It’s important that I clarify this: No, that’s not what I’m saying.

Personally I don’t think shorthand is anywhere near as important as it once was for working journalists. The occasions when it is absolutely vital are few and far between. I have had support for this view from some senior journos I’ve spoken to recently, while others have a totally contrary view.

One thing the seniors have in common is that they all admit their own shorthand is either “rusty”, or in the case of one, he never had it at all and tells a very funny story of going for his first news job. Apparently he told the editor he could do “240 words”, which impressed the potential boss. At that point the then much younger journo realised he’d probably made a gaffe and tried to run away from the outrageous claim.

if there’s a rough consensus (from my so far very small sample) it seems to be that good shorthand is “preferred”, but not having it, might not necessarily a be barrier to getting a job in a newsroom. Though one pub-based correspondent said he would not hire anyone without good shorthand skills, which must be a relief to those members of staff without it who were hired by someone else.

Who should pay for it?

The other point I made in the original shorthand post was to raise the question of who should cover the cost of shorthand teaching in the polytechs and universities. At my place it is unlikely I would get any support outside my own school for making shorthand a discrete paper in the journalism course. As my colleague David Robie puts it quite rightly, there’s no “body of knowledge” attached to shorthand in the same way that there is around reporting and writing for example.

Though my Friday night Shakespeare buddies were keen to argue that perhaps journalism education doesn’t belong in a university at all. That’s too big a fish to fry here, but of course I disagree fundamentally with this view. No doubt I’ll be back in the bar soon for another round – my “shout” too I think.

Anyway, who should pay for shorthand? This issue is now on the agenda and hopefully some fruitful discussions with the industry bodies, JTO, etc, will begin soon. The bottom line is that the j. schools cannot subsidise shorthand forever. Though the question is complex and the problem knotty it is looming as a potential crisis, IMHO.

Shorthand is a level 3 qualification, the National Diploma in Journalism is level 5 and a university degree is level 7 at third year – this is the nub of the funding problem. A university is not funded to teach level 3 qualifications.

If shorthand is still a practical skill for journalists and industry wants it to be a core component of curricula around the country then we need to reach some understanding of the funding issues.

Perhaps shorthand could become part of the workplace-based training programme that the JTO is considering for the near future. if this could be done in such a way that it secures TEC funding, we could then find a way to attach shorthand training to internships and placements, or to a first year position in a newsroom.

Thanks to everyone who’s made nice comments about Ethical Martini over the past week. It’ s great to finally meet some readers and get feedback.

2 Responses to Blogs, bar talk and corridor commentaries – shorthand #2

  1. As a shorthander myself, I can safely say that learning it is an absolute nightmare – trying to force my brain to tell my hand not to write longhand often resulted in the kinds of physical twitches and starts more suited to recovering alcoholics.

    Do I look back and think it was worth it? Hell yea. Ask me why and I couldn’t tell you exactly. I guess it gives me confidence that, if worse comes to worst, and my digital toys are playing up, flat, run out of space, I can write a fairly accurate record of what is being said, and by who. Agreed, totally, that shorthand is nowhere near as vital as it once was. But I’m not sure if it is in the same category as buggy whips, least not yet.

    By the way, ethical martini would reduce to ethcl mtni in shorthand, must send you the actual symbols …

  2. Kenneth Casper says:

    I’m interested in stenography as a competitive sport like basketball. If compared to sports, shorthand has all of the qualifications such as physical endurance, mental exercise, and speed requirement.

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