the editor at shorthandworld responds – true story

Late on Sunday evening, I got a message that Lawrence had sent a response to my previous post Who’s still teaching shorthand? I moderated it, which simply means I approved it for posting, but somehow I blew it and then deleted the damn reply.

So Lawrence, I’m sorry, blame it on a full day of sitting at the computer judging Qantas Media Awards, so I was a little brain dead (oh and a glass or two of red wine). Here’s Lawrence’ reply and contact details at the end:

Hi Martin,

As a few of your commentators have noted above, the role of shorthand is one that keeps reappearing in debates on required journalism skills. It’s a question we get asked from time to time. This was my last response:

Do we really need shorthand in this day and age of hi-tech wizardry and miniature digital recording devices?

Now, my personal view is a little old fashioned – shorthand has survived thousands of years and it’s got a few more years left.

The reader was right to point out that the requirements for getting a reporting job in the UK and US are different. You do need shorthand to get a newspaper reporting job in the UK – and for good reasons, too. Dealing with just journalism, here’s the main argument in favour of shorthand.

First, an editor has an element of legal leverage if a reporter is accused of making up a quote (which is often levied at reporters when those involved in stories don’t like their words printed in black and white). The editor can check his reporter’s shorthand note, waive a certificate that his employee has 100wpm if needed and shorthand notes tend to carry a good deal of weight as evidence in libel cases (as long as they stand up to scrutiny).

Secondly, you can take a shorthand notebook and pen/pencil pretty much anywhere, write outside, in cramped conditions etc and you don’t have to worry about digital storage space or power supply.

Thirdly – and I’ve occasionally used electronic recording devices for contentious news stories – navigating a shorthand notebook to find the quotes you’re looking for is far easier than scanning tape or digital recordings.

Fourthly, you can’t take recording devices into courts in the UK – so you’re dependent on note-taking the old fashioned way.

Finally, I’ve found note books don’t intimidate interviewees as much as placing a recording device in the middle of a table.

So, to sum up, shorthand is more reliable, you’re able to use it in court and provides an easier system for finding the notes you’re looking for than its hi-tech counterpart.

The same arguments apply to many other non-journalistic uses of shorthand – such as secretarial minute taking, recording telephone messages or any other scenario in which an accurate and contemporaneous note is required/desirable.

But then there’s simply the skill aspect in all of this. One could equally ask, in an age of reasonably accurate voice recognition systems, whether typing is still a necessary skill. Or, with spellcheck systems, being able to spell words. Of course these are necessary skills – perhaps all the more so if we wish to avoid becoming mere extensions of our computers…

One thing that I did find surprising in your initial post was the very low speed requirement for journalists in New Zealand. 60 wpm is something most students can reach within a few weeks (most longhand writers can achieve 35-45wpm without too much difficulty and a little abbreviation).

I’d be fascinated to know what the industry standard speeds for journalists were elsewhere.

p.s great blog!

Lawrence Cawley can be reached at “; his website is shorthandworld

So it’s true, shorthand has made it into the digital world.

BTW: Lawrence, we require 80wpm for students to meet terms by the end of second semester.

The other post in this sequence is Blogs, bar talk and corridor comments: shorthand #2

2 Responses to the editor at shorthandworld responds – true story

  1. […] See previous posts on this topic here and here at Ethical Martini. It’s not an issue so much in north America, but in the UK, here […]

  2. Melinda says:

    I still use my shorthand on the job in Silicon Valley, CA USA and find it VERY useful. I would like to teach shorthand to MBA or other students who need note taking skills. How can I get started teaching? Any comments or information that you can offer would be most helpful. Thank you very much.

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