More on shorthand from the UK Press Gazette

May 29, 2008

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


The shorthand debate goes global – almost

May 22, 2008

Martin Stabe’s popular blog at the Press Gazette in the UK is carrying some interesting comments on the shorthand debate. Martin also links to another blog where the debate is also live.

Martin Stabe on shorthand

Charlie Beckett on shorthand

Charlie’s post ends with a nice line:

Those of us who have shorthand like to think that it is vital, but is it any more important than an ability to type fast enough for Twitter?


Responses to my posts on shorthand

May 1, 2008

I thought it might be worthwhile getting this thread back onto the frontpage here. For some reason, which I don’t know, but which delights me, a whole bunch of staff from the New Zealand Herald have decided to comment on my “Who’s still teaching shorthand” post of a few weeks back.

I’ve also collated some responses that have come in to my email from colleagues in Australia. Not sure why they haven’t just dropped them here, but perhaps they’re still not comfortable with blogging (LOL) Read the rest of this entry »


the editor at shorthandworld responds – true story

April 6, 2008

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 “editorATshorthandworld.co.uk; 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


Blogs, bar talk and corridor commentaries – shorthand #2

March 29, 2008

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”. Read the rest of this entry »


If we must teach shorthand what are we not teaching?

March 8, 2008

A friend, Helen M, sent me this link to a recent piece in the US online publication, PR Weekly, it talks about how journalism and journalism education are changing in response to the convergence factor of digital technology.

It lists a whole lot of new stuff that journalism educators and students are/should perhaps be doing in the classroom.

If we continue teaching shorthand,where do we find room for new stuff? What do we leave out?

It might be tempting to argue that more practical stuff should be included at the expense of what detractors call “theory”, or “media studies”. But what about journalism theory?

Isn’t there a place in journalism education for an intellectual discussion about the values and meaning of journalism.

To deny space for such discussions is to doom journalism education and the reporters of the future to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Self-reflection is necessary for the news industry to cope with change; so to is a willingness to embrace change.

In particular, as the industry is changing younger reporters will need new and different skills; the definition of who is a journalist is also changing.

This is not necessarily a new idea, I’ve written about it in Communication & New Media (Hirst & Harrison 2007, OUP) in terms of the changing reportorial community.

Now this is an even more pressing issue because of the rise of the “accidental” journalist, not just the “citizen” journalist. Do we ignore this or embrace it?

There has to be room in the journalism curriculum for these issues to be put in front of students and we also have to think of these issues in terms of our current and future research.


Who’s still teaching shorthand?

March 8, 2008

Here in New Zealand all journalism schools require students to be proficient in T-line Shorthand at around 60-80 wpm before they can graduate.

The shorthand requirement is mandated by the NZ Journalists Training Organisation (JTO) as a Unit Standard for the qualification the National Diploma in Journalism. The diploma is a level 5 qualification, the equivalent to the first year of a university degree.

The question for me is this: Is shorthand still the most effective method of capturing quotes and notes? Then there’s the follow up: Who’s going to pay for it being taught in our universities and polytechs? Read the rest of this entry »


Journalists on the wrong side of history when it comes to social media

April 26, 2019

In the last week or so some fairly senior journalists and journalism academics have launched a defence of mainstream reporters and reporting by suggesting that most, if not all, criticism of journalists is coming from a Trumpian perspective. This perspective has appeared in several tweets by senior journalists and it has been given a more ‘respectable’ form in a column by ABC talking head Michael Rowland.

In a piece published on the ABC News website Rowland lamented that he – and other reporters – have been on the receiving end of some insulting and even abusive tweets.

Now, journalism isn’t exactly the profession for shrinking violets.

If you cover the brutal game of politics you have to be particularly robust, but the level of muck being hurled around on Twitter at the moment would test the toughest of souls.

Personally speaking, I have noticed a huge increase in abuse and petty name-calling since the election campaign began.

The free character references I’ve received have often been quite inventive.

He wasn’t the only member of the journalistic elite to give voice to such views. Academic and Nine commentator (she’s published in what we used to know as the Fairfax mastheads) Jenna Price went into bat to defend Patricia Karvelas who also copped some flack over an incident on Insiders the previous weekend.

Social media has become an incubator for hatred of journalists, led by President Donald Trump after learning from the best, the troll armies of President Rodrigo Duterte, says senior research fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Julie Posetti.

Chris Uhlmann takes his complaint against the cultural Marxists a step further. He claims we are worse than the far-right. His former ABC colleague Leigh Sales has also publicly attacked what she calls “far left bias” against the ABC in general and her program in particular.

Far Left Fury

This is a misleading claim that attempts to delegitimise progressive critiques of the mainstream news media by lumping all critics of journalism into one ideological pigeon hole.

How would Leigh Sales – or Chris Uhlmann for that matter – identify someone as “far left”. They wouldn’t know from any position of nuanced reading or understanding; all they have to go on are their own prejudiced and stereotyped views from a position of privileged elitism.

However, what really annoyed me was this tweet from Miriam Cosic who has been a journo for a while and who also makes much of her postgraduate qualifications in philosophy.

Miriam got upset with me when I described this thinking as “lazy”, but it is intellectually lazy. There is a world of difference between a progressive left critique of journalism and the news media and Donald Trump’s Fascistic demonization of journalism he doesn’t like.

However, I guess these same ‘very fine’ people might dismiss my views out of hand. After all, I am a fully paid-up card-carrying life-long member of what Chris Uhlmann has derisively labelled the “post-Christian left”.

Chomsky, not Trumpski

I think there are two distinct political positions on media criticism, and it is wrong to conflate them.

One is certainly a neo-Fascist view that has been thoroughly discredited but that is espoused by Trump and his supporters and originated with the Nazi regime’s propaganda trope of the Lügenpresse or “lying media”.

The other is diametrically opposed to this and, as a form of shorthand, I’m going to call this the Chomskyian view.

The Chomskyian view is based on a long history of progressive, left-wing and anti-capitalist critiques of the news media and it is summarised rather well in Chomsky and Herman’s classic phrase about the “manufacture” of consent.

In 1988, Chomsky and Herman described the media in capitalist society as a propaganda machine. They were right then and the same holds true today.

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

The problem for the ruling class and its media allies is that the machine is breaking down and they’re fresh out of spare parts.

I’ve tried before in IA and in many of my other recent writings, including this book and this journal article, to explain the important differences between a Trumpian view of “fake news” and a more sophisticated analysis of journalism, journalists and the news media that situates the whole “fake news” discussion into an historical and theoretical context which is known as the political economy of communication.

I’ve also written about media issues extensively in IA, including here, here, here, here and here. I also wrote a long review of Katharine Murphy’s pamphlet, On Disruption in which she defends the News Establishment’s approach to the disruption caused by social media.

Here’s one takeaway from that piece:

Murphy raises the important question of the relationship between a media ecology that has begun a descent into what she accurately describes as ‘a febrile, superficial, shouty, shallow, pugnacious cacophony of content, where sensation regularly trumps insight’, and the demagoguery of Trump and his European imitators.

Murphy asks us rhetorically:

‘Did we, the disrupted media, somehow create Donald Trump? Did we enable him?’ 

However, she struggles to provide a coherent answer.

I think the collapse of the old certainties in the news media and the failure of the News Establishment to effectively reflect on its mistakes certainly gave strength to the Trumpian view that the news media is the ‘enemy of the people’.

However, let’s be clear this is a talking point of the Alt Right and its enablers. It is not a view shared by progressive critics of the News Establishment.

A direct attack on democracy and active citizenship

I have no problem with journalists defending themselves on Twitter, but the common tactic from the News Establishment has been to shy away from directly responding to serious critics and, instead, to focus on the minority of idiots who make vile threats.

I want to be clear; I do not support threats of violence, racist, sexist or homophobic abuse against reporters, but I don’t mind a bit of hard-hitting sarcasm.

The world has changed over the past 20 years and as we’re constantly told by the very same Establishment figures when they’re trying to gouge subscriptions from us: engagement is the new normal. There is no going back, social media has changed the journalistic landscape forever.

The problem is the News Establishment wants engagement on its terms. Engagement for them means we take out subscriptions and become unpaid sources for them or allow them to scour material from our social media feeds to pad out otherwise thin reporting.

What the News Establishment definitely doesn’t want is an active Fifth Estate undermining its authority or its cosy relationship with the rich and powerful.

I would go so far as to suggest that the pushback against their serious critics on Twitter reveals the truly anti-democratic nature of their thinking and their true ideological position.

At least that’s how I’ve interpreted this tweet from ABC reporter Matt Bevan.

Maybe he was joking, or at least maybe that’s what he’d say if challenged, but I think it’s telling.

Twitter provides a platform for what we might call ‘monitorial citizenship’, that is the ability for ordinary people to talk directly to the powerful.

This is upsetting for the News Establishment because, for the past 200 years or so, they have been the principal gatekeepers. Journalists were in a privileged position of mediating between the rulers and the ruled.

They were treated to a rare glimpse inside the halls of power – the first Press Gallery was established in the Palace of Westminster in 1803 – in return they were expected to massage the more brutal pronouncements of the powerful and provide for the “manufacture of consent”.

The News Establishment has played a supporting role ever since; agreeing to keep some secrets to protect the State and legitimising the consolidation of the two-party system.

It was his observation of the Westminster gallery that prompted this acerbic jab from Oscar Wilde:

“Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it…But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.”

Until recently, Establishment accounts of political machinations were not open to direct challenge. The public had to pretty much accept as gospel whatever the journalists wrote.

Now that has changed and now amount of whining from the News Establishment is going to put that genie back in its box.

The monitorial citizen is here to stay.

The monitorial citizen in a democracy is described by Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Schudson as a person outside of the dominant political structure who feels a responsibility to monitor what powerful institutions do, and to get involved when they feel power is being abused.

Schudson is no “post-Christian” leftist. He is a respected, bespectacled professor and himself aligned with the most News Establishment New York establishment, Columbia School of Journalism.

Yet he is able to see what many of our own – vastly anti-intellectual in outlook – news media refuse to see or are willfully blind to.

The power of the News Establishment is waning; monitorial citizens are taking to social media to clapback at the mistakes, misjudgements and misleading inferences that mainstream reporters make routinely.

The inestimable Mr Denmore summed it up nicely on his blog, The Failed Estate, in a piece called ‘All media is social’:

The public isn’t stupid. Much of the criticism they are expressing on social media about journalists reflects a sense of frustration that the issues they are their families care deeply about (like climate change or stagnant incomes or our treatment of refugees) are not advancing.

Quite.

 


Is it the role of journalists to play kingmaker?

June 30, 2013

An unsurprising take on the Labor leadership brawl from a Canberra insider, has this to say about the Rudd camp’s cultivation of Press Gallery journalists:

Once deposed, Rudd’s toxic ambition appears to have been either to return to the leadership, or to destroy both the government that had dumped him and the woman who had replaced him. In this pursuit he was abetted by political journalists who became pawns in his comeback play, channelling the Chinese whispers of his spruikers and giving credibility and substance to exaggerated claims about the pretender’s level of support within the parliamentary party for a comeback

But most of us are left wondering, is that the role of political journalists? Should they either
a) allow themselves to be seduced, or
b) encourage political players to court them, or
c) follow the dictats of politically-motivated senior editors
and fall in to what Kerry-Anne Walsh appropriately calls “lock-step” with the ambitions of one or more political players?
Anyone who has paid even passing attention to Australian politics over the past three years would be familiar with the deep and personal divisions within the Labor Party; but maybe they have not been so familiar with the similar divisions inside the Canberra Press Gallery.
There can be no doubt that the Gillard-Rudd blood feud created the conditions under which Gallery journalists chose sides, or were forced to take sides.
No doubt Rudd and his co-conspirators had their Gallery favourites–those who would be called with the latest news, or who could be loved-up with an inside story.
And no doubt too, there were those who were frozen out of Rudd’s plans and were therefore more likely to seek comment or be groomed by Gillard and her backers.
This seems to be to be the perfect conditions for a toxic environment to develop and for grudges to be formed. But it is not an appropriate climate for sensible editorial decision-making.
Almost every day, and certainly at least once a week, since March 2010, there has been at least one senior Press Gallery journalist willing to put the Rudd lines into play. This of course creates a knock-on effect. The Gallery operates as a pack and it works on the basis of groupthink (not just the News Limited drones either).
If one news organisation has a ‘story’ — no matter that it could be unfounded speculation, or worse, a yarn planted for dubious factional purposes — then everyone has to chase it. This is stenographic journalism at its worst.
Rudd, or one of his lieutenants, says something, the reporter(s) write it down and it becomes a ‘fact’ very quickly. That’s how his destabilisation campaign was able to maintain momentum for three years.
It was a great tactic. Gillard was unable to get ‘clean air’ to talk about the significant achievements of her government. The story was Rudd’s continuing fight because he and the stenographer pack said it was the story.
As Kerry-Anne Walsh sums it up, the inability of the Gallery to go beyond the blood and guts is a major failure of political reporting.

in the political shorthand of media reporting, the extraordinary circumstances that forced such an outcome were boiled down to winner and loser, victor and vanquished. The deeper reasons became too hard for many journalists to explore.

Political journalism is about winners and losers, policy debate takes second place.
Even then policy is poorly reported and only ever within a very narrow band of acceptable terminology and limited alternatives.
It is good that Walsh is prepared to at least name some names in her piece.
Of course, no one should be surprised that Rudd was talking to senior people at News Limited. The relentless and poisonously personal campaign that The Australian and other Murdoch papers have waged against Julia Gillard for the past three years is well documented. No one at News Limited has a nice word for Julia Gillard or the government she led and Rudd was a very useful idiot for Chris Mitchell and others.
However, it is unlikely that the favours will be returned now that Rudd is back in charge. Murdoch’s ambition is to elect an Abbott government, it best suits his arch-conservative neo-liberal agenda. Even this weekend The Australian has been bagging out Rudd and no doubt this will continue till election day (whenver that is).
Walsh also names veteran Gallery journalist Laurie Oakes as a Rudd stooge. She cites his now legendary Press Club question to Gillard during the 2011 election campaign, which seems to indicate that he had been very well briefed; perhaps by Rudd himself.

Channelling Rudd, Oakes asked whether, in a private meeting with Rudd that fateful night, Gillard had agreed to Rudd’s plea to be given until October to improve the government’s standing, and if he couldn’t he would stand aside voluntarily. Furthermore, he asked if Gillard then left the room, consulted colleagues, returned and told Rudd he didn’t have the numbers so she was backtracking on the deal, and would challenge anyway.

No one is covered in glory in the wash-up of this tale of palace intrigue, courtiers playing favourites with Gallery journos and messengers who were willing to take the pieces of silver on offer.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap?
Yep, just ask anyone in the Press Gallery who’s got ambitions to make a name for him or herself.

Stephen Joyce – “Yes minister, your F grade IS well-deserved.”

March 10, 2010

There’s a not-so-subtle form of political agitation that Government ministers employ when they want to stir the pot and push through some ill-conceived short-term policy change that will save them money and make them look good to some sections of the electorate.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics and the simple technique is to make an emotionally-charged announcement in a speech or other forum that gets the media’s attention and then gets the hounds racing.

Tertiary Education minister Stephen Joyce made a dog whistle announcement yesterday in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

The language of dog whistling has to be carefully constructed. There are two methods – scare mongering and aspirational – and both are usually employed.

Here’s a sample of Joyce’s aspirational language. The language of “improving outcomes”:

  • Increasing the number of young people achieving degrees
  • Increasing the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students
  • Increasing the number of young people successfully moving from schools to tertiary
  • Improving the outcomes of level one to three study
  • Improving the educational and financial strength of providers, and strengthening the research outcomes.

Who could disagree with these sentiments. Of course we want to improve and increase the outcomes of tertiary education. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Read the rest of this entry »