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Shorthand in the workplace

When a student takes that first tentative step into the world of work they need to have their wits about them and their notebook and pen handy. Waiting for them in the courtroom, the football manager’s media briefing, on the celebrity’s sofa or alongside the politician’s soapbox is information worth sharing.

This new world is fast-moving, complex, and at times confusing. Focus and concentration are needed if you are to stay in the game.

Fundamental to any form of journalism is an ability to present information in a logical and appealing way. Before you can do that, you need to have accurately gathered that information – and that’s where shorthand becomes so vital.

Teeline is a flexible system – and it needs to be. All those words and phrases which featured in Teeline textbooks are joined by a whole host of new words: ‘Brexit’, ‘backstop’, ‘Isis’, ‘deadlock’, ‘brainwash’ and all the others which pop up in an ever-changing news agenda.

Whatever a journalist’s area of expertise, whether it is political coverage, health, business, sport, lifestyle, celebrity or court reporting – they each have their jargon and it is useful to work out an outline based on Teeline principals for all those regularly-occurring words. I am thinking of words and phrases like: ‘transfer window’, ‘mitigation’, ‘antibiotics’, ‘community service’, ‘balance of trade’ – and many more that will be faced, day in day out – but may not have cropped up in Teeline sessions and exams.

Every time a journalist answers a phone there is the potential for a great story. The caller could be an angry mum who complains about the way the NHS has treated her ill daughter. The next call could be a councillor claiming that a building firm was offering ‘backhanders’ to members of the planning committee. Perhaps it’s the manager of a football club who wants to bare his soul and tell you the real reason why he is resigning. You just never know what story is waiting for you.

That’s what makes journalism the best job in the world. The danger is that the story might slip through your fingers because you couldn’t accurately capture the all-important ‘golden quote’.

I’m talking about the words which you are confident to put inside quote marks. These are the words that help convince the reader that a story is genuine. Yes, there are so many stories that are based on social media postings and just as many on press releases. But the best stories are those which capture the true, off the cuff, remarks which reveal the heart-felt sentiments of the speaker.

NOTE: An experienced journalist will only have one notebook in use and each page will be dated and inside the front cover will be contact details, along with a request for the notebook to be returned if found. Not that an experienced journalist would leave it on a train or in the cafe or pub.

Hands up if you relish change

Thought not – in truth, very few of us do.Give us the chance to do things the way we have always done them and we’ll happily snap your hands off. But ask us to do something new and it’s a different story.So, we understand that switching all shorthand exams to the Cirrus-based online system come the start of the next academic year is unsettling for many of you.

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Resources to support delivery of shorthand

Happy New Year!

At this time of year, you will have a range of students – beginners, speed builders and those who are preparing for examinations. We thought this would be a good time to remind you about the NCTJ resources available to support your students.

Consolidation of theory and basic speed building

At the shorthand seminar in June, a dictation resources pack was presented to tutors.  This was part of a project to provide support to students by introducing the NCTJ exam voice as they progressed with theory.

This pack (paper and audio) is available in the tutor log-in area. It provides support materials for tutors to use as formative assessment as theory progresses, introducing an element of speed. The resources are linked to the NCTJ textbook and are broadly graded and aligned with the revision exercises.

There are 24 pieces of 120 words long, with a title. Where possible, the syllabic counts reflect exam standard. The pieces are written to ensure sentences end at 60, 80 and 100 words to facilitate timings. Each piece has been recorded at 40 wpm, 50 wpm and 60 wpm (96 MP3 files – almost three hours of dictation) by the reader used in pre-recorded examinations. There is also a dictation key counted in tens, and scripts to match the recordings. There is no shorthand to match these pieces. Tutors can produce shorthand using preferred outlines, special outlines and word groupings.

On the whole, the pieces are graded appropriately to the theory identified. However, it is worth pointing out that there are some minor grading errors – a few words, in the early exercises, are outside the scope of the theory. Students need to be able to record what they hear – theory should not be a barrier. If students come across an outline that causes hesitation, or looks clumsy, this can be a good discussion point.

These pieces can be used to consolidate theory, introduce speed and provide a challenge for students. They could be used as part of consolidation packs containing revision exercises (included in NCTJ textbook), dictation practice (using files provided in pack), reading practice (created by tutor) and other activities (such as crosswords, games). An example of a consolidation pack was shown at the shorthand seminar. The dictation files could also be used as standalone class tests.

Exam preparation

There is a range of pre-recorded examinations available in the tutor and student areas.  Currently, there are 130 examination recordings at various speeds – almost nine hours of dictation. These recordings have transcriptions included, and there is a useful checklist of recordings.

At previous shorthand seminars, resources have been produced by tutors in “recording hubs”. There is almost two hours of dictation, at varying speeds, with a good selection of accents. There are transcriptions to support the dictation. As explained in a previous blog, there are also materials, dictated by tutors, to support the introduction of the quote at higher speeds.

We hope you will use these resources with your students.

Moving forward

At the 2018 shorthand seminar, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Teeline shorthand, it was great to see tutors sharing materials and memorabilia. Moving forward, it would be useful if each tutor could provide one or two resources, which they have developed, for the next seminar (e.g. graded dictation exercises, worksheets, games). These could be collated and shared with all those who contributed.

Marketing shorthand to the new generation of students

As technology advances at a rapid speed and our graduates enter a fast-changing, competitive job market, it’s imperative that we market the benefits of learning shorthand in an effective way. Gaining a shorthand qualification will contribute to an impressive tool-kit, giving our graduates the armoury to really hit the ground running in any journalism role.

For students with ambitions of becoming a news reporter, having a 100wpm shorthand qualification is often essential in securing even an initial job interview. However, for those students taking a less traditional route into the industry we really need to highlight every advantage of learning this difficult, yet rewarding skill.  From marketing and web development to copywriting and taking minutes, no matter the area of the industry our students end up, we must assure them that they will not regret learning shorthand.

After studying a Journalism degree and gaining 100 wpm shorthand, my career took a less traditional route. I found myself essentially being my own boss, working freelance for various companies. I worked as a content editor, web developer, travel writer and fashion copywriter. These positions paid well and each was exciting on its own merit. I gained invaluable experience and developed many different skills at the same time, perfect for a graduate looking to boost the old CV.

For each of these roles, I was able to flourish and make notes at speed, and as a result, I was able to turn copy around more quickly. I used shorthand to make notes for my Masters degree, I interviewed a resident on a busy street in Bangkok when working as a travel writer, I noted down the brief in shorthand when I produced content for fashion brands and met deadlines at a faster speed than other copywriters.

I used – and still do use – my shorthand to take minutes for meetings. I worked covering a tax evasion case for which I was paid £250 for spending 3 hours taking down the minutes.  Having worked as a sales advisor for minimum wage while at university, it was like Christmas had come early!

The beauty of an accredited journalism course is that it equips our graduates with a versatile and transferable skill-set, helping students slip seamlessly into a wide range of exciting positions.

As tutors we should stress to students, how useful it is in any area of industry to be able to take notes at speed. A student may be adamant that they won’t need shorthand. Don’t let your students make this mistake, don’t let them limit their opportunities – from experience you just never know where you will end up. It’s our responsibility to keep shorthand current by showing practical, journalistic use.

What’s more? Industry professionals know the drive and tenacity it takes to achieve a shorthand qualification. So, it’s more than a certificate, it’s a glowing character reference.

Typed transcriptions – pitfalls and how to avoid them

As you all know the NCTJ are now only accepting typed transcriptions for shorthand exams and in the next academic year all registered centres will have to use the Cirrus online assessment system. More information regarding shorthand transcriptions on Cirrus will be shared later in the academic year.

Once you have reached the level to sit a shorthand exam you don’t want to fail it by making mistakes that could be avoided.

Now that all transcriptions are typed it is very important to make sure you read through your work before submitting it. Check very carefully to make sure it makes sense.

Have you put the full stops in? You must put full stops into your transcription. But if you put a full stop in the wrong place and it changes the sense of the piece you will lose a mark.

For example – “There was a fire at the pet shop last night the council met to discuss the road closure that was put in place.”

Where does the full stop go? Is it supposed to go before last night or after last night? It is very important to put full stops into your shorthand note so that you can transcribe accurately. If you put your full stop in the wrong place in the example above you would change the sense of the piece and lose a mark.

If you put a comma where a full stop should be but it doesn’t change the sense then this will be OK. Also, if you put in extra full stops but don’t change the sense of the piece this will be OK. But if you don’t put any full stops in you will lose marks.

Another problem is that you could type a word and not know you have made a mistake. Your fingers may hit the wrong keys. If your typing error actually makes a recognised word this may not be highlighted as a mistake on your screen – make sure any typing errors are picked up and corrected.

Don’t get caught out by homophones. Do you know the difference between mail and male, plain and plane, bass and base, dye and die, weather and whether, principal and principle, practice and practise? The most common mistakes are to and too, there and their, but there are many more. Do you know which word to use in your transcription?

Make sure you know when to use bought or brought, loose or lose, were, wear or where.

Although the NCTJ does not penalise spelling mistakes, you will be marked down for using the wrong word in your transcription. Find a list of homophones and check you know the different meanings. When you go out to work you will be expected to know which word to use so take the time now to double-check.

Have a look at your word count – have you transcribed the correct number of words? If you have too few words have you dropped down a line in your shorthand and missed a sentence out? If you have too many have you repeated a sentence?

We hope this advice helps and good luck with your shorthand exams and your typed transcriptions.

Shorthand marker’s blog: Terrifying without Teeline

I have just finished reading ‘Jeremy Paxman – A Life in Questions’.  It was a present from my youngest son (I hope he didn’t choose it because he thought I might be just as grumpy as Jeremy).

In this long-awaited memoir Jeremy reflects on a career which began as a trainee with the BBC and led him relatively quickly to reporting live on the troubles in Northern Ireland.

As he freely admits reporting Belfast court cases was “a terrifying business, since I had not paid proper attention in shorthand classes.”

Now there are two ways of looking at that admission. Firstly, he went on to become a much-admired television journalist despite his note-taking limitations.

On the other hand, there is more to journalism than asking the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “Why don’t people like you?”

If you need to accurately record interviewees’ answers to your questions. If you need to key in your story to a website, blog or newspaper page before the competition, then shorthand wins hands down against the alternatives. Those battery-dependent and accident-prone electronic recording devices, unlike notes on paper, are a devil to trawl through for the ‘golden quote’.

But that professional skill depends on paying attention in the shorthand class.  Judging from some recent exam scripts that isn’t always the case!

The first thing that caused problems for students in recent exams was those all-important small outlines; ‘those’, ‘this’ and ‘these’ were often confused with each other, although I am sure tutors suggest that the ‘s’ in ‘these’ should always be written on the left of the ‘h’ outline and the ‘h’ outline should be angled in the ‘i’ direction when writing ‘this’.

But does it matter if these words are misquoted a student may ask.  I could see from examining a number of candidates’ notes that it is often the inability to accurately capture simple words that causes a whole sentence to degenerate into a meaningless list of words.

Several candidates in a recent exam convinced themselves that the outline for ‘v’ could only mean ‘have’.  It can also be the outline for the word ‘village’. A lack of lateral thinking led students to imagine sentences which were never spoken in order to make ‘have’ make sense.

If only these students had transcribed what they saw and not been tempted to doubt their other outlines, they might have made one or two errors rather than five or six.

The outline for ‘k’ also sent some candidates down the wrong path.  It is often taught as representing the word ‘know’ and that is how it was sometimes transcribed when it actually represented ‘kind’.  There were a few students who transcribed it as ‘like’, even though it was written above the line.

The simple outline for ‘accident black spot’ has become less used in recent years as the phrase itself has become less common. However, the use of a dot in the phrase ‘hot spot’ would have been useful in a recent exam. It can be used in a few other phrases as well. How about ‘tight spot’, ‘get to the point’, ‘point of order’ and of course to represent ‘pounds’ when recording amounts of money.

‘What’s the evidence’? Identifying ‘facts’ on social media for news stories

Dan Lee will be running the masterclass, ‘User-generated content and social media storytelling’ on 23 February at the NCTJ’s offices. He will teach delegates how to find the best, most accurate information online for their stories, and ‘what to keep and what to bin’.

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