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.