A Twitter storm about shorthand, regarded by many as a journalist’s sacrosanct skill, erupted yesterday morning as some students discovered that shorthand is now an optional module in the structure of the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism. Fears were allayed by the facts: shorthand is mandatory for news journalists and isn’t going away but there is a lot more flexibility to cater for the full range of journalism careers. These plans were announced at the 2015 Journalism Skills Conference, and formalised at a seminar in April 2016.
On Radio 4’s Today, NCTJ chairman Kim Fletcher, Philip Webster, former political editor of The Times and programme presenter John Humphreys, debated the relevance of the ancient skill in a modern digital media.
Kim said: “We are going to give people a choice. Shorthand is always going to be absolutely essential. If you want a stellar career, if you want to be the next Philip Webster, then I would do shorthand. Our courses will continue to teach shorthand.”
Explaining the changes to the NCTJ Diploma in Journalisms structure, Kim said: “If you think you want a different career and you want to go and be a social media journalist or do something completely different and you’re never going to be in a court of law and never going to be facing a politician then maybe you can get through without shorthand and we’ll help you get a qualification without it.”
The NCTJ chairman’s appearance on BBC Radio 4 follows NCTJ shorthand exam board member Jon Simcock’s interview on BBC Radio 5 live Drive yesterday afternoon.
The Glyndwr University journalism tutor said: “For a news journalist shorthand is absolutely essential. For example, in court you’re not allowed to take a voice recorder, a smartphone or anything to record the proceedings so you need to be able to take a really accurate fast note of what’s happening and shorthand gives you that ability.
Jon continued: “If you talk to employers and the industry as a whole they still value it as a really valuable skill, not just for the implications in the workplace but because of the commitment of the student. It’s hard work and takes lots of practice and if you can do it you’ve proved to your employer you take the job seriously.”
Some changes to the diploma structure and assessments have already been introduced and following a transition year, the full range of mandatory and elective options will be in place by September 2017. Shorthand and public affairs are moving to the elective options but remain vital for news journalists and those qualifying as seniors in the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ).
When the new structure of the diploma was launched last April at a seminar for heads of journalism and accredited-course leaders, Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, reminded delegates why the changes to the diploma were being made.
She said: “We want to reflect the diversity of the media now and the jobs our students are securing.
“We want our qualification to be more flexible, more inclusive and more digital. We are not losing sight of the fundamental skills of finding and telling stories accurately, which remain at the heart of the diploma.”