Shorthand “as important as ever” says NCTJ chairman

NCTJ chairman Kim Fletcher discussed the importance of shorthand on today’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth programme, that explored the history of shorthand and its usefulness in the present day.

The programme, presented by Michael Rosen, explored the fascinating history of shorthand, taking the story from ancient Rome through to Charles Dickens and the present day. It also featured an amazing recording of Sir Isaac Pitman from 1891.

During the programme Kim spoke about the way shorthand is taught on NCTJ-accredited courses and how it is a fundamental part of professional journalism training today. He also talked about the examination system whereby students listen to a shorthand passage, take down a shorthand note and then transcribe the text.

Kim, who achieved 120wpm while training and still uses it today, said: “It’s very strange that actually shorthand is as important as ever. People say you can have tape recorders and digital recorders, so why bother. But editors want it and I think they want it for two reasons. They want it because actually learning shorthand shows you have some dedication to journalism and secondly it is really useful. If you tape something you’ve got to play the whole tape back, if you’ve got a shorthand note you can go straight to the bit you actually need.

The programme also featured MA course leader David Holmes and shorthand tutor Kay Carl who teach on the NCTJ-accredited courses at the University of Sheffield.

Kay originally studied Pittman shorthand but now teaches Teeline and said: “Teeline is easier to learn because it is based on the alphabet - each letter has a shorthand symbol and it is an abbreviated way of writing, whereas Pitman is based on rules and symbols. When I learned Pitman it took me a year to get up to 60wpm because it is so much longer, so Teeline is much better for journalists and for students these days.”

Shorthand is a highly useful skill for journalists and not only because recording devices are not allowed in courtrooms.

Commenting on the skill David said: “Even if you can record electronically, there are times when it might be canny as a reporter to use shorthand instead. Sometimes it's far better to be discreetly writing things in a notebook than to whip out a microphone and invite somebody to do an interview, because that can make them nervous, and can also make them realise that the journalist is actually going to use what they’re saying.”

The programme was produced by Luke Hollands of BBC Bristol, a University of Sheffield journalism graduate. He said of enrolling on the course at Sheffield: “I was a bit put-out to discover it would involve hours and hours and hours of shorthand lessons....however after months of struggling I just about managed to reach a speed of 100wpm.” He now says he uses shorthand regularly in his job as a broadcast journalist.

The programme will be repeated on BBC Radio 4 at 11pm on Monday, 16 May and is available on the BBC iPlayer here.