Dear Doctor Deadline
I’m starting a journalism course this autumn. As part of it, there are certain options that I have to choose when I arrive and one of the choices is whether or not to learn shorthand. I own a good minidisc recorder and it seems like a lot of work to learn shorthand when it’s so easy to record people’s voices either over the telephone or face to face. One journalist I spoke to told me shorthand’s becoming a dying art and I needn’t worry about it. Do you agree?
To answer this, let us fast-forward swiftly to see how your career might develop. Let’s say you choose to ignore the shorthand option, deciding instead that technology is the way forward. Things progress well. You complete your course and in a few short years you find yourself on a national newspaper.
The BBC poaches you for one of its flagship news programmes. You are hot property. Then, quite suddenly, you find yourself at the heart of a major row over one of your stories.
You are required to testify in a court of law and you are asked to produce your notebooks to back up your account of a conversation. But you can’t. Because you don’t even have one. All you can produce are some very unimpressive jottings you made on a hand-held computer after the event. Suddenly, your career prospects aren’t looking quite so rosy.
True, it’s very rare that a journalist will end up in Andrew Gilligan’s position, but there are countless other reasons why the ability to take a decent shorthand note should be part of every journalist’s repertoire.
The most obvious is logistics. Journalists with good shorthand tend to be far more prolific than those without. It’s far quicker to flick through a notebook to find the killer quote or the vital fact than it is to mess about replaying tapes or minidiscs.
Then there is practicality. You can always find something to write on, but you can’t turn the back of an old envelope into a tape recorder. Well, not unless you’re quite brilliant at origami.
Subjects can often become selfconscious about speaking into a microphone too. There’s also the mystical quality that shorthand confers on its users.
People who can’t do it are generally impressed by those who can. It gives you instant professional kudos as a journalist which you can use to your advantage.
Doctor D could go on about this at great length, but he’s not sure your getting all of it down. Take the shorthand course. Got any questions for Doctor Deadline? Or do you disagree with his advice? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org