Editors say shorthand remains key skill for journalists

Shorthand remains a core skill for today’s journalist and one that must not be compromised, regional newspaper editors and executives have told an industry conference.

Manchester Evening News editor Paul Horrocks and Lancashire Evening Post editorial director Simon Reynolds said the ability to take and read back an accurate shorthand note was essential in an era of fast-breaking online news.

“Shorthand’s got to be at number one, full stop,” Horrocks told the NCTJ skills conference in Salford today.

“The core skills that we come back to are public administration, the law, shorthand, interviewing techniques and writing a good story.”

He later added: “I don’t know a newspaper editor who doesn’t want their journalists to go to courts and council meetings.”

Reynolds said the rolling nature of online news placed a renewed pressure on journalists to phone in stories and file quickly.

“I think the future is going back to the past,” he said. “You had to phone the story in because there was an edition [about to go to press].

“With the web, that skill is needed more now. You haven’t got time to rewind your tape.

“That’s a core skill that I think has been lost but it needs to come back.”

He added: “If you haven’t got shorthand you’re just too slow. We haven’t got time.”

But Johnston Press group editorial executive David Rowell said journalists with shorthand were often preoccupied with taking a verbatim note of speeches rather than listening and understanding.

“We get trainee journalists who come along and are trying to take down every word and they’re not listening to what is said,” he said.

“Perhaps that is something we should be thinking about as an industry. That [verbatim note-taking] isn’t what we need them to do.”

Rowell said there was clear evidence of support for shorthand. He added: “Shorthand I doubt will be compromised, but perhaps the way we examined it will be.”

According to a survey by the NCTJ, 64 per cent of newspaper editors consider shorthand to be an “extremely important” skill for a journalist to possess.

One editor said in their response to the survey: “A reporter without shorthand is like a runner taking part in a marathon with one foot in a cardboard box.”

But the report found there was some willingness to compromise on the speed trainees needed to reach before they were considered proficient.

The current gold standard is 100 words per minute. Some editors said 80 or 90 would be adequate, with one describing the 100pm exam as “a bit archaic”.

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