Training to become a reporter? You are a pretty decent writer, you are good at talking to people and you are already hitting, at least, a 2:1 on your essays. So why do you feel as if you are struggling?
Ah yes… the, oh so, tedious yet, oh so, necessary skill that we all would love to have but hate to learn.
I am studying at University of Sheffield in the reputable department of Journalism and I am loving it. The story writing, the insightful lectures; I even slightly enjoyed writing an essay on the relationship between politicians and journalists from a postmodernist perspective (go figure!). But that one vital skill is lingering over me like a bad smell, telling me it is not going to disappear until I can write at 100 words a minute…. Teeline Shorthand.
For starters, the shorthand lectures begin at 8am everyday, which works wonders for my social life. Next we are expected to return home and work through our textbook, Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists by Marie Cartwright. For anybody who has ever listened to Marie dictate on the disc, you will understand me when I tell you that I check my desk drawer to see if a magnum revolver has magically appeared every time she speaks. Especially when she says ‘able to’ in that patronising tone that makes you want to repeatedly head butt your keyboard until you knock yourself unconscious.
Now it is arguable that shorthand is becoming an unnecessary skill. Sure, most reporters will use recording devices or take down notes on Twitter; but these are all reporters who learnt the skill and decided not to use it anymore. In an increasingly competitive market, newspapers are looking for young journalists who can still take an accurate shorthand note when being spoken to at 100 words a minute. Also, for your course to receive an NCTJ accreditation, it must teach shorthand. Below is a link to a video on YouTube where current journalists talk about the importance of shorthand.
So it is clear that achieving a speed of 100 wpm is a must; but this is not a dull game show where people pick boxes or fill in the blanks, to achieve a speed target in shorthand requires great effort.
Now it is easy to dedicate an hour a day to shorthand, but by the time you have set up your laptop and put the audio disc in, flicked through Facebook and watched a couple of funny videos on YouTube, you realise you only actually spent ten minutes on shorthand. It is also easy to say that you are going to have an ‘early night’ tonight; that is until the ten minute chat with your flatmates turns into a two hour conversation and a whole series of The Peep Show. Attempting to take down dictation at any speed after less than three hours kip is pointless, especially if you have a hangover. Do not drink Gin and then go to a shorthand lecture…. In fact, just don’t drink Gin at all.
Shorthand may seem impossible to begin with, but writing at 100 wpm certainly doesn’t break the laws of physics, so don’t be put off. Start taking down song lyrics or speeches in shorthand, and try asking your friends and family questions and taking their answers down (some people can be surprisingly slow at answering). Once you begin to use shorthand in everyday life, you will no longer be a novice at the skill.