A few months ago, a number of media outlets told the story of Kyle Gunn, a you man with cerebral palsy, who was at risk of not getting his higher national diploma in practical journalism because he could not do the shorthand component.
A few days later there was a reversal, and he was told he did not have to complete the shorthand component in order to get his HND.
The National College for the Training of Journalists pointed out that, although it was not involved in Mr Gunn’s course, shorthand had become an “elective component” of its diploma which meant “learners may complete the qualification without shorthand”.
I strongly believe a disability should not be a barrier to a rewarding career in journalism. And I know journalists with disabilities who among the best in the field.
However, I am concerned that shorthand itself has become an “elective component” – rather than its absence being a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for those with disabilities – in the pre-entry course to journalism.
In part I suspect this downgrading of shorthand reflects the modern media landscape. Two decades ago, when shorthand was compulsory, many more newspapers were well enough staffed to regularly have reporters in court, inquests and council meetings. These were the arenas in which the skill of shorthand ruled supreme.
Nowadays you as likely to see a reporter in court with a lap top open or a telephone in hand live tweeting a case. Newspapers, it seems, have different needs now – and a chasing the semblance of relevance in the digital ecosphere more rigorously than their traditional bedrock of solid, accurate, reporting.
And as someone who works regularly with people in radio and television, let me tell you that the difference in output between somebody with shorthand and somebody without can be vast.
Court copy produced by somebody with proper shorthand is leagues above that produced by somebody without. The levels of detail simply do not compare.
This is fine for a radio bulletin – where all you need to say is that x person appeared in y court and admitted z crime. Beyond that though, and the fabric of accuracy and depth quickly frays.
This deprofessionalisation of journalism matters because we’ve entered an era where reporters are accused of producing “fake news” because it does not tally with the view of somebody, somewhere. And if the profession itself decrees the ability to accurately record what another person says is an optional skill then where does that leave it?
What then is the difference between the reporter in court concentrating more on making a tweet clickable than recording what is unfolding in front of them and the casual onlooker at in court?