Do We Really Still Need Shorthand?

Thanks to the contributor who raised the following points and questions:

Do reporters really need shorthand in this day and age? An age of hi-tech wizardry and miniature digital recording devices?

I understand that its pretty much mandatory to get 100wpm to get a reporting job in the UK – but in the US it’s not and you have loads of trainee reporters starting their careers without shorthand. I think they only learn shorthand if they are inclined to do so – and many are not.

What do you reckon? Shorthand’s days are numbered?

My personal view is a little old fashioned – shorthand has survived thousands of years and it’s got a few more years left.

You’re right to point out that the requirements for getting a reporting job in the UK and US are different. You do need shorthand to get a newspaper reporting job in the UK – and for good reason, too.

First, an editor has an element of legal leverage if a reporter is accused of making up a quote (which is often levied at reporters when those involved in stories don’t like their words printed in black and white). The editor can check his reporter’s shorthand note, waive a certificate that his employee has 100wpm if needed and shorthand notes tend to carry a good deal of weight as evidence in libel cases (as long as they stand up to scrutiny).

Secondly, you can take a shorthand notebook and pen/pencil pretty much anywhere, write outside, in cramped conditions etc and you don’t have to worry about digital storage space or power supply.

Thirdly – and I’ve occasionally used electronic recording devices for contentious news stories – navigating a shorthand notebook to find the quotes you’re looking for is far easier than scanning tape or digital recordings.

Fourthly, you can’t take recording devices into courts in the UK – so you’re dependent on note-taking the old fashioned way.

Finally, I’ve found note books don’t intimidate interviewees as much as placing a recording device in the middle of a table.

So, to sum up, shorthand is more reliable, you’re able to use it in court and provides an easier system for finding the notes you’re looking for than its hi-tech counterpart.

But what do you think? Email me or post a comment…

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