Few subjects cause as much controversy among journalism academics as shorthand – as was seen in last year’s entertaining exchange on allmediascotland.scom when Martin Boyle (backed by a formidable array of comments from readers including Dorothy-Grace Elder) leapt to the defence of shorthand as essential in response to a column by Brian McNair.
I only just managed to scrape past 100 words per minute thanks to a following wind back in the early '90s, and still have unpleasant memories of long nights with a tape recorder, fearing that I’d never be able to escape my indentures.
So the launch of a new book to challenge Teeline Gold and written specifically for reporters was of great interest – students sometimes ask about the relevance of passages in textbooks headed, ‘Letter about laying carpet’, or ‘Letter about a repair to a tap’.
Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists was launched by the NCTJ as part of its national Shorthand Week and the first thing that strike you is its size – more than 200 A4 pages, meaning those all-important outlines should be easy to follow.
It comes with a CD, and the speed development passages (ranging from 50wpm to 120wpm) seem much more relevant to the stories that reporters may deal with – there are armed police, a crime helpline and a shelter for the homeless opening.
Eleanor Bryans, who works at Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde universities, has taught shorthand to hundreds of journalists now working in Scotland and says the book is clear and well presented, with shorthand outlines and longhand well spaced out and plenty of example outlines, as well as revision exercises – she’ll be trying it out in September.
The debate about shorthand – ie whether the modern-day journalist needs it, given various electronic recording devices – will never go away. The NCTJ may change the way it tests at some speeds, but it’s still the first thing that most editors check for in a CV.
There can’t be many things which are endorsed by the managing editors of both the Sun and the Guardian – so this book looks like a step forward for everyone trying to learn this essential skill.
Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists, by Marie Cartwright, is published by Heinemann, costing £15.99, ISBN 978-0-435-47171-2
Julian Calvert is a senior lecturer in Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University and Chairman of the Society of Editors (Scotland).