Thursday, July 03, 2014

In the days of click-throughs and downloads, why we still love shorthand

INVIGILATING at the NCTJ shorthand exams today I am instantly transported back to a windowless, airless room at Harlow Technical College in that long, hot summer of 1975.
It is nearly the end of our eight-week block release course. Much beer has been drunk at the Painted Lady – come on, it was very hot – and careers plotted via the charming encouragement of tutor extraordinaire Ken Andrews.
Now we are sitting the shorthand exam, the culmination of two hours a day sweating through hangovers and lack of sleep to reach the holy grail of 100 words per minute.
Most of us made it, either that year or the next, as failure was not an option for us teenage school-leavers looking to make it in the competitive world of journalism.
Shorthand is not just an academic exercise to get you the NCTJ diploma and a passport to fame and fortune as the reporters at the trials of R. Brooks and R. Harris will testify.
Yes, some courts are allowing devices to be used on the Press benches, but m’learned friends do not obligingly speak slowly enough for your fingers to keep up. And the days of checking your rusty shorthand notes with a helpful rival are long gone as news organisations rush to beat each other with stories via social media and online.
Others have written more eloquently than me on the pleasures and rewards of shorthand, notably the Guardian’s Chris Elliott and Graham Dudman from the Sun.
For employers the ability to do shorthand makes an applicant stand out and keen, hard-working and capable. And anyone who has mastered this particular and sometimes peculiar skill knows its enduring delight.
I saw one of my 1975 classmates, Neil Harman now tennis correspondent of The Times, talking eloquently on the telly from Wimbledon yesterday. I would like to have seen his notebook…I’m sure it includes some immaculate Pitman’s shorthand.