The Long and Short of It: Why Shorthand is More Important Than Ever

A Teeline version of this article

A Teeline version of this article

When a police chief held a press conference to update journalists following a horrific crime, the nation’s media was on hand to record his words. As a senior reporter for the local paper, I was among the scrum, waiting to write down the words that would soon be splashed on our front page.

And then he began speaking. Quickly. People on average speak around 130 words per minute (wpm) and there is no way that a journalist would be able to legibly take down each word without the sentences becoming unintelligible and therefore useless.

Luckily, I had just spent months studying Teeline Shorthand, writing reams of odd-looking ‘hieroglyphs’ and passing a series of exams to help me become a senior reporter. Thanks to shorthand, I was able to keep up but there were a few reporters there who couldn’t and had to ask to read each other’s notes.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most useful skills I was taught at journalism college, and I still use it every day at work
— Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge

This was one of countless times throughout my career when shorthand was key to my job. I still remember filling pages and pages of notebooks with these strange looking outlines while reporting on a court story or inquest (recording devices are not allowed in UK court rooms). I would then have to read them straight back to my news editor over the phone so they could be filed just before a deadline. And one time an angry interviewee threatened to take legal action, accusing me of misquoting them and I was able to leaf through my shorthand notes and show that I had written down their words accurately.

Despite the rise in mobile-based journalism with video recordings of interviews uploaded to news websites instantly, I would argue that shorthand is still of paramount importance to journalists. Training for the skill continues through the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) with would-be reporters aiming to pass 100 wpm exams before they can progress in their career. Last year, Teeline shorthand also celebrated 50 years since it was invented by teacher James Hill.

To celebrate 50 years since the inception of Teeline, social media saw journalists from the likes of the BBC and Channel 4 come together to celebrate the skill #showusyourTeeline

Being able to handwrite contemporaneous notes of an interview, press conference, inquest or court case is far more dependable than relying on a recording device or phone to document someone’s words. Technology can fail but shorthand doesn’t (as long as you have a spare pen/pencil and notebook just in case one runs out!).

And in a world of shifting perceptions and ‘fake news’, having an accurate, current account of a person’s words is vital. Shorthand gives you the power to hold people to account through their own words.

Note: quote taken from:

by Cherie Woodhouse

Sherezade Garcia Rangel