Observe, the trainee journalist in its natural habitat: from the “80wpm plateau” crisis calls to the countless wire-bound notepads that it makes its nest of, the average hack-enthusiast cannot help but notice this fledgling species as it attempts to learn the necessary skills to survive in the harrowing landscape that is modern-day journalism.

Except, could this breed be on its last legs? Expert’s furrowed brows and doomsday articles suggest that the end is nigh for this particular breed of journalist, but are they right?


The picture painted for incoming journalists looks pretty dismal. The job market is saturated with young hopefuls looking for positions, if those jobs have not already been removed for good from newsrooms around the country. The blogosphere is full, the hot ticket has standing room only now, if you can fit through the doors before they close.

Now, more so than ever before, journalists are highly trained, accredited professionals. As Nick Davies laments in Flat Earth News, gone are the days of the whiskey-swirling people-person with a sprawling web of contacts, and an impressive wardrobe of hats, one assumes. Rarely do modern day journalists train on the job without diplomas or degrees in the subject. Most journalists arrive tack-sharp and poised for any story that may come their way. Not a bad thing to be, considering the limited amount of time modern journalists spend away from their desks.

So, should shorthand still be a part of a budding journalist’s toolkit? Can it really compete with pocket-friendly recording technology? Yes, and yes, respectively. Shorthand transcends portability in its ability to appear non-confrontational, attentive and professional. If modern journalism is all about independent individuals following their nose for a story, shorthand equips you with the skills to ricochet from courtroom to door knocking, from covering a impromptu protest to taking notes at a town meeting, unhindered by the buzz that surrounds you. No longer held back by your phone battery and the limits of its recording mic, young fledgling, you are ready to fly.

A journo with a spiral-bound notepad is free to take down, word-for-word, the comment you’ve been angling for without having to fumble with a phone recorder. Plus, with memory studies showing that we both digest and remember informing alarmingly better having written it down, you are primed to take that interview by a storm. You are focused on the key details on the words coming from your subject’s mouth and more likely to clued up on the main points of interest of your interview. Your notes are accessible, personal and, quite crucially, quick to work through. Transcriptions are time consuming and audio file time-bars fiddly.

The determination a shorthand qualification displays is, also, in itself, evidence of a certain degree of tenacity - a quality worth having in an industry of rejections and set-backs. According to the many that have come before us, the 80wpm plateau is a real place, which many have come to stay for many a length of time. Like a stretch of arid desert, the plateau can only be traversed by putting one complex character after the other. Just keep plodding along, every damn day.

Ultimately, with capabilities like being able to decode secret documents for the police and hide your Christmas list in plain sight, who wouldn’t want to get to grips with this skill?

Is shorthand on its last legs?