Should reporters learn shorthand for notes?

I mourn the great quotes I’ve lost to indecipherable notes and the quotes abandoned when speakers simply outran my note-taking ability.

And it’s not just me being left in the dust by fast talkers. When I peer over a reporter’s shoulder at some freshly recorded notes, the mess I see never inspires confidence.

Yes, a tape recorder can help. But try juggling tapes for three multi-source stories, all of which are due in two hours. The benefit of the recorder is usually sacrificed to the reality of the daily writing load.

Thus the question I recently posed to a variety of journalists and journalism educators here and abroad: If taking notes is so important, shouldn’t journalists know shorthand? —Rex RhoadesShould reporters learn shorthand for notes? (American Society of Newspaper Editors)

Recent Seton Hill journalism graduate Amanda Cochran directed me to this one. (I love this quote from her reflection on interviewing: “I am a biologist with a butterfly net, a miner in a hole, a detective at a fresh crime scene. The only difference from story to story is the size of the holes in the net, the depth of the mine and the number of clues.”)

I agree completely that you can’t depend on tapes or digital recorders. I have developed my own kind of shorthand, but it’s illegible to me unless I immediately go back and transcribe it into longhand. I wonder whether familiarity with IM speak gives the younger generation of journalists an edge.

A good quote from the piece: “No journalist ever regrets mastering shorthand, but probably the majority in Britain now have not done so”. I feel very similar about touch-typing. As a senior in high school, I took a typing elective. At times I felt like I was the only student in that class who actually wanted to learn touch-typing. No, it didn’t give me any college credit, and my senior class rank would have been a few notches higher if I’d piled on another AP course, but even in 1985 I was putting in a lot of time in front of a computer keyboard, and the two-finger hunt-and-peck just wasn’t cutting it.

I have recently installed an expansion to my PDA that turns the keyboard into a freaky grid that is optimized for PDA input, and I was surprised at how easy it was to learn another system.

I’m filing this under technology because the written language is perhaps the most powerful invention.