Peter Worthington has had an amazing life. And his obituary, which he wrote himself, certainly has an arresting opening line.
Whilst reading The Secret Footballer’s book (I am the Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game), I came across the player’s thoughts on the media and journalists. There was one line in particular that grabbed my attention: “I’m uncomfortable when journalists rely on shorthand rather than dictaphones, because it ends up becoming your word against theirs when a questionable story appears.”
And it got me thinking: is there still a real need for sports journalists to learn shorthand in the modern era?
I was fortunate enough to attend a Premier League club’s press conference recently, and the telltale signs would suggest that shorthand is a thing of the past. There were no notepads in sight as each and every journalist whipped out their recorders and stuck them at the mouth of the manager and player up for questioning.
I, with the safety of a dictaphone, tried to take down the press conference in shorthand but found it incredibly difficult to juggle both the pace of what was being said whilst still maintaining a high-level of accuracy. And it is the latter which worries sportspeople, as well as journalists, the most.
In November 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages from the Daily Telegraph for falsely reporting that the then Manchester United player put his ankle injury at risk by “living it up” at a Hollywood nightclub.
During the hearing the journalist’s shorthand notes were called for as evidence, but after close inspection it was deemed that the journalist’s messy shorthand outlines were not substantial enough evidence to justify the story.
The Ronaldo case goes to show how shorthand can fail as a safety barrier, whereas recording equipment is far more likely to convince the court of any innocence.
Paul Rowland, news editor at Media Wales, told Journlaism.co.uk: “Anecdotally, lawyers are tending to prefer audio recordings as evidence in legally contentious cases these days.”
Interviews are a big part of sports journalism and there is nothing worse than having an up-tight interviewee who rolls out cliché after cliché, and what The Secret Footballer is suggesting is that these closed interviews can occur when shorthand is being used as the way of recording.
But, scratching beneath The Secret Footballer’s concerns, shorthand, even in an era of increasing technological advancement, is a skill sports journalists must possess.
Shorthand is the go-to if your dictaphone is forgotten or fails. And, in cases of filing copy fast – which is a major part of sports journalism - former Observer sports correspondent Denis Campbell’s shorthand argument is a compelling one.
Sport is, unfortunately and ashamedly, becoming more involved with the courts: John Terry’s racism case and Harry Redknapp’s tax evasion case two recent examples. Under section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, recording devices are banned and therefore shorthand is the tool to keep note of what has happened.
The skill has also proved useful for me during match reporting, as the quick note taking has helped me keep up with a fast moving game.
And it seems as if the sporting media corporations value shorthand highly: Sky Sports News’ 11-month paid work placement requires entrants to have 100wpm.
It’s time to put those doubts behind me and reach the NCTJ gold shorthand standard.