Whither the woodpile?

Just a short entry, but something I’ve commented on before.

In November 2016 I wrote a piece for Huffington Post on why I regard shorthand as a useful skill for trainee journalists to develop, but not an essential one.

It was prompted by the training body for reporters, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), announcing it was considering removing shorthand as an essential qualification.

That announcement prompted a flurry of indignation among reporters, including Huffington Post’s own Deputy Political Editor, Owen Bennett, on Twitter:

I made the argument at that time that the skill was no longer essential in part because of technological developments:

“ A dictaphone costs £20, can be carried in your pocket and whipped out at a moment’s notice to record a vox pop or interview…
“An audio recording is the perfect, 50MB, 100% accurate record of what was said. And as we’re in the 21st century and journalists are pulled hither and thither to deliver multimedia content, one can store the audio file away for future access.
“Got an exclusive, like Andrea Leadsom’s motherhood comments from July? Share that MP3 with colleagues for a multimedia story, get it on your website, share it with TV, radio and podcasts, even use it as a rebuttal if the MP in question claims you’ve misquoted or taken something out of context.

There’s an irony then, regarding the reporting of Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris’ racist outburst, made this week while addressing a meeting of similarly-minded Eurosceptics.

After saying just 7% of financial services in the UK would be affected by Brexit, Morris added:

“Now I’m sure there will be many people who’ll challenge that, but my response and my request is look at the detail, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
“Now we get to the real n****r in the woodpile, which is in two years what happens if there is no deal?”

The N-word. No joke.

But how did the story get out, making headline news and forcing the Conservative Party to punish Morris? It was, after all, a closed meeting attended by a small number of reporters.

An audio recording, that’s how.

Whose audio recording? Owen Bennett’s, as he confirmed to me in a DM on Twitter.

Without the recording there’s a case that story might not have made it to media. Certainly, Morris uses the term so casually it’s galloped past in mid-sentence.

Other reporters missed the reference at the time, confesses Reuters journalist Anjuli Davies:

The other Conservative MPs on the panel, notably, failed to challenge Morris at the time over her use of language. But as former Cabinet minister John Redwood later told the i:

“I don’t recall her using a bad word, perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.”

Without the audio recording there’s a chance no-one in the room would have clocked Morris’ remark. And without the recording it would have been fairly straightforward for Morris to claim that a reporter had misheard, or worse fabricated what turned out to be a wholly inappropriate and embarrassing use of a racist slur.

Good thing, therefore, that Owen had his dictaphone to hand. I wonder what the Teeline is for the N-word? Actually, don’t tell me. I’m not at all interested.