It’s coming home, Teeline’s coming home (sort of)

For decades, it’s been a rite of a passage for anyone wishing to gain the NCTJ senior qualification — getting 100 words per minute Teeline shorthand.

Few aspects of journalism training provoke so much debate as the focus put on shorthand — the precious note-taking skill which ensures reporters can cover court, and many other real-time events, effectively.

Now, The National Council for the Training of Journalists has become the new home of Teeline shorthand, taking over the copyright from the Teeline Royalties Partnership.

To mark the charity’s 70th anniversary, the move will effectively bring Teeline out of copyright 20 years early and make it available for the public benefit to support journalism training and standards.

The NCTJ will be removing licence fees to provide free access for the commercial use of Teeline outlines by all shorthand trainers and journalism training providers.

Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, said: “I am delighted the Teeline Royalties Partnership has chosen to transfer the intellectual rights of Teeline to the NCTJ.

“This is not being done by the NCTJ for any financial gain and payments for licences will be removed to benefit our commercial providers and trainers. We want to encourage as much shorthand training as possible to help students and trainees master this important and challenging skill.

“It also gives the NCTJ the freedom to publish the Teeline books of its choice and more training materials on our new Journalism Skills Academy e-learning platform.

“I think this is the perfect way to celebrate the NCTJ’s 70th anniversary.”

Teeline was invented by James Hill, who was born near Bradford in 1908 and qualified as a teacher of Pitman shorthand by the age of 21. Determined to create a quicker and more straightforward method of teaching shorthand, Hill began experimenting as early as 1939, and in 1968 the system was recommended to the NCTJ.

In November 1968, NCTJ shorthand consultant Harry Butler wrote: “We have on our hands a shorthand breakthrough which should solve longstanding shorthand problems. I have never known a shorthand system that can produce such good results in so short a time.”

Today, Teeline shorthand remains an invaluable skill for all journalists and continues to be taught and examined by the NCTJ.

Nicky Brownrigg, who has administrated Teeline for the Hill family since the 1990s, said: “James Hill’s grandchildren have said he would be delighted the NCTJ recognise that, even after 50 years, Teeline is still the easiest shorthand to learn. As he was such an innovator, they know he would approve of the NCTJ’s plans to update training materials, making Teeline relevant to current and future journalists.

“The partners are delighted that the NCTJ has taken ownership of Teeline. We believe that the NCTJ is a great home for Teeline, as it is perfectly placed to improve educational materials and promote Teeline to trainee journalists.

“We admire the NCTJ’s generous decision take Teeline out of copyright, as this will enable a much wider audience to enjoy the benefits of using Teeline shorthand.

“We believe Teeline will flourish under the care of the NCTJ and wish them and Teeline users all the best for the future.”

The importance of shorthand has been a regular debate in local journalism in recent years, triggered often by the arrival of new styles of journalism roles in newsrooms as local titles embraced digital publishing.

Even before digital journalism took hold, advancing technology was making some question whether all journalists required shorthand, with some citing being able to record interviews, or councils live-streaming council meetings, as examples of alternatives.

Last year, several prominent journalists wrote for Behind Local News with their views on shorthand.

James Mitchinson, editor of the Yorkshire Post, wrote: “I did not have shorthand when my first editor took a chance on me, but it absolutely was made clear to me that I was expected to get it, and get it — on the job, in my own time — I did.

“I am forever grateful to my then hiring managers, two of which I’m pleased to say are now industry trainers — for pressing me to get it. It is now something I use almost daily, in and out of work, and nobody can take this life skill away from me.”

Luke Beardsworth, editor of LancsLive, Reach’s digital news title in the Red Rose county, took a different view: “Shorthand is undoubtedly important. People have pointed out that it is still needed to cover court or inquests. Not one single person is contesting those very valid points. Having shorthand means you can go to court, but it doesn’t give you the ability to tell an important story coherently and in an engaging manner.

“If two applicants come to me, one with shorthand and one who has started a hyperlocal news bit for their village, the shorthand user is going to be disappointed unfortunately. Yes — you can have both, but that’s very rarely the case.

“The absolutism of saying you need it to get a job, or the people who have it are the ones that get jobs, is both incorrect and risks showing us up as the small-minded industry we are sometimes guilty of being.”

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