How Journalism Has Changed for Me in Six Years
SCRAWLING furiously and wondering why I hadn’t taken up a career as a tap dancer, I took a breath. A minute had passed, and I’d managed to muster some sort of fusion between a series of confused hieroglyphics and an inebriated spider. Good old Teeline shorthand. I love you and loathe you.
A few things have inspired today’s post. Firstly, I noticed recently that the NCTJ was celebrating Teeline’s 50th anniversary. I also went to see The Post this week, which was a remarkable portrayal of the ethical dilemmas that publishers had to confront every day. Obviously, I can’t say I was making much of an impact during the Vietnam War, nor have I ever worked in a newsroom as chaotic and smoke-filled as The Washington Post’s, but I did find myself feeling nostalgic this week. I’ve worked on a lot of magazines, mainly regional titles in the Yorkshire area, but naturally as time has progressed, I’ve inevitably transitioned into digital publishing. Whilst many of the practices I enjoyed back in 2012 still exist today, a lot has changed too…
As far as I’m aware, Teeline shorthand itself hasn’t changed, but perhaps its prevalence. In November 2016, shorthand was downgraded in the NCTJ curriculum from compulsory to an elective module. Prior to this, students had to obtain a minimum of 60 wpm or 100 wpm for the gold standard. Obviously I am not bitter about this. I am definitely, definitely, not bitter about this. I have carpal tunnel…but I am not bitter about this. Joking aside, the public affairs module has also been replaced with an ethics and regulation module (thank you Leveson Inquiry). That module was broken down into 20 large PDF documents and a hefty text book. I am bitter about this.
C’est la vie. I’d be lying if I said I used shorthand every day, but it does still help me out – particularly when I’m on the phone! I don’t regret learning it, and though I don’t use it as often as I’d like, it’s a lovely string to my bow.
For starters, this has grown considerably since I first started studying, but it has also gone digital! (I’m actually in the process of compiling a micro-site to gather all my recent copywriting work – failed design attempts have taught me this is the way to go.) When I was studying I compiled print-offs, newspapers and magazine cuttings to send to the NCTJ, bound together in a folder. I still have this, together with a huge pile of old magazine issues, but thankfully all my recent work is immortalised online! The NCTJ has even made its portfolio module an e-portfolio module now. Sadly I took my exams a little too early to reap the benefits.
Obviously Twitter was around six years ago, but if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that a lot can change in a short space of time! News reporting is so quick-fire nowadays that it’s hard to be exclusive about anything. Of course, while this may mark the demise of front page shockers, it is also a wonderful development in the industry. It gives writers the chance to be more creative, forgoing the traditional route of reporting the story and instead approaching it from an alternative viewpoint. Instead of “Harry and Meghan are engaged”, consider: “What will Harry and Meghan’s engagement do for transatlantic relations?”
House style? Forget house style! With the prevalence of so many personal blogs nowadays, the idea of standardised grammar seems almost archaic. Magazines I worked for were very particular about their house style – their own set of rules for the styling of particular words and phrases. (One sticks out in my head: “Use ‘while’ instead of ‘whilst’. ‘Whilst’ is antiquated!) Nowadays I am given no such instruction when writing for my online audiences, though I try to keep the NCTJ style guide at the back of my mind. I refer you to a great quote on Reporting, Unit 3: Use of English:
Even the NCTJ is open to debate however, for example:
There is just one exception to the rule that the punctuation mark comes before the close-quote: when the quote is a single word, for visual reasons we put the close-quote first and then the punctuation mark. Sometimes it is argued that when the quoted passage is only part of a sentence the quote marks come first. Many people have decided not to split that particular hair, still making it:
The general said the battle was “almost a disaster.”
The general said the battle was “almost a disaster”.
You can see that indecision in action in this article on Donald Trump here.
Technology and Jargon!
When my exams were coming to an end, writing for SEO was slowly starting to creep into the syllabus. Now it seems like it’s all I do! Rather than letting writing flow naturally, it can sometimes feel as if I’m overly-conscious of using the right keywords. However, thankfully Google is becoming wise to this, focusing on developments such as semantic search and quality. My quest for quality has never changed, and I always put thorough research into every writing project I take on – the semantically relevant terms should flow nicely as a result.
Technology has also seen me abandoning some old jargon and techniques. Now I’m thinking in page titles and H2 tags rather than headlines and sub-headings. Gone are pun-heavy headlines in favour of keyword-rich page titles. Shame! One thing I refuse to change however is proofreading for my clients. I firmly believe that printing off a document and taking a red pen to it makes the job so much easier – this has worked wonders for my work with international students, for example. However, again thanks to the digital nature of today’s media, most mistakes can be quickly amended after publishing. I’m still a stickler for standards though!
As I said before, these experiences are entirely personal to me. For some people, everything may have changed, whereas for others, practices remain the same. I’ve learned a lot in the past six years, and while I do still have my work published in print, it’s also great to embrace new developments, with old standards in mind. Give it another six years and I may have been replaced by a robot, but for now I’m enjoying writing about something different every day, learning and evolving.
*Some external sources in this piece belong to the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
8th February 2018