Daily Tedium

Shorthand For No

The incredibly frustrating tale of a college that tried to bar a Scottish student with cerebral palsy from getting a journalism certification—because rules.

By Ernie Smith

In an era when literally every rule of traditional journalism has been blown to shreds (case in point: the fact I can run a site and newsletter like this), it’s depressing to see how far some sticklers are willing to go in maintaining rules that make zero sense in 2017.

Case in point: It was revealed this week that a Scottish college wouldn’t let a journalism student with cerebral palsy pass a course to gain a journalism qualification … because he can’t write shorthand due to his out-of-his-control physical condition.

Props to Glasgow Clyde College for encouraging the use of a form of transcription that will be quite effective in town hall meetings and press conferences for many budding correspondents, but I have to be honest here: I’ve worked in journalism in one form or another for nearly 15 years, and I’ve never used shorthand, not even once. I have no need—I have a laptop, an audio recorder, and a smartphone. The rules have changed in the digital era—you can do a whole lot of reporting without ever having to pick up a sheet of paper.

In face, that’s the most depressing part about this: Kyle Gunn, the student at the center of all this, is the perfect example of why this rule is outdated. He’s already spent time in the field—he’s covering press conferences in the sporting world regularly, and the lack of shorthand-writing ability does not appear to have affected his skills. In other words, it’s a rule for the sake of a rule.

The school eventually changed its tune after an outcry about the situation, when it became clear that the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which sets rules for assessments followed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, never intended its rules to be so draconian.

“In all of the NCTJ's qualifications, including shorthand, we make reasonable adjustments and give special considerations to learners with particular needs,” the council stated to the BBC.

I’m a huge advocate for journalism education, of course—I’ve learned a lot over the years through both my higher-education roots and the organizations I’ve been a member of over the years. But if the rules tied to that education don’t make sense anymore, maybe they shouldn’t be rules.

It’s not like journalism is a field known for keeping its sacred cows around for long.

(Wannabe Hack/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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