The method and madness of Teeline


Greetings and the Teeline examination cometh in just two days. After a lengthy interview with Diane Modahl, the shamed and then redeemed athlete of the 1990s in the headlines for a false positive drug test and onetime reality TV star, I feel better prepared having outlined about 60% of the hour long miniature press-conference confidently and legibly. Now all I have to do is work on that extra 40%.

The irony of shorthand is that although it is a fabulous means of logging everything an interviewee is saying without having to rely on technology (or in the instance where technology is not appropriate or even admitted), it is nevertheless a hindrance when jotting down an interviewee’s answer to your own question.

You are trapped between looking interested and receptive and paying eye-contact style attention to the individual while getting very little down… or actually getting it down on paper at the risk of looking preoccupied and rude.

I settled for the happy medium which then costed me Brownie points when I failed to thank her for answering my rather personal question as I was trying to remember the outline for “scrutiny”. I shall forever have to rely on my steadfast rhetoric which I use to justify everything about journalism to myself with the mantra “I didn’t come into this business to make friends”. On the contrary, I am desperate to please and to be liked and to be popular. Maybe its something to do with wanting to be an actor from a young age and being prohibited by my parents… Interestingly enough a lot of my classmates have admitted to being theatrical and to have similar ambitions to me from a young age too…

I always thought I was too well adjusted to go into acting but the more I look at myself and my eager need to please and my ever simmering ambition I wonder if this too is contrary to the sorts of things I like to tell myself everyday which at the back of my mind I know is just bullshit.

Thats where I struggle with journalism. You can’t really bullshit it. Not like essay writing for your undergraduate degree anyway! Now try not bullshitting and writing perfect shorthand all at once. Its not as easy as farting and crossing the road at the same time. Bullshit doesn’t work in this industry and many would disagree. The best journalism is the stuff that is as raw and honest as an uncooked hamburger and not the intricate web of manipulation of a sociopath. Although a story about the sociopath might yield some good things. 

Talking of sociopaths, my Shorthand Tutor will no doubt be elated to know I have little faith for doing well in Thursday’s exam. Its only the first baby exam but as we all know by now, exams aren’t my thing. And irrespective of my parents reminding me of my educational background, no amount of schooling or exam technique tutoring has ever made me good at taking exams, least of all those where bullshit is negatively marked.

When I visited Bloomberg (amazing place) for the NCTJ Student Council at the beginning of February, we asked why it is that law is negatively marked and their response was that mistakes made about how to use the law can cost a journalist a great deal… and his boss… and his boss’s boss. So it has to be negatively marked as a saving made in legal fees. And I suppose £37 and a couple of weeks of studying is nothing compared to £5,000 and several unhappy trips to court and losing your job and credibility because the mistake you made cost the local paper you worked for to go into liquidation. Or worse a jail term!

Now jail doesn’t seem such a horrifying prospect to me anymore having been inside half a dozen times by now. Shark Eyes, as it happens, is in for murdering a woman on a night out in a drunken frenzy and apparently showing no remorse. She got a life sentence a decade ago and has been moved to Styal from Strangeways when it housed women as well as men. 

But even so, the woman is a laugh. She’s killed a woman by kicking her to death like a football… or so says the Manchester Evening News… but she’s Mother Hen. She’s the one the girls talk to and the one who has them all wrapped around her little finger. She’s been inside for 10 years and seems to be living like the perpetual student. Self-catered accommodation, a lover (Tasha), goes to classes, gets her hair done, occasionally gets to do karaoke, gets her drugs smuggled in… She just has no money, no alcohol and no lie ins.. Its not a bad life, is it? Her tattoos and scars on her arms say different but sitting in the cosy IT room you start to get used to it.

She wished me luck for my exam on Thursday. She told me she hoped I passed and she was sure that I would. 

I am not so sure and I don’t know if I can trust a criminal with no knowledge of Teeline Shorthand to tell me that I can pass the 60/70. I know thats nothing compared to the 80/90/100 exam but its a start! Speed-building is an arduous process and every journo has had to be here at some point!

I’m sure some of the reputable ones even had to retake their law exam… I wish I was more like Jon Snow. I think his great height gives him a larger surface area of body to store information in. My pins couldn’t store The Little Book of Drinking Games let alone the McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

As a journalist there are some literary works you grow very familiar with. The three biggies are McNaes Essential Law for Journalists, Dawn Johnston’s Teeline for Journalists and the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice. And woe betide you if you can’t grasp any of these mighty reads’ concepts in your little budding journo brain. 

I miss Dawn Johnston… the fastest she went was 60wpm. Lucky Darlington College get her as a tutor. 

So back to the shorthand practice without Dawn, rather my very 1950s-sounding library borrowed practice CDs which are mind-numbingly dull to trawl through. My iTunes is on shuffle and I think that the Roy Orbison song I am listening to is roughly 70wpm so will try and transcribe that instead.


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