R.I.P. to PBTD!

On 27/12/2009, in News, by admin
Happy New Year - Courtesy Mr Pitman

Happy New Year - Courtesy Mr Pitman

R.I.P. for PBTD – Anyone following me?

When I was a cub reporter on a small newspaper in Devon, UK, I sent away to the US for a book that I felt would help my career. It was written by a court reporter called Maurice Kligman and was titled: How to Write 240 Words a Minute in Pitman’s Shorthand. It was an amazing book, filled with short-cut phrases he had devised during his years as a court reporter. A little squiggle and it covered a whole sentence such as: ‘What did you say to him and what did he say to you?’ A couple of slashes of the pen and he’d covered the question: ‘Will you tell the judge and jury…’

Having spent months teaching myself Pitman’s shorthand, – downward strokes and forward slashes for sounds (it was all phonetic)  such as P,B,T, D, CH, J, K, Gay – I set to work devising my own short forms as they are known, which I applied over the years as a journalist. I couldn’t live without it and wondered how other journalists, who hadn’t learned shorthand, could really get things down accurately in their longhand scrawls, or spare the time tape-recording an interviewee and then having to play it all back again.

My, how things have changed. Just recently I had to cover a court case and found that while I still knew all the strokes I fell way behind in actually getting them down in my notebook fast enough. I’d lost the knack. And why was this? Because I’d fallen victim to modern technology. I’d learned how to type almost as fast on my laptop as I’d been able to write in Pitman’s. Out on the road I found it quicker to touch the screen on my iPhone and thanks to one of the apps start recording. OK, I then had to play it back, but my improved typing speed meant that little time was lost – and I could immediately despatch my emails and stories from wherever I found myself, again thanks to the iPhone which I could tether to my computer via Bluetooth.

Is this, then, the death of shorthand? I hope not, but it seems that today’s young reporters haven’t learned it. A prime example was a reporter sitting next to me in a court in Queensland, watching as I took notes in Pitman’s. I learned that when he returned to his office he told his News Editor that the case was getting international coverage because sitting next to him was a reporter taking notes in Arabic. Sigh…


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