Guest Post – Harry Low: fast-track journo courses

Wannabe Hacks goes back to the blackboard this week and Harry Low – already shorthand-deep into a fast-track journo course – lets us know exactly what it’s like and what to expect.

‘Special outlines’, ‘leading and kerning’ and the ‘fade factor’ are a few phrases which – had you presented them to me a month ago – I would not have had the foggiest what you were on about.

Harry Low

However, having just completed my third week of a fast-track journalism course, I would at least feel able to give you an indication of what is meant by these words.

The pace of the course is quick. Not too fast but we are progressing at a speed which feels appropriate considering that we need to have all coursework written, portfolios completed and exams sat (and hopefully passed) within the 18 week duration .

The course, roughly speaking, runs from Monday-Thursday with hours usually around 9am-2.30pm. In addition to the 17 or so hours of contact time, we are expected to do up to 10 hours of additional study each week as well as complete work experience on our Friday off.

In order to fit this in a few things have become apparent:

Bring the right equipment

A cancelled train meant that I arrived almost 30 minutes late to my first class (perhaps allow plenty of contingency time if travelling by public transport would be another worthwhile tip, but that’s for another day). I had, though, made sure I had with me the necessary pens, pencils and – crucially – a shorthand notebook: a key item for any wannabe hack.

This allowed me to get to grips with writing the shorthand alphabet and any special outlines – shortcut words, if you like – that we need to know. Not having a copy of the shorthand text Teeline Fast, which we are using for our course, made the first few lessons more difficult.

Ordering books in advance is good practice.

Keep up with the reading

Easier said than done. However, there’s nothing worse than sitting in a classroom listening to a discussion on the ins and outs of the law of contempt and not having the faintest idea what is happening.

By reading I do not simply mean academic texts on public affairs or media law. As obvious as it may sound, it is also valuable to read newspapers; and not just broadsheets or only tabloids but a healthy blend of both. Even if you dream of writing for The Guardian, it is useful to have an awareness of how other publications are written, who is writing the articles and which style a newspaper is written in. Other newspapers could, ultimately, end up being your competition or, if you freelance, your employer.

Make friends with those on your course

As The Student made reference to not long ago, the people on your course are the journalists of the future. This point was emphasised to us by our tutors almost as soon as we started the course and I believe this to be good advice. These people could potentially be valuable to you at a later stage.

Even if it does not transpire that way, they could become good friends in the process, which can be vital when starting in a new environment.

Oh and for the record, ‘leading’ is the space between the lines of text and ‘kerning’ refers to the space between letters and words.

Harry has written various sports articles for a range of publications. Aside from his course commitments he also commentates for the blind football fans inside the Charlton Athletic stadium.


7 Responses to Guest Post – Harry Low: fast-track journo courses

  1. Peter Demain says:

    There’s a happy alternative to learning shorthand; buy a mic to plug into an mp3. Classes or conferences or interviews tend to come through well as long as you’re not secluded like some cautious guinea pig in a disused warren at the back though software like Audacity can enhance. This alternative began with the old dictaphones; but with cassettes obsolete minituirization and digital tech make audio a fine substitute.

    A fast course like this befits many aspiring sports reporter where reaction and time is vital. Shame most journalism courses in Britain do not teach photography which was once a widely practiced, even defining, hack skill. The popular image of the fedora’d journo with a camera and notepad is one of the least accurate stereotypes surrounding a trade.

    What of reading online outlets or magazines? Circulations for tabloids and broadsheets are declining fast in the face of tech advance, economic realities, and the fact all newspapers are presently produced by people who in large part stay indoors and write wire copy – same stories everywhere reworded and cannibilized plus a massive quantity of supplements aren’t working. The Internet is perpetually ahead.

    This article befits a press newcomer from 1980 better than 2010.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

    • student says:

      No that’s nonsense. These are the skills necessary for news – you know, picking up the phone, getting out, talking to people. Regardless of print/online platform.

      Dirty Garnet is not by any stretch a ‘news’ site. It is kareoke journalism – rehashing other people’s reporting with ramblings of opinion.

      • Another student says:

        Got to agree with you there. Pete Demain spits out vitriolic comments on almost every hardworking journalist/student journalists blog, yet his own website consists of a set of barely comprehensible ramblings.

        Pete, please feel free to bring some of your own accomplishments to the table before you criticise others, otherwise you’re basically just the type of blogger that Andrew Marr hit out at the other day.

      • Peter Demain says:

        “No that’s nonsense.”

        Another skill valued in good journalism is backing up a statement with points comprised of reasoned evidence. So come on, why are my above three paragraphs nonsensical?

        you know, picking up the phone, getting out, talking to people. Regardless of print/online platform.

        True. I submitted an article for consideration to this very website earlier today which alludes to this.

        Dirty Garnet is not by any stretch a ‘news’ site. It is kareoke journalism – rehashing other people’s reporting with ramblings of opinion.

        Thanks for the feedback and flattering comparison to much present-day newspaper output.

        I’d love to know who else reports Dirty Garnet’s content: Are you implying it’s not all overlooked, completely true and credible news from the outside world missed by the mainstream press?


        Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  2. rosieniven says:

    Harry, just one question – what course are you on?

  3. Harry Low says:

    Rosie – I’m studying at Lambeth College in Clapham. The next intake is in February 2011.

    Peter – thanks for your comments. On shorthand I would say this: for anyone who has had to sit down and transcribe an interview or a speech it becomes quite obvious that the time it takes to do this is far greater than the length of a speech itself. It is therefore far quicker to be able to take notes in shorthand and transcribe without having to stop, pause and rewind. Shorthand also stands up in a court of law.

    With regards to online reading, I think you make a good point. It is useful to keep across online outlets as well as print but I was getting at the idea that newspapers, for the moment at least, are still a journalist’s bread and butter.

  4. The Intern says:

    We have had to moderate various comments on this thread and as such we are closing comments on this article.

    We would like to refer everyone to the comments and moderation policy which can be found at: and remind you to keep discussions on topic.

    We really hate moderating – we don’t want to interfere with good discussion so please try and stick to the rules.

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