Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vincent Moore's History of the Twentieth Century, Ctd.

[Part One and explanation here]

Part 2, The 1920s

My father, born 1910, left school at fifteen or sixteen and was apprenticed to a trade. This would have been very much the norm for Britain in the 1920s. Something equivalent to high school graduation was a significant amount of schooling for an immigrant policeman’s son. 

The trade he went into was not factory work or business clerking, say, or his father's police force. He became an apprentice journalist at the Manchester Evening Chronicle. Since his younger brother also became a journalist (and had a long career with BBC News), one might invent something like an Irish love of words and language in this essentially working-class family. But the newspapering career may simply have come through a parental connection or school connection, or merely from the hazards of the job market.

My father had joined a growing industry. Newspapers were booming in the early twentieth century in the developed countries of the world. At a moment when even radio was in its infancy, they benefited from rising levels of literacy, civic engagement, and mass culture. Even small British (and American and Canadian) cities often had many rival newspapers, and successful reporters were becoming celebrities. 

Education had not yet been hived off entirely into schools, and my father's experience documents the losses that could accompany that ongoing process. One of the things he learned during his newspaper apprenticeship was shorthand. For the rest of his life he could write verbatim transcripts faster than anyone could talk, in a strange hen-scratching unreadable by anyone else. In the 1920s, this was standard training; all newspaper reporters seem to have leaned it as on-the-job training.

I'm sure university J-schools teach future journalists many skills. But I have never met a North American journalism graduate who can take verbatim notes. Sure, they have nifty little digital recorders -- but do you know how tedious it is to review recorded conversations?

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