Newspaper reporter

'I have pursued the calling of a reporter under circumstances of which [...] many of my modern successors, can form no adequate conception.'[1]

From 1833, when Parliament was not in session, Dickens did some freelance news reporting for the True Sun and contributed sketches for the Monthly Magazine before joining the staff of the Morning Chronicle in 1834, for whom he continued his parliamentary reporting and covered public events around the country. He also wrote theatre reviews and contributed ‘Street Sketches’ of London life under the pen name ‘Boz’. Not all of Dickens’s journalism would have involved shorthand, but he would certainly have used it for verbatim reporting of political speeches on the hustings and for making notes at the theatre for his review pieces and everyday news items. He clearly relished the excitement of reporting on the road. In a speech looking back on his years as a reporter, he melodramatically recalled how he would transcribe his shorthand notes:

Listen to Dominic Gerrard read a passage in which Dickens recalls his early experiences as a reporter.

writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, all through the dead of night, at the then surprising rate of fifteen miles an hour.[2]

In his imagination, shorthand writing had turned from a stenographic mystery to an extreme sport.

Overall, although none of the shorthand from Dickens’s reporting days appears to have survived, his learning of shorthand was key to the progression in his reporting career. It guaranteed him not just a steady income and a badge of professional distinction but a modicum of social respectability. It turned him into a fast, flexible writer at a very early age, and the verbal dexterity and creativity required by the constant shifting between shorthand and longhand contributed enormously to what Dickens himself called his ‘extraordinary facility in writing’.[3]


[1] Charles Dickens, ‘Speech to the Newspaper Press Fund, 20 May 1865’ in The Speeches of Charles Dickens, edited by K. J. Fielding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 347.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘To J. H. Kuenzel, [?July 1838]’, in The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens: Volume One, 1820-1839, edited by Madeline House and Graham Storey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 423.