Proposed: Death to Bylines
At a time when newspapers must reinvent themselves as New Media, it’s an ideal moment to do away with bylines.
Please, sit back down. Blot your forehead with that Starbucks napkin. I will try to explain.
[First, I’m proposing only to do away with single-author bylines on top of stories. Published news content should clearly disclose names of the various people responsible for creating it. Note: I added this bracketed material after posting the original entry and comments quickly made it obvious that I’d done a lousy job of making my point clear. More detail here.–cs]
If News 2.0 is about anything yet, it’s about:
- Collaboration by teams of content creators: people who gather facts and observations via graphics, video, photos, audio, computer programs, maps, existing documents and artifacts, databases and words–and, most critically, team leaders who arrange all of this into a coherent act of communication
- Involving consumers of content in its creation and continued development
- Transparency of process
I’d argue that putting [single-author–cs] bylines on top of chunks of written content is no longer appropriate to this model. In fact, it’s a practice that keeps journalism mired in the outdated (sentimental? defiant?) thinking that editors assign articles, reporters write them and we all call it a day.
In my observations as a consumer (and creator) of online content, most “multimedia packages” are presented as enhancements to conventional articles. (“Hey, look what the digital folks came up with to gussy up my story!”)
Rarely, projects declared “multimedia” at the point of conception are credited as group efforts (often in a box on the main “multimedia package” page, or in tiny “byline” type appearing with each media asset). But even then the package is sometimes topped by a chunk of words bearing an essentially false “by”line.
If anyone deserves a byline for mixed content presentations, it’s the project managers (nee editors) and producers (nee layout staff) who brain-wrap this wonderfully rich mess into a package.
There should be one exception: Any content that uses the word “I”. This would mostly be single-author blogs or opinion pieces.
Let me anticipate two arguments against byline elimination:
There are still standalone articles, reported solo, presented in words and lacking other media enhancements, assigned by editors and written by reporters.
Fair enough. But let’s get transparent and [instead of using single-author bylines on top of stories–cs] include all newsroom staff who participated in the article’s conception and delivery, including assigning editors, copy editors, photographers and online producers. I’d argue this disclosure should appear on the bottom of each article, not the top.
The most talented, high-value reporters will not buy in. They will insist on solo credit (bragging rights?) for their work. If they don’t get it, they’ll quit and get jobs with publications that assign traditional bylines.
To which I say: What a wonderful service this would be to new media staff managers that people who “don’t get it”–who decline to see their work as a group effort, who do not appreciate the value of contributors of other media assets to their work, who don’t support transparency if it puts their primacy at risk–would so clearly identify themselves and get out of the way.
What could be a greater gift to new media leaders than a self-pruning staff?