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 In fact, it’s a practice that keeps journalism mired in the outdated (sentimental?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?

Explore posts in the same categories: news, print-to-digital

21 Comments on “Proposed: Death to Bylines”

  1. […] Stoltz: Proposed: An end to bylines. Oh I know a lot of reporters who won’t be happy with […]

  2. NewsJunkie Says:

    Accountability works better with names attached. A lengthy we-all-helped byline (or credit tag, or whatever) is fine by me, but give me those names. Otherwise, everyone ends up hidden behind a committee lable.

  3. Dewey Says:

    I think you’re wrong. I think readers still want to be connected to a person at an institution. I know many reporters who’ve gotten great stories because readers have read a byline, called and said “I have something I think you’ll be interested in.” Putting a byline on a story is an important part of building trust with readers and in collecting news.

  4. DrBear Says:

    There’s a reason it’s “ABC World News WITH CHARLES GIBSON” or “ANDERSON COOKER 360” or that a local station promotes its anchors and introduces a report by identifying the reporter, who also is identified at the end. People WANT a human connection to the story.

  5. Bill M. Says:

    Great, just what we need at a time when the public doesn’t trust us anyway: Anonymous news. On the contrary, it’s the sense that we know who the information is coming from that engenders trust. Reporters are already too faceless, nameless. What are their agendas? What have they written before? Fir all their scatter-brained efforts at producing news, blogs have been successful because they are so very personal.

  6. Patrick Alcatraz Says:

    Bylines, schmucklines. that’s hardly the biggest problem for today’s newsppaer. The entire Raison d’etre for newspapers has long been left behind, i.e. objective news reporting. American newsppaers serve certain segments of the community. You see it in photographs. You see it in “angle,” and you see it in News that is “ignored.” The deal is this: newspapers can no longer be trusted to be fair to everybody. Most Newsroom editors are “whites,” as are most Sportswriters. Newspapers need to be the same thing for “everybody,” and they’re not, so they lose a large (and growing) population. And this trend of publishing “Spanish versions” is a joke. hispanics laugh at that crap, and ask: Why not a “Black” edition, or a “Polish” one, or an “Italian” one, etc., etc. Yeah, newspapers are dying. the Internet is for everybody: everyone gets praised or slammed but the access is equitable…

  7. […] Proposed: Death to Bylines At a time when newspapers must reinvent themselves as New Media, it’s an ideal moment to do away with […] […]

  8. Paul Wiggins Says:

    The only thing readers and viewers need to know about me when one is editing at the coalface is that one is employed by an organisation that works to a well-publicised code of ethics. In regard to reporters’ bylines, onre regrets the passing of the convention that bylines should be earned rather than expected or indeed demanded.

  9. newmw Says:

    What about shared writing of articles? Google docs provides some options. Dan Gillmor wrote an interesting book on Journalism/Big Media and blogging/Web 2.0, it’s called We, The Media. Interesting read if you’re into this stuff.
    And I just posted an article on my blog about Andrew Keen who recently published Cult of the Amateur and the Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto. Interesting reads and includes a video presentation from Keen:

    Interesting thoughts in your post by the way.

  10. Justin Says:

    Removing bylines would harm credibility and transparency. I want to know who’s creating what. If you advocate giving credit were credit is due, then fine. If you argue keeping the creators of a piece secret — that’s too far.

    And, I think there’s always authorship to be assigned to a piece (and it’s rarely the editor, as you suggest). See auteur theory.

  11. […] Web 2.Oh. . .really?: Proposed: Death to Bylines Washington Post man Craig Stoltz: “At a time when newspapers must reinvent themselves as New Media, it’s an ideal moment to do away with bylines.” (tags: Journalism bylines online) […]

  12. Pat Sullivan Says:

    I think your idea is exactly backwards. Willingness to sign your name to your work is the ultimate in accountability. That’s why I’ve proposed many times over the years that copyeditors (and headline writers, if they are different) also sign the work, via creditline. But I have found absolutely no takers in the print and online newsrooms where I have worked.

    Stoltz is a *former* Post editor, btw. You might want to clarify that in your “about” page.

  13. […] Proposed: Death to Bylines. I know this will make some journalists shudder, but the point that journalism is now (and in some ways always has been) a collaborative affair is worth making and acknowledging. An aside: I’d like to see TV photojournalists acknowledged, the way credit is given to newspaper shooters. […]

  14. Megan Says:

    I 100% agree that bylines are about accountability. Bylines are not about getting credit or seeing your name in lights — at least, they shouldn’t be. Reporters who do the job because of some perceived “fame” are the ones we need to worry about.

    (By the way, I think the Spanish version is called such because it’s IN Spanish. Call me crazy.)

  15. danny bee Says:

    interesting. you know how TIME mag lets someone write the story,but it is actually reported by others out in the field…..

  16. […] am rather sorry that Craig Stoltz has stepped back since posting his simple proposition — “At a time when newspapers must reinvent themselves as New Media, it’s an ideal moment […]

  17. george lewis Says:

    I don’t know about you, but when I write something that’s going to have my name attached to it, I try harder.

  18. Lance Says:

    I was looking at adding bylines to wordpress and came across your article. I also came across this one, a discussion suggesting the opposite.

  19. Tudor Says:

    Big issue. In my bloggy amateurish way, I recently objected to how the ‘venerable’ BBC ducked out of a decent bit of journalism , suggesting that the absence of a byline might be significant.

  20. […] media, krijgt Stoltz veel bijval. Op zijn blog is dat niet altijd het geval. Bijvoorbeeld als hij voorstelt om de auteursnaam voortaan bij artikelen weg te laten. Voor Time juist een reden om zijn site op te […]

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