Bylines

History

Bylines began to appear in newspapers in the 1920's and 30's to facilitate objectivity and accountability, but also allowed particular writers to achieve a certain level of celebrity. They are a central component in modern newspapers and have been a part of online news articles from the beginning.

Scope

This particular article applies to the portion of a page that offers attribution for the author of a staff-written article.

What a byline is

Bylines have four distinct functions in newspapers and online:

Entry Point

Some of the earliest bylines were only for the "celebrity" writers. Those who reported more than just the facts of the day, stretching into opinion and oftentimes taking literary license with the truth. The idea was that readers might search out particular authors in the paper, the same as they might do in a bookstore. This function continued into the modern newspaper, as one of many different entry points (headline, photos, graphics, pull-quotes, etc).

Some sites (SFGate, Boston Globe, St. Pete Times) see bylines as an important enough entry point to include in the teasers on their front page. However, online sites are no longer limited to a single doorway into their stories, a problem with newspapers and television news. If a reader has a close enough connection to an author to be attracted to by their byline, they might be willing to jump to stories directly from the reporter's page or receive an RSS feed of individual authors.

Credit

When the reporters of the Wall Street Journal recently held a byline strike, they were sending a message to the company by denying themselves credit for an article. Since having their name printed on the front page of a newspaper is a large point of pride, the gesture spoke of the seriousness of their convictions. The byline acts as an acknowledgement of the work that a reporter has put into the gathering of information as well as the crafting of a story around it.

Context

In order to reveal a bit about the author of an article, over half of the newspapers reviewed included their position at the newspaper. This information lets the reader know if the story was written locally, if the writer is a full-time employee, or a freelance stringer used occassionally. This information, along with any information that the reader has learned about the author from previous articles allows them to frame the writing within that context.

Accountability

By placing the reporter's name at the top on an article, it suggests a specific person wrote and takes credit for the content printed below it. That person bears the blame or approval for the article and can be contacted to issue clarifications or corrections. The inclusion of email addresses within the byline is a strong signal of a reporter taking accountability, giving readers direct access to the writer.

Conclusion

After looking at the bylines on 60 different news sites, it is obvious that the vast majority simply simply replicate the format used in their print edition. Almost all had the name and publication, with many also including the position at the paper. Some tacked on the original date of the publication and a handfull enhanced the byline with an email. There was only example that included any further information (phone, copyright, web page, or original publication page).

Not all of these elements need to be part of the byline. The byline should offer insight into the author of the article, but doesn't necessarily need to be the location for all metadata relating to it. That information may be important to include with a story, but not within the byline.

The LJWorld.com website comes closest to addressing the four functions of the byline. They including the author's name, publication, and pub date on the story page, while linking to the reporter's email address, phone number, and position at the paper. What the LJWorld is missing is the opportunity to use their stable of writers as independent entry points into their stories.

As a best practice, each site should make an effort to include the author's name, position, and publication on the story page. When an author regularly appears on the site, their name should link to a detail page consisting of the author's contact information (email, phone, address, etc), short bio, and list of all recently authored stories. Beyond that a site can further capitolize on a reader's affinity to certain writers by giving each author a weblog on their detail page, as well as offering readers an rss feed or email update of new articles by each writer.

Overview

  • Entry point - Webfeed (RSS/Atom) and email updates.
  • Credit - Name at the top of the story
  • Context - Short bio with position at the publication and a weblog
  • Accountability - Contact information (email, phone, fax, address) and publication name at the top of the story.

Byline Practices

Overview of the byline practives of 60 online publications.

Site Surveyed Name Publication Position Date Email Web Page Copyright Phone
washingtonpost 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0
lawrence journal world 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0
chicago tribune 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
sf chronicle 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
boston globe 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
atlanta constitution 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
denver post 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
st pete times 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
sacramento bee 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
orlando sentinel 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
south florida
sun-sentinel
1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
seattle times 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
buffalo news 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
cnn 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
msnbc 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
cnet 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
latimes 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
houston chron 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
chicago sun times 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
arizona republic 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
detroit free press 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
newark star ledger 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
rocky mountain news 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
minneapolis star tribune 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
cleveland plain dealer 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
philadelphia inquirer 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
san diego union tribune 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
baltimore sun 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
st louis post-dispatch 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
indianapolis star 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
san antonio express-news 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
fort worth star telegram 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
louisville
courier-journal
1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
omaha world-herald 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
savannah morning news 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
la nacion 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
usatoday 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
ny daily news 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
dallas morning news 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
miami herald 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
orange county register 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
la investor's biz daily 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
san jose mercury news 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
kansas city star 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
new orleans
times-picayune
1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
milwaukee journal
sentinel
1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
boston herald 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
detroit news 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
pittsburgh post-gazette 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
charlotte observer 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
florida times-union 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
slate 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
sydney morning herald 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
nytimes 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
newsday 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
ny post 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
oregonian 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
salon.com 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
cbsnews 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
bbc 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0