Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Online Profiles of Journalists Would Be in Keeping With Historical Development of Bylines

In early American history, community newspapers led the way in forming and developing our democracy. They also informed citizens about how they could participate, kept readers abreast of important topics, supported the First Amendment and laid the ground work for the basics of community journalism.

One of the early ways newspapers made a connection with their audience was to begin printing bylines (the name of the writer) on each news story.

Much like having names on letters to the editor, bylines in smaller communities helped the reader to judge whether the author of the story had an axe to grind, was related to someone involved in the issue or whether a certain political agenda was being pushed.

Some research suggests that the use of bylines also caused journalists to take extra care in writing since their name was attached to story. This was especially the case in smaller communities where a reporter was likely to meet the people in his story on the sidewalk.

In theory, having bylines led to more accurate reporting, helped the reader and connected the newspaper with the community.

Much of this sense of “connectedness” is gone in today’s media world where journalists often come and go in smaller markets, moving around frequently.

Plus, a single name no longer carries with it as much recognition as it used to, especially in larger media markets. Most importantly, simply having a byline doesn’t tell the reader anything about the writer, their perspective or the subjective choices the reporter may have made with the story.


Would it be a good idea for newspapers and other media outlets to develop online byline profiles for their reporters and editors? I have come to believe it would be good for the reader and for an industry that is increasingly being criticized for ethical lapses and accused of being biased.

To be meaningful, these byline profiles would need to provide more than just educational information about the journalists and more than just three general sentences. Remember, one of the purposes of a byline profile is for readers to be able to understand the reporter’s background and perspective.

How about developing what I have been calling, “Online Byline Profiles.” Each individual publication could maintain these profiles on a website as a way to connect with the community.

Profiles should include educational information, but also information regarding a journalists religious perspective and background, political perspective, a comprehensive list of organizations they belong to (or support with donations), other published writings and a sentence or two regarding their opinion on certain key national topics.

One example of a profile and its content, this one designed for John Doe, is available online. From this information, you learn a lot about John Doe, his personal political views and his hot button topics. As a reader, you would be able to better judge the objective nature of material written by John Doe.

What do you think?


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