Let Bylines be Bygone?

In a modest proposal called Death to Bylines, former Washington Post editor Craig Stoltz suggests that online news stories are really brought to light collectively. The reporter’s words take form with the help of an assignment editor, online producer, perhaps a photographer. Like previous modest proposals, this one is contentious. Be sure to read the comments, as well as his follow-up post Bylines’ Second Life.

Stoltz further provokes by suggesting that journalists who opt out of collective and multiple bylines can become part of a news organization’s “self-pruning staff.”

In the years of “cold type” a typesetter for the front page of the Wall Street Journal never got a byline, even when he corrected typos. So the issue of how a story gets online, and which contributors to its digitization deserve credit or not, is not new and probably won’t go away soon.

For instance, Off the Bus — a collaboration between the crowdsourced news project NewAssignment.net and the Huffington Post — definitely presents attribution and byline challenges.

At the recent political blogger gathering YearlyKos, NewAssignment founder Jay Rosen asked what to call the person who collates the information collected by bloggers, citizen journalists and “crowds” into a form that a professional journalist can use to write a story. What is that job to be called? Boss blogger? Knowledge wrangler? How much credit should a knowledge wrangler get?

New tools will make for new news and new kinds of attribution and bylines. Consider ChicagoCrime.org a site that uses Citizen I-Cam data, Google maps, and django programming to allow a viewer to generate all kind of news and reports, such as a list of crimes along a potential jogging or biking route.

Removing limits on the “news hole” allows the evolution of online news hybrids that “mash up” existing and new multimedia, text, data, and reporting to produce news rooted in context. Many “digital natives” (born 1981 or after) express a preference for stories that link to background and context of issues and news. Work like this is out there, and it demands team-focused bylines.

Just as ways of framing stories for print evolved into new forms with the advent of radio and TV, so will ways of framing news evolve for interactive online media. Our ideas about bylines must evolve and expand as well.

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