December 15, 2010

Q: I currently work at a print and digital magazine. For our latest cover story, my colleague and I decided to work on this piece together and I have focused on getting the info and conducting interviews and getting people to talk to me. I hand over all of my notes. My colleague focuses on the end result of putting it all together into a well-written piece. I obviously help with that as well (he consults me on what flows well and I give slight editing feedback and filling in missing pieces), but he deserves most of the credit writing-wise.

What’s fair? Should the byline say my colleague’s name and then my name as well? Or, should it say his name and then say “With additional reporting” and my name? I don’t want to take more credit than deserved but I also want to give adequate credit for my work. Please advise.

A: Thanks for asking your question. I will answer it and I have another thing to say about shared bylines.
When two reporters work together as you have described, they should share the byline. In some newsrooms, the policy might not say that. It might favor the more senior reporter. It might give more weight to the writing. But when editors are looking for talented reporters, they place greater emphasis, if anywhere, on the reporting. It ought to count for as much as writing in a byline policy.

A classy reporter will be generous with credit. I once worked with a reporter, Brian Flanigan, whose story came out with another reporter’s name at the end as a contributor. The second reporter challenged that: “Hey, I didn’t help on that story.”

Flanigan said, “Yes, you did. You took a phone message when I was out. I needed that. Anyone who helps on my story gets their name on it.”

My whole thinking on the issue of shared bylines is changing a little. The custom is to avoid using a shared-byline story as a clip. At most, we might want to have one on something big.

But with the way newsrooms are counting more and more on collaborations, a big story with a short note that defines your effort in the teamwork can be valuable.

And, when editors ask in an interview, “Are you a better reporter or a writer,” you can answer, “I do both well. And I have played both roles as part of a team on a big or breaking story.”

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Thursday: How AP’s decision to suspend internships for just one year has long-term effects

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Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website. From that, he published…
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