Researchers turn spotlight on newspaper bylines

Washington : Researchers have turned the spotlight on newspaper bylines, documenting how journalists in major dailies fought for them, paving the way for today’s celebrity journalists.

The byline is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of journalism, says Zvi Reich, researcher and communications expert at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of Negev in Beer-Sheva in Israel, who conducted the study.

Reich said that bylines opened “the way towards journalistic stardom, altering power relations within the news industry and shifting news organizations from a position behind the news to behind the people who gather and compose it”.

“Today, when we open a newspaper or click on a website, we take it for granted that we will see a byline – the name of the reporter who authored the piece, at the beginning of each article,” explains Reich, according to a BGU statement.

He has focused on The New York Times as the chief case study and The Times of London, for his study, the magazine Journalism reports.

His research covered more than 12,000 articles published in the two newspapers. Reich found that in both cases, the growth of bylines was a painfully slow four-step process, which took more than 70 years to become an established practice.

First, the newspapers tried to avoid specific names, in an effort to maintain an authoritative, omnipresent “god-like” voice.

Second, bylines were used to promote organizational goals, in the form of generic (i.e. staff writer) and news agency credits.

Third, the papers attributed stories to the names of a select few staff writers.

Finally, the papers gradually gave up the selective bylines, crediting everyone in nearly all instances.

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