Say bye-bye to bylines for truth-in-advertising?

Surrender my byline? As a member of the working press I say, “Fat chance!”

But after reading “Proposed: Death to Bylines“ by former Washington Post editor Craig Stoltz my inner cynic warmed to the idea that only “single-author blogs or opinion pieces” should be identified by name.

Think of it as a truth-in-advertising issue beginning with the definition of the news.

Mass media tend toward consensus. The bulk of the news is a stream of details and developments on familiar themes such as celebrity (Paris Hilton etcetera), disaster (coal mine, bridge collapse), crime or politics. To continue such a litany is no more authorship than offering play-by-play chatter during a football game. 

Mass media are corporate not merely in ownership but in production. Corporate means assembled from parts, in this case from wire copy, broadcast feeds, background research, phone/email comments, web searches, citizen media, etc. The person who assembles content in this scenario is no more an author than the fast food clerk is a chef. Mass media, especially newspapers, could maintain accountability by tagging stories with something like, “Inspected by number47,” to create a paper trail of who said what.

Besides, nowadays we have to wonder whether a particular piece of content is assembled by a person or team desirng recognition, or an egoless software filter.

Readers further the de-authorizing process by grazing rather than reading. There’s too much information. So we scan headlines the way the National Security Agency monitors calls and emails. It’s a form of signal intelligence that does not require deep knowledge of any topic, just a rough sense of the chatter.

Blogger Tom Foremski has a similar lament about the devaluation of writing: “One business story = $55 million.”