Surrender my byline?Â As a member of the working pressÂ IÂ say, “Fat chance!”
But afterÂ readingÂ “Proposed: Death to Bylines“Â byÂ former Washington Post editor Craig StoltzÂ my innerÂ cynicÂ warmed to the idea thatÂ only “single-author blogs or opinion pieces”Â should be identified by name.
Think of itÂ as aÂ truth-in-advertising issue beginning with the definition of the news.
Mass mediaÂ tend toward consensus.Â The bulk of theÂ news is aÂ stream ofÂ details andÂ developmentsÂ on familiar themesÂ such asÂ celebrity (ParisÂ Hilton etcetera),Â disaster (coal mine,Â bridge collapse), crime or politics.Â To continueÂ such aÂ litany is no more authorship than offering play-by-playÂ chatter duringÂ a football game.Â
Mass media are corporate notÂ merely in ownership but inÂ production.Â Corporate means assembled fromÂ parts, in this caseÂ from wire copy, broadcastÂ feeds,Â background research, phone/email comments, web searches,Â citizen media, etc. The person whoÂ assemblesÂ content in this scenarioÂ isÂ no more an author than theÂ fast foodÂ clerk is aÂ chef.Â 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 weÂ have to wonder whetherÂ a particular piece ofÂ contentÂ is assembled by aÂ person orÂ team desirng recognition, or an egoless softwareÂ filter.
Readers furtherÂ the de-authorizingÂ processÂ by grazingÂ rather thanÂ reading.Â There’s tooÂ muchÂ information.Â So we scan headlines the way the National Security Agency monitorsÂ calls and emails. It’sÂ a form of signal intelligence that does not require deep knowledge of any topic,Â just a rough sense ofÂ the chatter.
Blogger Tom Foremski has a similar lament about the devaluation of writing: “One business storyÂ = $55 million.”Â