Guidance For Bylines On NPR.org

March 1, 2017

By Sara Goo
Deputy Managing Editor, Digital News
@sarakgoo

At NPR, we believe deeply in some core principles. Those include accountability and transparency.

We must apply those principles to our bylines.

Our goal is to ensure that NPR bylines make clear to readers who created the work, whether it’s a news article, video or photo essay. That’s transparency.

Transparency fosters accountability – for any errors we make and for the praise that follows when we get a scoop.

We haven’t been applying the principles as well as we should. Sometimes, a script written by a reporter for a broadcast piece serves as the starting point for the story’s digital version but is then reworked and rewritten (with additional reporting) by another NPR journalist. Who gets the byline? Many times, it’s been only the originating reporter. The other journalist has gone unacknowledged.

This is our starting point: Bylines should go to the journalists who contributed the bulk of the work we publish. They recognize and include a wide variety of people: correspondents, station reporters, hosts, researchers, digital producers, audio producers, data journalists, photojournalists, developers and others.

With that in mind, we say:

All stories published on NPR.org should have a byline. Stories don’t write themselves. With few exceptions, perhaps in the case of security to protect a reporter who is on assignment in a dangerous place, we should always include a byline. There should be few reasons to have an “NPR Staff” byline.

The person who writes the story gets the byline or comes first. Readers assume a byline reflects the name of the person who wrote the story. That’s a simple fact.

While many stories are reported and written only for our digital audience, there are still some stories that begin as radio pieces. But the reporters heard in broadcast pieces aren’t always the same reporters who write the stories that appear online. There are many ways our reporting gets published on NPR.org, and many times there’s a lot of collaboration among our journalists.

Readers should know who wrote a story, and that writer’s name should come first. That fairly reflects the careful work of framing a story and selecting the parts of the story that are most appealing to readers. In practice that means:

-  If a correspondent or producer reports and writes a broadcast piece and then turns in a written version that is edited for readers online, that correspondent or producer gets the byline.

-  Sometimes a correspondent or producer reports and writes a broadcast piece, and the script serves as a starting point for other platforms – but that work is substantially rewritten and supplemented with other material by another NPR journalist. In that scenario, the journalist who did that substantial work should get the first byline. (Who decides? In most cases, it’s a collegial decision by those journalists. More on that process below.)

- When a writer takes a host’s radio interview and selects the best questions and answers or decides to write a story about the interview, there are two ways to handle the byline issue. If the host is heavily involved in the process, there could be a dual byline – the journalists and their editor can work out whose name goes first. If the host is not heavily involved, the piece should always reference that host and the program high in the story (“Jane Doe told Morning Edition host David Greene that …”).

- There is always room for judgment. There are cases when a correspondent or producer has a scoop or other critical information but does not have time to write for all platforms. That person still deserves a co-byline. Also, it may be important for other reasons (source building, for example) that an NPR journalist’s name be in the byline field.

NPR journalists should be generous about bylines. The guiding principle here is that we give credit where credit is due to one another. We recognize that on-air work isn’t the only work that matters. That’s why we encourage discussion among all of those involved in our reports about who should get a byline, and that should become part of the workflow for the stories we publish. Those discussions should be collegial.

Byline bios. All bylines should be linked to a short bio of the journalist. That reinforces our commitment to transparency.

Contributors. Non-NPR staffers who create content we publish should have bylines, and we should be consistent in explaining who they are and their background as relevant to the content that we are publishing. Contributors should not have byline bios.

Member station bylines. If we can’t link from a byline to a bio of a reporter from a member station, we will add an editor’s note to the end of the report. That note should explain who the reporter is and link to any bio of that reporter on the station’s website or to the reporter’s Twitter page. Example: Martin DiCaro, @MartinDiCaro, is a transportation reporter with NPR member station WAMU in Washington, D.C. He reported from Bethesda, Md.

Contributor lines. In some cases, journalists who contribute original reporting and writing deserve to be recognized, but the contributions are not substantial enough to warrant a byline. We should give credit to these journalists. If a journalist’s work is not cited in the text of the story, the story should include a contributor line. Example: Science reporter Alison Kodjak and All Things Considered producer Mallory Yu contributed to this report.

For stories reported by multiple reporters in different locations, their locations should be noted at the end of the story. This provides transparency to the reader about where our reporters are gathering information. Example: Eleanor Beardsley contributed to this report from Paris; John Burnett contributed from Austin, Texas.

Who decides who gets a byline? NPR journalists should be generous with one another’s contributions to a story and discuss bylines among themselves. If there is a question or a conflict, the editor of the story should decide. If need be, the standards and practices editor and deputy managing editor, digital should be consulted.

Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott contributed to this post.

March 1, 2017

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