Journalists work in the daily Le Monde newsroom at their offices in Paris
Journalists work in the daily Le Monde newsroom at their offices in Paris Reuters

Bylines paved the way towards journalistic stardom, altering power relations within the news industry, finds a new study.

The study documents the complicated and fragmented policies that the newspapers used to maintain the balance of power over reporters and the process through which journalists fought to receive byline recognition of their work.

The study, which covered more than 12,000 articles published in the New York Times and the Times of London, says the proliferation of bylines characterized the news as an imperfect, all too human account of reality, and opened the way for celebrity journalism.

The byline is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of journalism and that newspapers as respected as the New York Times went out of their way to avoid using bylines as a means of underplaying the importance of the individual reporters, says researcher Zvi Reich of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

Today, Reich says, it is taken for granted of seeing a byline when a newspaper is opened or a Web site is clicked.

The bylining process extended throughout the 20th century at a painfully slower pace and took more than 70 years to become an established practice, says Reich.

For the New York Times and the Times of London, Reich says bylining was a four-stage process: First, the newspapers tried to avoid specific names, thereby fostering an anonymous, authoritative voice. Second, bylines promoting organizational goals only, in the form of generic (i.e., staff writer) and news agency credits. Subsequently, bylines were given to a select few staff writers, leading to inconsistency in attribution policy.

Finally, the papers gradually gave up the selective bylines, crediting nearly everyone, due to journalists’ pressure for public acclaim.

News reporters are constrained authors whose limitations are set chiefly by organizational, legal and commercial forces, even when most or all of them are bylined, the study concludes.