The practice of identifying the reporter or writer of a published written news story using a byline began during the Civil War. Joseph Hooker, a Union general, required battle correspondents to start identifying reporters of all published news. His goal was to prevent the sharing of sensitive or inaccurate battle information by holding reporters responsible for the news they shared.
If someone had asked “what is a byline?” following the Civil War, the response would have been a little different. The word “byline” had yet to be invented. Instead, articles and written work then were “signed” by the writer.
Newspapers and other media outlets initially opposed giving writers credit. Many felt it took away from the authority of the paper or unnecessarily exposed their writers to complaints. But by 1925 the first signed AP article appeared, though the actual word “byline”, referring to the identification of writers, did not officially become part of the English language until 1926.
A byline is simply wording that gives credit to the writer of a news story, article, or blog. It is typically found in an article between the headline and first line of the article body.
The byline started out as a method for accountability and credit, but in time it so much more.
What is a Byline? What a Byline Contains
The byline typically contains the name of the reporter or writer who developed the story. There’s no hard and fast rule to this. A byline can be just a surname, a first name, a first name and last initial, or a full name. It sometimes includes a brief second line. The additional line contains pertinent article details such as a revision, a reprint date or even a copyright notice. A byline should not be confused with a bio or a newspaper folio line, which provides more background.
The byline starts with “written by,” “by,” or even simply a bullet point symbol, tilde, or em-dash followed by a name. So, answering the question of “what is a byline”, isn’t just about placement. A byline is sometimes placed at the end of an article as part of a mini-bio about the author. A missing byline typically implies an anonymous article or report.
For websites and blog owners, it may be as simple as referring to the writer by just a title. For example, a byline could be “guest poster”, “admin”, or “contributing writer”. A byline consisting of merely a title is especially common for those new writers who have yet to prove themselves.
What is a Byline Online?
A company or media outlet that desires to promote their brand may be simple. Some companies use their name with the date the article was written, published, or reprinted. The caption or text beneath a photo or illustration is often reserved for a byline graphic, with the name of the artist, if different than the writer, as a way of attributing credit.
In online publications, it’s common practice to hyperlink the name in the byline to the writer’s blog, digital portfolio, or branded website. When articles are written via ghostwriters, or when they are reports that use contributions and personal stories from someone besides the writer, phrases such as “written with”, “as shared from”, or “as told to” are common.
What is a Byline? Benefits of a Byline
First and foremost, the byline is a credit coveted by writers across all genres. For newspaper writers, having a byline is a sign that you’ve crossed into professional journalism. A byline can also serve to position the writer as an expert or authority on a specific topic or target audience. When done thoughtfully and consistently, a byline can even become part of the brand or identity of a writer.
A byline is sometimes used by media outlets to add perspective or expertise to their publication. Some publications and blogs discourage the direct mention of your company or product in a piece. This is because their audience dislikes pushy sales pieces. Market savvy companies write interesting content for a target audience and use an employee byline as an unobtrusive way to link to a profile or website with their products or service information.
- Byline Examples
- Feature Article Writer
- Staff Writer
- Guest Writer
- Newspaper or Magazine Columnist
- What is a Byline Design
A byline is typically created using a smaller font than the article headline or any subheadings. There is no formal design standard. But you can find byline example text as inspiration which indicates the practice of making the byline slightly different in style than the body of the article or report.
A byline can be written in small caps, italicized, or even colored. These elements are a way of differentiating the byline without taking away attention from the article. It’s a good idea to establish a specific style of text for each type of byline throughout your magazine, book, newsletter, or types of articles.
What is a Byline and What is its Importance?
With the proliferation of online publication, the byline has become an even more important element. It can even be used to indicate where a reporter was when they wrote an article. You wouldn’t think that the location of a reporter is important but the New York Times found out otherwise.
In 2003, a scandal involving one of their reporters surfaced. The scandal revealed the reporter rose through the ranks by falsely reporting information from phone interviews, and from other reporters, as if he himself witnessed it.
And in July of 2012, yet another scandal rocked the journalistic world when the popular weekly public radio show, This American Life, broadcast on June 29, 2012. The segment exposed the inner workings of a company called Journatic. In Act Two of Switcheroo, titled “Forgive Us Our Press Passes,” the practice of companies using low-paid writers from the Philippines to summarize information from other sources for “hyperlocal” stories, was revealed.
Producer Sarah Koenig reported on Journatic’s practice of randomly generated “American sounding” bylines for writers in the Philippines. Because of this podcast, Journatic and the local paper stopped the practice of using randomly generated “fake” names.
What is a Byline: Conclusion
So, when truthfully done, the answer to “what is a byline” is that it credits the author and personalizes the article. A byline lets the audience know who is talking to them and what—if any—knowledge or experience they bring to the topic.
With the properly crafted phrases, a byline can also spell out whether others contributed to the story. It can indicate if the report is an on-scene report, or based on summarized information from a writer that may be thousands of miles away.
For those who contemplate the question “what is a byline?” perhaps General Joseph Hooker had the right idea over a century ago.