What’s in a name?
Last month revealed a new trend in journalism.
First, The New York Times unveiled a new website that boasted a modern look with crisp design and plenty of “white space”—aka content-free elements intended to give the site breathing room. A few days later, The Sacramento Bee also debuted a website design that followed the same aesthetic.
Each publications’ home page also had another thing in common: Both are now largely void of bylines—those names above an article that identify the reporter(s) who wrote it.
While The New York Times kept home page bylines for its opinion pieces, The Bee opted to eliminate them almost entirely. To be clear, you can find the reporter’s name on both sites if you click through any link—they’re just no longer visible on the main page.
(Full disclosure, I worked for The Bee from 1999-2009 before getting laid off).
In a letter to readers, The Times explained that this new design is meant to mimic the paper’s mobile platform; the mobile home page has long been byline-free.
“We love to boast about our writers, their backgrounds and expertise, and the risks they take to deliver the news,” the letter explained. “This is why we are moving toward placing their head shots and backgrounds on the article page.”
But bylines aren’t just about boasting, they’re also about transparency and accessibility. Online journalism has mostly amplified those two elements, making it easy for readers to immediately know who wrote a story and how to contact that person.
In a time when there’s so much dangerously false information floating around the internet—and not of the so-called “fake news” variety that a certain occupant of the White House likes to complain about—this transparency and accessibility is more critical than ever.
Let’s hope more newspapers don’t follow suit.