To reporters, bylines are the most important graphic element in the entire newspaper. What a shame, then, that readers rarely give bylines a glance as their eyes leap from the end of the headline to the start of the story.
It's necessary, though, to give credit where credit is due (especially when readers have complaints or questions about a story). Papers differ on byline policies, but most put reporters' names on stories of any substance - i.e., stories more than 6 inches long. Bylines generally run at the start of the story in a style that sets them apart from the text (often achieved with boldface, italics, or one or two rules): The first line gives the reporter's name; a second line tells whether he or she writes for an out-side organization (The Associated Press, for example), works as a free-lancer (often labeled a "special writer" or "correspondent") or belongs on the staff (most papers run either the name of the paper or the writer's title).
Every newspaper should adopt one standard byline style. Screened, reversed or indented bylines can be fun, but they risk calling too much attention to themselves - and they can get awfully difficult to read. Proceed with caution.
For short sidebars or columns of briefs, credit is often given in the form of a flush-right tag line at the end of the text. As with bylines, these credit lines need spacing and typography that sets them apart from the text:
- The Associated Press
- Compiled from staff reports
Some papers now run all bylines at the end of the story and some even include the reporter's phone number (!). At the start of the story, the logic goes, bylines just add clutter amid the headlines and decks; since the writer's name is optional information, it can come later.
On photo spreads and special features, newspapers often use a more prominent byline style to credit the writer, the photographer, or both. (Page designers, sad to say, rarely receive printed credit for their work).
Adapted from training materials by Knight International Press Fellow, Herman Obermayer.