Media & Society

Who Wrote It? Mysterious Bylines

Image of NPR.org story with "NPR Staff" byline i i
NPR.org
Image of NPR.org story with "NPR Staff" byline
NPR.org

While clicking around on NPR.org you may have occasionally noticed a rather ambiguous byline.

"Who exactly are the NPR staff members responsible for the stories that say 'NPR Staff'?," wrote one reader from the United Kingdom. "They seem to have a distinctly non-NPR flavour to them."

I am not sure what is "non-NPR" about that. There was a time, in fact, that bylines were rare in most of American journalism, awarded only when a reporter's input was truly special. But I may be showing my age here. In this era of promoting self-esteem, if not self-aggrandizement, bylines appear on the slightest of stories. So one signed only "NPR staff" today does indeed seem mysterious. Or quaint.

So I asked Mark Stencel, managing editor of Digital News, to explain NPR's policy. For journalism students and anyone who might be curious, here is his answer:

Bylines are partially about credit, but they also are about accountability — who is responsible for the reporting that comes below the name atop the story. We use the "NPR Staff" byline on any news story where there's a significant amount of text and no single byline or combination of bylines is appropriate, but where we still want to make clear that the underlying reporting is NPR's.

The most common use of the "NPR Staff" byline is on breaking news, when we are covering events that unfold over the course of a day. Often the responsibility for a given breaking story is shared by more people than we could list. These stories are team efforts, with multiple producers and editors continually updating the text based on reporting from several NPR journalists and our news partners.

In any one NPR Staff story you might find a mix of original online reporting alongside details taken from a combination of other NPR reports and interviews — some from shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition, some from our hourly newscasts.

Depending on the news, we also might weave in information from member station reporters or from The Associated Press news wire. Typically we try to attribute this work to specific journalists, programs or news organizations. That credit sometimes appears in a note at the end of the story (for example: "NPR's Joel Rose contributed to this report.") And sometimes that credit may come within the next, particularly if the information is based in whole or in part on comments taken from an on-air interview (".. . told NPR's Robert Siegel.")

If much of the story text is from The Associated Press, you'll frequently see a combined "NPR Staff and Wires" byline. In those cases, you'll likely see message at the end of the story that both credits an NPR journalist and notes that the report "includes material from The Associated Press."

Most bylines do not give full credit to all of the journalists involved in any given story, particularly as we craft and update news reports throughout the day. "NPR Staff" bylines and these other forms of credit and attribution help us explain where the reporting in our stories comes from.

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