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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Wednesday, June 05, 2002
10:52 PM

Blogger Barry Molefsky of A City Slicker notes that I have neglected to blog the byline strike at the Washington Post, which the paper has duly reported. Molefsy writes: "I don't get it. I think the paper is better off without the bylines anyway." Theres a bit more on this topic at his site as linked above, where he notes:

Without their names on the articles perhaps the reporters will just report and keep to the facts, not editorialize and not try to be literary. There are far too many pieces in the paper which don't state the who, what, when, where in the opening paragraph.

Amen to that. How about in the opening five grafs? How about sometimes never in an entire story?

Last time I checked, The Economist, the world's best weekly newsmagazine even if it is based in London, didn't run bylines. But byline strikes are a grand old ink-stained-wretch tradition. Knowledge of that tradition even inside the business is a bit spotty.

It's especially potent in union shops. In this case, the byline strike is over labor-contract disputes. Byline strikes matter to people inside the business largely because people inside the business decide that it matters. This June 5 story in an alternative outlet in Providence (I thought life in general was alternative up there) is a brief rundown of on-again, off-again byline strikes at the Providence Journal. It notes there is one poor soul who has "wildcatted" a byline strike for a year (memo to self: contact marketing counselor), and a columnist who is prevented by contract from withdrawing his byline. Here's a story from 1994 on a San Francisco byline strike at AP. I blog it partly out of amazement that I jolted some poor slumbering pile of electrons to call up a page that probably hasn't been disturbed since what, the second year of the Clinton Administration.

Last of all, this from February, 2001, also concerning the Providence Journal, which sounds like such a fun place to work. Note well:

The fact that all bylines were missing from Friday and Sunday's papers are a testament to how pissed off staff are at the tabloid. Moreover, byline strikes are not minor gestures. Staff get punished in a thousand tiny ways for such acts of civil disobedience and they know it.

In the Post story, a management type says the reporters have the right to withhold the bylines. They're lucky.

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