viewpoint Caroline Thain says that it’s vital to secure proper recognition

Let’s crack down on byline banditry


ince leaving office- based journalism, I have built a portfolio I am proud of, with stories published in

major newspapers. Bylines matter – since I started out aged 16 until today as a freelancer, they have been a hallmark linking my ownership, talent and effort to my latest scoop. I file every story with ‘By Caroline

Thain’ at the top and would never want copy printed without it. I specify I want a byline as I agree payment terms and, especially as I work from home, it is important for keeping up my profile. I was disappointed when I excitedly searched for a recent national news exclusive and found the section editor had added her name and tagged mine on, as if I were on work experience. I found the case study, researched the story and filed meticulous copy. I sourced images and turned it round quickly. She sliced and diced it then stuck her name on. I politely requested that she remove her name from the online version. She refused. The problem is if you defend your

right to a byline, you risk not being used again. It was little me in my kitchen versus her with a firstname. surname@majornewstitle email address, other salaried journalists around her and influence over how much payment I receive and when. It is not vanity. It is about etiquette

and credibility. Bylines can be hard to come by and if it’s worth buying, it’s worth bylining, surely? Freelance journalist Sheron Boyle won a notable victory after refusing to let go of her single byline, meaning The Sun held her copy for three months before agreeing to let her have what, she argues, was hers all along.

Boyle says: “Bylines say you own

your work. We are not asking for the crown jewels, just that our work is officially, publicly recognised as ours. When Paul McCartney writes a song, he doesn’t allow another musician to say he has done it. When Dan Brown writes a novel, he doesn’t allow another writer to put their name on it – or the editor who will have tweaked the copy. “I think up all my own stories, find

interviewees, encourage them to speak, sell the idea to a publication, then write the piece. It may need a couple of hundred words cutting or tightening but that does not allow a salaried staffer to put their name on it first or at all.” Boyle is in dispute with another

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It is not vanity. It is about etiquette and credibility. Bylines can be hard to come by and if it’s worth buying, it’s worth bylining, surely?

national newspaper now. She adds: “It is vital we keep hold of our property. Signing away work means signing away future earnings. I would like to see an overhaul of the shoddy, legally dubious practices of byline banditry of freelancer’s work.” Another important issue to consider is that stories with shared bylines are trickier to find in a Google search. But, valuable as they are,

bylines are not enough, according to journalism lecturer and writing coach Susan Grossman. She says: “Like most creatives, we have egos. We need our talent recognised to get more work. We need our names in prestigious titles to grow our status. We also need payment. A byline alone is neither ethical nor enough. As often as not, they’ll spell your name wrong. A student of mine uses a pseudonym for that reason.” Omitting a byline has not

always been seen as purely negative. Historically, bylines

were as much to hold writers accountable for errors or wrongdoing as they were for glorifying authors. Many might ask if the absence of

a byline, a shared byline or byline spelling error can be thought of as a blessing. With fewer subeditors, articles are often not subbed but bashed out by busy staffers who frequently make mistakes. At least their typos are attributable to them. But where so much has changed in an industry that elicits pride, it is undoubtedly a shame if hacks miss out on well-deserved recognition and are afraid to raise the matter of having their bylines nicked, in case it costs them professionally.

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