Credit where it’s due

In 1970, a group of female researchers at Newsweek sued the magazine for gender discrimination. Researchers were central to the journalism process at the time. They took reporters’ copy down by phone, cleaned it up, and fact-checked and filled in facts. But it wasn’t their names that showed up at the tops of articles; it was the male reporters’. And women were never promoted to staff writer roles.

Today’s journalism is no less a team effort, and we still have a crediting problem. While reporters now type up their own copy — some even load it into content management systems! — they still collaborate with editors who shape their stories. Their work is tightened and protected by copy editors and fact checkers, and audience editors write headlines and social copy and develop strategies to reach the people who need the reporting most.

So why do so many organizations still only credit reporters on stories?

A lot of journalism work is hard to byline — at least that’s what we’ve been told. How does one give credit to the photo editor who didn’t take the photo, but selected the perfect image to accompany a story? What about the social media editor who was able to distill a complicated article into a perfect headline and subhed combination? Or the data journalist who backread a reporter’s copy to make sure their conclusions were correct?

A lot of this work isn’t credited, and that makes it difficult to make a case for job opportunities, especially internal promotions. Digital folks are told over and over again that they don’t have the skills to advance in their newsrooms because they didn’t come up in the “traditional” way; the truth is often that those in positions to hire and promote often don’t have full visibility or understanding of what these workers are actually doing and how they contribute to the success of newsrooms.

Audio, in particular, has been terrible about giving credit to the producers and editors who work behind the scenes on podcasts and radio broadcasts. Not crediting production perpetuates the myth that podcasting is the product of singularly charismatic hosts, which is naive at best and destructive at worst. Workers’ labor is erased and undervalued, and compensation and working conditions follow. Budgets bloat to pay “talent” that wouldn’t know the difference between a mono and a stereo file, while producers burn out and leave the industry.

Credit isn’t an ego boost. It’s a direct reflection of the perceived value that someone brings to an organization. Who gets credit directly relates to who is paid more, who receives more opportunities, and what the industry as a whole looks like.

National Public Radio only revised its byline policy last month to standardize giving credit to producers, researchers, and editors in addition to on-air voices. This was the result of negotiations with NPR’s SAG-AFTRA unit, and it means that producers’ names will be said out loud at the end of podcasts and broadcasts, a bare minimum of credit being given to the people who created the works:

Many publications have started including more comprehensive credit lists on enterprise projects but that credit doesn’t often extend to smaller scale coverage. I’d like to see more comprehensive crediting on all types of stories built into publishing processes. I’m hoping more publications follow The Markup’s example: Each article includes a credits section highlighting the names of everyone who touched the pieces:

Saying people’s names isn’t difficult, but it does disrupt the assumption that brilliant journalistic work is the product of singular, virtuosic talents rather than collaboration.

Alex Sujong Laughlin is a freelance writer and podcast producer based in New Haven.

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