Editor’s Note is a weekly column written by News Director Josh Durso. It originally runs in our Sunday Insight newsletter, which you can sign-up for by clicking here. Check out the Sunday Insight this column appeared in by clicking here.
This week I received an email from a reader (and newsletter subscriber!) named Amanda. She had an idea for the newsletter, and it was so good, that I thought we’d get right into it this time around. She said, “Your team’s newsletters are really informative, but with all the misinformation out there about news and how its produced- you should consider adding a section dedicated to answering ‘news questions’. After exchanging a few notes- I learned that she wasn’t talking about ‘news questions’ per se, like, “Why did my town change a sign on this street?” Rather, Amanda was talking about newsroom process and policy.
It was brilliant, and I’m grateful she reached out, so beginning this week- I’ll answer one (or more) good questions I get about the news business, or our newsroom in this section. The answers will also be published Sunday’s in my Editor’s Note column.
This week’s question: Why do you use ‘staff report’ as the byline on certain articles published on FingerLakes1.com? Is that ethical?
You might be surprised how often this one comes up- whether a reader flags me down directly, or hearing it secondhand through friends and colleagues. For the longest time I was puzzled by it- because up until about a year ago- we didn’t publish anything with bylines. If a specific member of the team wrote the story- we’d attach an editor’s note atop the story, or include it at the bottom. But, up until we added that feature to our website- it didn’t exist. FingerLakes1.com, Inc. was founded more than 20 years ago, so for a vast majority of its existence- bylines have not been a thing. That said, when we began using them- the ‘staff’ reports- reflected those pieces that were put together from press releases, announcements, or did not require an extensive amount of ‘reporting’ to publish.
To me, as news director, bylines have always been about ‘giving credit’ to the people on our team- or guest contributors- who work hard to make a story come to life.
But for those who questioned the ‘integrity’ of the ‘staff report’ byline it was much more than that. In an era of ‘fake’ news, misinformation, and unsavory tactics by some fringe outlets- it’s entirely understandable that some readers are skeptical when they see ‘staff report’ appear atop a story. In their assessment, attaching a name to a story gives credibility, but more importantly- a person to hold accountable if inaccurate.
Let me be clear: Our organization stands behind everything we publish. Furthermore, I’m present to answer anyone’s questions about the integrity of our reporting- whether a story says ‘staff report’, ‘team report’, or an individual reporter’s name. That said, I’m also not going to keep myself up at night- trying to convince those most-skeptical about everything they encounter. We report on a good faith basis and ask that visitors read on the same premise.
So, in the best case scenario here- we have a miscommunication- and to correct that, a very simple solution. Those ‘staff report’ stories will now be bylined ‘FL1 News’ to reflect our whole organization standing behind the words we publish. That change has gone system-wide as of this column, and will be evermore. As always, if you have a question about something we publish- or a question for a future edition of this newsletter- send it to me! My email is [email protected].