The integrity of the newspaper byline | Editorial

Writing anonymously can be a dangerous game.

According to Michael Schudson’s “Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers” bylines in certain situations can carry more weight.

Civil War General Joseph Hooker advocated that war correspondents in 1863 use their names “as a means of attributing responsibility and blame for the publication of material” that he found “inaccurate or dangerous to the Army of the Potomac.”

Of course this opens the floodgates to a larger issue of the military’s long-standing distrust for the media. Books have been written about this dynamic from the Civil War to Vietnam to Afghanistan.

But I digress. The reason I bring up Hooker’s comment for our paper are the two words “responsibility and blame.”

These are principles that we stand by. Every day as stories are published we are ready to defend them if need be.

As for our editorials, we often subscribe to the philosophy of the Economist: our opinion-based pieces are a reflection of the collective newspaper staff from San Juan to Lopez to Orcas and the outer-reaching islands.

In the words of Geoffrey Crowther, Economist editor from 1938 to 1956, anonymity keeps the editor “not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself … it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle.”

And the names of our staff are clearly listed on page 4 each week.

But when it comes to stories that affect our community, we assign that work to an actual person. A person whose phone number and email is at your disposal.

In our small community we may not have a brigade of fact checkers and researchers but we have something just as valuable: accountability. When we publish stories we have to answer to our editorial choices at the grocery store, at theater shows and at the farmers’ market. We willingly accept this responsibility because it keeps us honest and makes us continue to strive for the ethical standards of journalism in a world that is forever changing.

Unlike at the newsstands where one can clearly tell hard news from the tabloids, the Internet has infinite sites that have anywhere from the highest ethical standards to the reporting of blatant untruths and sensationalism.

Perhaps in larger cities not knowing who is reporting the facts is less important. Who has actually met Nicholas Kristoff or Lindsey Addario?  But we trust these people because we have watched their careers, and we know the stuff they are made of. Whenever I am accused of being biased, I ask that they look at my body of work and ask themselves if I have been fair in the past.

We stand by our bylines and we strive to be ethical journalists. We ask for your help to navigate daily discussions from government to economics to the environment and the arts.

And we always stand by our bylines.