A newspaper published a story about the Surgeon General’s office that contained information about the size and location of the Army of the Potomac. A furious Hooker complained to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that the chief of the Secret Service “would have willingly paid $1,000 for such information” about Confederate forces.
Ford Risely, The New York Times, Birth of the Byline.
Risley, a professor of communications and head of Penn State’s journalism department takes us through Civil War era journalism and how the byline came to be.
Indeed, during the first two years of the war, an increasingly aggressive and competitive press had published stories that infuriated military leaders on both sides. The Civil War was the first war widely covered by American newspapers. And in their zeal to report the greatest event of their lives, newsmen produced a decidedly mixed bag of stories.
On one hand, many reporters honestly and faithfully chronicled the fighting. Tireless correspondents went to extraordinary lengths to report stories, often on tight deadlines. However, other newsmen mistakenly, and in some cases recklessly, reported the conflict. Correspondents less concerned with the facts and more interested in rushing stories into print wrote damaging stories that hurt their side.
Following the journalistic practice of the day, correspondents wrote anonymously during the war, most using a pen name or no name at all. Newsmen liked the custom, believing the secrecy allowed them do their work better. As one reporter wrote, “The anonymous greatly favors freedom and boldness in newspaper correspondence … . Besides the responsibility it fastens on a correspondent, the signature inevitably detracts from the powerful impersonality of a journal.”
However, commanders did not like the practice because newsmen often could not be held accountable for what they wrote. McClellan had complained to Stanton of reporters repeatedly “giving important information” about the Army in their stories. “As it is impossible for me to ascertain with certainty who these anonymous writers are,” he wrote, “I beg to suggest that another order be published holding the editors responsible for its infraction.”
After the news leak, General Order No. 48 was issued, which required that all reporters with the Army of the Potomac—of which Hooker (mentioned above) was commander—“publish their communications over their own signatures.”
And the byline was born.
Related: A few more thoughts on journalism history from our archives.
We get stories much faster than we can make sense of them, informed by cellphone pictures and eyewitnesses found on social networks and dubious official sources like police scanner streams. Real life moves much slower than these technologies. There’s a gap between facts and comprehension, between finding some pictures online and making sense of how they fit into a story. What ends up filling that gap is speculation. On both Twitter and cable, people are mostly just collecting little factoids and thinking aloud about various possibilities. They’re just shooting the shit, and the excrement ends up flying everywhere and hitting innocent targets.
It’s Spring. Which means it’s time to start thinking about summer. And working with the FJP is assured to be a summer well spent.
What We Do
We write, report and make videos about journalism, education, media and technology. This you probably already know by way of our Tumblr, Twitter or theFJP.org. We also experiment with and collaborate on some interesting future-of-journalism projects. Read more about us here.
How the Internship Works:
Send an email to hello@theFJP.org. In it, include a cover letter (no attachments) that includes links to your online persona (e.g., blog(s), clips, Tumblr(s), Dribbble, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), why you want to work with the FJP, and what you’d like to actually accomplish during your Internship.
Need help with a cover letter? Here’s our advice on writing one.
Application Deadline: May 10, 2013.
If you’re in school and your school supports it, FJP internships have been used for college/graduate credits. A monthly food and travel stipend is included.
Outside New York City
Successful internships require a level of interaction that only occurs when we’re in the same room together. That said, we recognize that many of the best and brightest are a long ways away from where we are. If you’d like to get involved with the FJP in a collaborative role, send us a note at hello@theFJP.org. Follow the same instructions as above and we’ll get back to you if we think it’s possible to work together.
Media people who feel smug because they have a Twitter handle, an about.me page, and 500 friends on Facebook often seem to think there is something magical about their ability to navigate social media. There’s not. Social media is easy to use, the barrier to entry is almost zero, and it’s not at all impressive in the larger realm of what constitutes “new journalism,” or whatever it is we’re supposed to call journalism that involves the use of Big Data and interactive infographics.
Journalism skills, however – those antiquated intangibles that fusty old out-of-touch Columbia tries to teach – are non-trivial. Journalists have to be able to not only write, but to also process and synthesize complicated ideas in a short time, structure narratives, master the art of interviewing, take notes really fast, self edit, research in places where others don’t think to look, speak truth to power, ask ballsy questions that might otherwise get their teeth smacked in, construct arguments, dismantle other arguments, see through bullshit, and think on their feet. You can learn those things by yourself through hard work and experience, but it’ll take more than 40 seconds.
Hamish McKenzie, PandoDaily, So Columbia Journalism School’s new dean doesn’t Tweet. So what?
FJP: We’d argue that Twitter and this overall social media thing takes more than 40 seconds to learn but Hamish’s argument against Michael Wolff’s criticism of the Columbia J-School — and its appointment of Steve Coll as its dean — is well worth the read.
Bonus: Jihii Jolly’s Why I’m Paying for J-School.