Prescription for News Research Credit
Credit for our researchers was one of my main quests when I ran the library
at the St. Petersburg Times. It was a difficult passage, but highly
rewarding in the end as our research team now gets an average of at least
one credit every day. I haven't done a count lately. That might actually be
two per day. It is considered "normal" and is the rule more than the
It took a long time to get the credit line, usually at the end of the
story, institutionalized. We have had some double bylines -- reporter and
researcher together -- though those are less frequent.
If there was one thing that did it, it was vigilance. We compiled a list of
when it's proper to give credit that I plagiarized mostly from Mary Kate
Leming at the Palm Beach Post who came up with wonderful key
considerations and posted them on Newslib. We displayed our list in the
library, and in a newsletter about writing that was going out to the news
staff at the time. It was also published as a guideline in our stylebook
for editors about when it is appropriate to give news librarians credit. All
of this was helpful and gave the library staff some moral support to fall
back on and feel good about, too.
And maybe being a bit of a pain in the ass helped also. I remember pushing
our Metro Editor for a researcher credit on a major investigative piece --
a team effort -- and she said, "So why should the researcher get as much,
or more, credit than the editor or designer?" If you get that question, the
answer is: "Because the researcher adds to the content of the story. His or
her skills can find crucial facts that will change the focus and meaning."
I think the things that were most effective were:
* Following the path of important pieces and making sure editors didn't
take the researcher credit off. Sounds nutty, but I would actually find out
who had the last edit on articles we cared particularly about, ones that
had a huge researcher input. Then I'd call the person from home in the
evening while they were editing and remind them of the researcher
contribution, and make sure they didn't take the credit off.
* Persuading the researchers to put their names at the top of anything they
wrote, like a chronology or other offering that would be going directly
into the paper. We did some brainstorming about how reporters' names got
affixed to those kinds of contributions and looked in the newsroom editing
system to see what style they used. Then the researchers put their names on
whatever they wrote in exactly the same way. This wasn't as simple as it
looks. Some researchers, although they wanted the credit, were
uncomfortable putting their names on a piece they had written. I think
they're over that now.
Gratifying as it is to have changed the tide, and been able to pass
researcher credit on to the next person in charge, the process bears
CONSTANT tending and monitoring. I know Barbara Oliver, who runs the Times
News Library now, still has to be vigilant and keep the awareness of
researcher contributions in the eye of the newsroom, and that it is much on
her mind. I believe if it weren't, over time things would fall back to the
way they were before.
It also occurs to me that having a team of people devoted just to doing
research may have made it not so much EASIER, but more clear in the minds
of newsroom reporters and editors. If the librarians who want and deserve
credit are also doing other jobs, then I think it would be more difficult
in how it's put forward, with a need to emphasize that WHEN the library
person does research, that work needs to be credited.
St. Petersburg Times
December 1, 2001
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Posted on 12/04/01