When I was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth, I wrote for a bi-weekly newspaper in Santa Monica, Calif. For the first few issues, seeing my name in print was a big thrill, at least until one fine morning before 8 a.m., when a reader called to inform me that a story I’d recently written on lifeguard staffing cutbacks—always a hot topic in a beach town—was “crap” and that I was “garbage.”
I was devastated (though looking back on it I have to admit she was right, at least about my crappy story). On that day, I learned that bylines are not about ego. They’re about accountability for what you write. They’re about ownership of what you produce for public consumption.
That matters a lot in the world of professional journalism where reputations are at stake, readers scrutinize every word and libel isn’t just some abstract concept often confused by the general public with slander, the spoken version of the same thing. First names, nicknames, no names—none of them cut it as bylines in that media world. Again, it’s not about ego. It’s about accountability. In print or online journalism, if you write it you own it, so you better have your name on it.