One of the illuminations that Hugo Lindgren has brought to the redesigned New York Times Magazine, in addition to a cover logo that “has shifted to the left and grown 20 percent in size,” is the practice of crediting editors of the articles.
This strikes me, an editor, as a Bad Idea, but I’ll give it a little thought beyond the first reaction.
All right, we’ll credit the originating editor, who worked closely with the writer on the article. That makes sense. Of course, the executive editor, who saw and did not like an early draft and demanded a completely different approach, ought to be mentioned. Oh, and the copy editor, who meticulously went through the text and regularized the punctuation and corrected the spelling, and made the subjects agree with the verbs and attended to the other little chores that the originating editor was too busy to dirty his hands with—shouldn’t a little credit be distributed there? Then there’s the slot editor who pointed out that the chronology was out of order. And the proofreader, who noticed that the article MISSPELLED THE SUBJECT’S NAME THROUGHOUT.
At a newspaper, even a minor article can pass through several hands before publication, and a major article will have many fingerprints on it. Apportioning editorial credit is at best a misleading indication of how this collective effort is conducted.
But that is not the most substantial objection to credits for editors. The major one is this: Readers don’t care who the editor was.
For that matter, readers often don’t care who the author was, because readers are not mesmerized by the cult of the byline.
Oh, readers remember the names of a few writers, some favorites they have grown used to, or the ones who write in the subjects they follow closely. But in the main, readers tend not to notice who wrote most of the articles in the publication. It is only the pitiable vanity of newspaper reporters that makes a byline strike possible—the misguided belief that withholding their names from their articles is injurious to the publication and gives them leverage in a dispute.
What such credits do accomplish is mainly to add to clutter in the text.*
What I write here on the blog bears my name, and I take responsibility for it. What I edit for The Sun is part of the collective institutional utterance of the publication. I do not need to carve my initials in it.
*One recent Sun article carried, in addition to the byline, a shirttail at the end with the names of half a dozen members of the staff who had contributed to the coverage. I’m pretty sure that in cutting the thirty lines required to make the article fit the space, I preserved the names of the contributors while excising their contributions.