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Jan. 31, 2024, 2:46 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   January 31, 2024

With both mistrust in media and AI-generated news on the rise, The New York Times has rolled out new byline pages that emphasize the ethical guidelines and real-life humans behind its reporting.

We’ve covered the expanded bylines and datelines that’ve previously come from the news org’s cross-functional trust team. Now, the Times has rolled out hundreds of freshly expanded byline pages. These byline pages — what others might call profile pages or author bios — now include sections titled “What I Cover,” “My Background,” “Journalistic Ethics,” and “Contact Me.”

Edmund Lee, an editor for the trust team, said more than 80% of reporters “across the major news desks (Politics, National, Washington, Business, Metro, Investigations, and International)” have updated their bios with the new format. A little under 500 bios have been expanded and updated so far. Eventually, the Times hopes to have all journalists — the company has more than 1,700 — update their pages.

Trust-building initiatives, of course, don’t work if readers can’t be bothered to read or click through to the additional material. Lee said the Times has seen evidence readers will reach the expanded byline pages.

“Our research has shown that when readers disagree with a story or encounter something they dislike, they tend to click on the byline,” Lee said. “We saw that as an opportunity to explain our process. Trust in news has declined partly because people have become less aware of how newsrooms operate.”

Showing readers the human effort behind The New York Times is “more important than ever,” Lee said. Last year, the Times sent an internal email as the enhanced bios were first being piloted. “We want to get moving quickly on this,” the email to staff read. “The masthead feels it’s especially important to highlight the human aspect of our work as misinformation and generative AI proliferates.”

Reader surveys showed a clear preference for bios written in the first-person. Each reporter wrote their own, and the level of disclosure and detail varies widely.

Damien Cave, an international correspondent based in Australia, for example, includes traditional bio information — including a list of previous titles and beats — before adding a more personal note to his “background” section. “I grew up in Worcester, Mass., a working-class son of liberal hippies turned conservative Christians, in a family of rich and poor, with marriages mixed across religious and ethnic lines — America in microcosm,” he writes. “I now feel incredibly lucky to be covering how a changing America and a changing world intersect.”

Readers have responded especially well to the new ethics section, Lee said, which spells out how the rules and constraints applicable to all New York Times journalists are followed in practice. Some journalists highlighted standard ethical guidelines in their bios. (“During assignments, I always identify myself as a reporter for The Times,” notes East Africa correspondent Abdi Latif Dahir.) Others dive into more personal or beat-specific detail.

Tech reporter Cecilia Kang, for example, writes that she doesn’t own any individual stocks in any companies. The science and global health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli, who often covers vaccines and drugs, writes she does not “have any financial or other ties to biotech and pharmaceutical companies” and declines “press junkets sponsored by companies or hospitals” along with “fees for lectures sponsored by anyone I might write about.” The recipe columnist Melissa Clark notes she does not accept “restaurant meals, food, gifts, money, or favors” from anyone involved in her reporting. Chief White House correspondent Peter Baker explains why he chooses not to vote.

The differences between news journalists and opinion columnists can be especially opaque to readers. In her expanded byline page, columnist Lydia Polgreen notes that columnists abide by the same standards as Times journalists. “I am an opinion columnist and write about my views and convictions, but I am deeply committed to independence, rigorous reporting and accuracy,” Polgreen adds. Another columnist, Charles M. Blow, writes, “Every piece I publish is fact-checked and edited.”

The New York Times also found readers liked seeing contact information listed and “not because they were itching to talk to us,” Lee said. “Simply knowing we were reachable made them feel more reassured [that] we’re not a faceless institution operating in a distant tower.”

“The theme of our work is explaining what we do to everyday readers,” Lee added. “We’re not changing how we do our journalism. But we are talking about it more.”

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