Beats and bylines

Do bylines matter? That question came up this week in chat at the journalism school’s annual cookout.

Two of my colleagues were baffled by a recent story in The News & Observer announcing changes in sports coverage. The newspaper’s writers for Carolina Hurricanes hockey and the N.C. State Wolfpack are getting new beats. And a Charlotte Observer reporter, part of the merger of the two papers’ sports departments, is now on the Wolfpack beat.

The story about these moves was on the front page of the Sunday sports section of the Raleigh paper. That drew criticism from my colleagues: Why is the N&O wasting space on this? Who cares?

I responded that the N&O announcement made sense. Beat writers build a relationship with readers. For example, the hockey reporter, Luke DeCock, had covered the Hurricanes for eight years, a span that includes the team’s Stanley Cup win in 2006. Readers came to know him, and when his byline disappears from hockey stories, they will notice. They deserve an explanation.

That reporter-reader relationship is evident in blog comments about this change. Read them here and here.