Vanishing bylines deprive editors of high-value portfolio material

Has an ethical breach occurred when an editor seeking to build a portfolio discovers that evidence of articles written for a previous employer has vanished?  The above matter recently brought to the attention of ASBPE’s Ethics Committee is worth a response in the form of an ASBPE Ethics Advisory.  But before anything happens, you are invited to weigh in on the discussion.  Here are the details:

Recently two senior editors presented a similar scenario.  In the first, the editor was gathering work samples for his job portfolio. When he checked a former employer’s Web site for possible clips, he discovered that his byline had been deleted from dozens of previously authored articles.

In the second case, a former co-worker from a previous company advised the editor that someone in management had elected to activate byline disappearance for hundreds of articles.

On the surface, it appears that there’s not much in the way of recourse since content authored by both sources is subject to “work for hire” regulations. Both inquirers agreed that their experience should serve as an alert to all editors to gather copies of print media articles and screen shots of online contributions as they go along. Otherwise, they may not get the chance once they’ve relocated to another employer.

During interviews with an Ethics Committee representative, six questions were addressed that might suggest light you could shed on the experiences described above:

  1. How was the byline deletion discovered?
  2. In what ways was the action a disservice to the past employee?
  3. Did a prior unfavorable relationship exist between the employee and former employer?
  4. Did the editors still have sufficient copies of their work to present during a job interview?
  5. Was an attempt made to research steps of recourse or learn why the evidence of past performance was eliminated?
  6. What steps would you suggest to ASBPE members that would anticipate the possibility – even the most remote – of confrontation with the impact of a byline deletion?

Now put on your ethics advisory cap. Do you think this could happen to you? How well are you prepared to weather whatever storm occurs? What advice would you give to others? Please e-mail your suggestions to ethics@asbpe.org. A summary of submitted reactions will be posted in an upcoming “Ethics Mailbag” report.