View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

Independent production error put non-existent writer Alan O’Brien in Nicosia for match report

By Freddy Mayhew

A sports writer byline that appeared on a football match report for The Independent website, but seemingly does not belong to an actual journalist, has been confirmed as a so-called “cod byline”.

The practice is common among UK journalists who are shifting on a newspaper but don’t want their current employers – perhaps a rival title – to know about it.

It involves the journalist either adopting a made-up name or taking a house byline, one which is put up by the newspaper itself and regularly used as a substitute to protect the writer’s identity.

The report (pictured top) on Tottenham Hotspur’s win over APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus was published on The Independent website on 26 September with the byline: Alan O’Brien.

It was also published in the i newspaper, which still retains a content-sharing deal with its former owners at the Independent despite having been bought by Johnston Press last year.

At first it was claimed O’Brien had filed the story from Cyprus, having attended the match, although this byline locator information was later removed online.

The byline raised eyebrows at Buzzfeed after it was contacted by a source who said O’Brien did not exist and had not been in Cyprus. Three other sports writers also confirmed to Buzzfeed they did not know an Alan O’Brien.

Content from our partners
Pugpig named best media technology partner of 2024 by AOP
Cannes Lions: The world's best creativity all in one place
L'Equipe signs content syndication deal with The Content Exchange

Press Gazette has since spoken with the Independent which confirmed the Alan O’Brien byline was being used by a freelance shifter as a cod byline.

They said: “Cod bylines have long been widely used in sports sections of newspapers.

“As it happens, The Independent stopped using them some years ago – except where there is an overriding journalistic imperative, to protect the identity of a whistleblower who has written for us, for instance, or to protect sources.

“However, the Alan O’Brian byline was subsequently deployed by staff unaware of the earlier decision.”

The claim that the reporter had filed the story on location was the result of a production error and was unrelated to the use of a cod byline, Press Gazette understands.

Plans to have someone writing for The Independent from the game fell through, but a template with the location included in the byline that had been created earlier was not updated, it is understood.

Johnston Press said the mach report had been “syndicated” to it with the byline and location and was published “in good faith” in the i newspaper.

A spokesperson said: “We require all our partner agencies to uphold the highest professional standards and editorial integrity when they supply us with syndicated copy. We and our readers demand it.

“Any inaccuracy in copy is an extremely serious matter and unacceptable. We are investigating today’s report further before taking the next steps.”

Topics in this article :

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network