Last week, the Guardian revealed its plans to cut 180 jobs due to the impact and economic shock of COVID-19. At the forefront of these cuts is the Guardian’s Saturday edition. The Weekend, Review, The Guide, and Travel sections are coming to an end. Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner has said there will be a “new Saturday package” appearing in the works at a later date. Viner also told staff that “some aspects” of sport and lifestyle journalism will be reduced.
COVID-19 has severely affected the media industry, with many laid-off journalists and local newspapers folding. It is therefore no surprise that the Guardian is cutting back.
Despite these circumstances, it is disappointing to see some of the Guardian’s soft news sections being removed. The Cambridge dictionary defines soft news as “a mixture of information and entertainment, often relating to people’s private lives.” Hard news is “serious important news that is considered to be of interest to many people.” The two are often compared against each other as a means of judging their worth.
‘Softer’ newspaper sections, such as lifestyle, are often undervalued by journalists who report on hard news and even the publications themselves. Despite this, the Guardian Saturday edition has a higher average circulation in comparison with its weekday counterpart, both before COVID-19 and during. According to PressGazette, in June, the Saturday edition sold 147% more than the Guardian’s weekday circulation.
If fewer sales are not the reason for cuts, is soft news simply seen as more disposable?
Hard news is essential, but does not offer much more than facts, recounts, and interviews involving what happened. Lifestyle articles, whether they be about food, culture, fashion, or travel can offer us so much more than this. Lifestyle articles and columns provide lived experiences. Journalists give us personal insights into their life; to undervalue lifestyle journalism is to undervalue the worth of personal experience.
Lifestyle journalists provide content that readers can relate to and connect with. It allows readers to feel less alone in their own experiences and lives. Although it may not be hard news, lifestyle still covers serious topics, from mental health to contraception.
Soft news also allows journalists to express their opinions. Opinion creates conversation. Readers’ question their own views, leaving them to decide whether they wish to align themselves with the article or not. My articles have started all sorts of different discussions amongst family and friends.
The real beauty of lifestyle journalism comes from its power to connect. Readers can not only connect with one another, but with writers themselves, in a way that would be impossible with a writer of hard news.
Hard news is also often very difficult to digest. COVID-19 was a prime example of how the over-consumption of breaking news can increase levels of stress and anxiety. The NHS recommends limiting time spent watching, reading or listening to pandemic coverage to look after your mental well being. Back in February and March, I spent a lot of time glued to my phone reading every single update concerning the UK. This left me with a constant pit of anxiety in my stomach.
It was the lifestyle sections of publications, however, that provided me with comfort.
When many countries became gripped by lockdowns, journalists were able to write about how they were coping. It was comforting to read about the struggles of others adapting and useful to learn of their coping mechanisms. My own lockdown content involved articles from the impact of the pandemic on sex work, to nerves about entering a new post-lockdown ‘normal.’
I personally began writing at the beginning of lockdown after having to prematurely end my year abroad. Writing for the lifestyle and travel sections of my university newspaper was a welcoming distraction and enjoyment. One of the things I love about lifestyle journalism is the passion that writers put into their pieces. As lifestyle journalists, we are able to write about the things that genuinely interest us. Of course, we still do our research and ensure our facts are correct. We also have to flesh out our information and bring in personality and opinion to captivate readers. Lifestyle journalists may not be delivering breaking news, but we are utilising a whole different set of important skills.
Soft news brings us entertainment, humour, and light reading on a rainy day. Yet, it also facilitates emotional connection and a sense of togetherness through personal stories and interviews. The ‘fluff’ of soft news and lifestyle journalists should not be undervalued. It truly is sad to see soft news taking the biggest hit.
Words by Hannah Drew