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Layoffs and lack of equity amid a pandemic—how is lifestyle journalism surviving?

The lifestyle section began as a space exclusively for women during the first wave of feminism. Prior to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the women’s pages were the main home for women seeking a journalism career. Despite their oppression, these formidable women made numerous pioneering moves that, ultimately, led to a mammoth increase in the popularity of lifestyle journalism, first in print, then in broadcast and online.

Today, lifestyle remains wildly popular and, many would argue, vital for the numerous ways it addresses issues of social justice and change. But the business model that has traditionally paid for it and other forms of journalism has been suffering for a while, with revenues in steep decline due to advertisers in key sectors migrating to cheaper and more targeted online ads. With less money to go around, lifestyle journalism has had its share of economic woes, which the following three examples indicate:

A star writer is let go; Rogers Media sheds staff and publications

In November 2017, Sarah Boesveld was nominated for a National Magazine Award for her story “The Renfrew County Murders Are Not an Anomaly,” about the Canadian justice system’s failure to protect women from domestic homicide. As a senior writer for Chatelaine, which many consider to be Canada’s leading women’s English-language lifestyle magazine, Boesveld produced news and feature stories that covered topics from sexual assault and domestic violence, to the representation of women in politics, to her own appreciation of Dolly Parton. She had covered the Jian Ghomeshi trial, the Women’s March on Washington, and two federal budgets. After “Renfrew County Murders,” Boesveld’s career at Chatelaine was at a high point—until she was let go as a result of corporate restructuring.

“I was just at the National Magazine Awards, for probably the first time Chatelaine has been nominated for an investigative feature on an issue as important as sexual violence and homicide, and you’re letting me go now?” she recalls thinking to herself.

The Rogers Media restructuring of June 2018 cut about 75 full-time staff, or one third of its digital content and publishing department. Less than a year later, Rogers sold off a number of lifestyle publications, including ChatelaineFlare, and Today’s Parent. The media company stated the layoffs were necessary to keep its publishing business “sustainable.”

Pandemic layoffs; a spectacularly ungracious example of corporate speak

The Rogers layoffs were just one of several large-scale layoffs that have taken place in the lifestyle space over the past few years. In 2019, then-owner Groupe TVA had slashed about 28 jobs at Elle and sister publications prior to selling Elle to KO Média. In October 2020, Elle Canada closed its English-language office in Toronto and a few months earlier, in July, Global News cut its lifestyle, entertainment, and social media teams. According to the Canadian Association of Journalists, approximately 70 journalists were laid off.

In a spectacularly ungracious example of corporate speak, Global News justified its job-shedding actions by saying the decision “marks a strategic shift away from the non-news genre toward our core mission of providing breaking news and fact-based journalism.” The wording irritated critics. Global seemed to be suggesting the employees who had just been let go were not journalists and that lifestyle stories are not fact-based. Global News described the job cuts as necessary to cope with a collapse in advertising revenue that had been amplified by the pandemic. Corus Media, which owns Global News, saw its revenues drop 24 percent in its third quarter, which ended on May 31, 2020. According to the Canadian Press, Corus Media received $17 million from the Canadian government’s COVID-19 wage subsidy program, whose purpose is to help companies avoid laying off employees.

What happens to diversity at a time of layoffs; lifestyle and sexism

“A lot of the people of colour who hold staff positions tend to be hired in lifestyle or cultural roles, and those are the first to get cut if cuts need to happen,” says Kelsey Adams, a staff writer on culture and lifestyle at NOW, an online alternative magazine in Toronto. “Then you lose that voice and perspective and go back to having a very white editorial team.” POC journalists are often kept on contract or brought on as freelancers, which gives them fewer protections like health care, benefits, and other safety nets. This sometimes makes it difficult for them to build their careers, and reduces the fostering of diversity in the industry.

Adds Stacy Lee Kong, a journalism instructor at Centennial College and the author of her own progressive lifestyle newsletter, Friday Things: “There is lots of diversity in junior roles, but it gets whiter the higher up you go.” This is problematic because those in executive positions are the ones making the important decisions at these publications.

“Lifestyle is often where we talk about injustice, and a place where we can talk about sexism, racism, classism, and ableism—and those are the publications that tend to be progressive first,” says Lee Kong, who also says that she is deeply offended by the way lifestyle journalism is perceived by those in the media.

“The disrespect that I saw toward lifestyle journalism at the beginning of my career, I still see happening today,” says Lee Kong, who has been working in the lifestyle space for 14 years. “The idea of a women’s magazine that tells you what to cook for dinner, or how to fold your fitted sheets, or what lipstick might look good on you—there’s a value to that,” she explains. Lee Kong believes sexism is a prevalent issue in journalism that negatively affects lifestyle publications. She’s bothered by the idea that if it’s not about politics or business, it’s not important. “The things that are coded as only interesting for women, those things are important too.” Lee Kong says that this attitude toward lifestyle topics undermines work that has traditionally been classified as women’s work. “You can only think that [an article about] what to eat for dinner is not important if that’s not your job.”

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