Editor & Publisher reports the recently formed GateHouse News Service will soon produce lifestyles pages for newspapers:
Pages include "Health & Fitness" on Monday, "Food" on Tuesday, "Home & Garden" on Wednesday, and "Travel" on Thursday. They can be used by GateHouse Media Inc. publications as well as other subscribers, and are customizable to allow for local content and ads.
There are also weekly videos associated with the pages -- including a cooking show, fitness and home and garden tips, and travel tours.
This is the last thing the beleaguered newspaper industry needs- more cookie-cutter, non-local content for a medium whose mantra should be local, local, local. And, of course, it goes without saying there will be newspapers that will use this service as an excuse for eliminating reporting positions.
GateHouse's local newspapers, The Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News have long ago abandoned the idea of providing daily local lifestyles pages (I have even seen some editions that did not have editorial pages) and while both newspapers do include some of what has been featured on these pages in the past, the absence of such pages is one more reason why these newspapers have seen their circulations decline from approximately 5,000 in 1999 to just over 2,100 in October 2007 (Newspapers that go through the U. S. Mail are required to print a circulation statement each October.)
What has happened to lifestyles coverage?
The staples of such coverage have been coverage of education, food, fashion, health issues, and more importantly than anything, coverage of people. While I have no particular problem with using syndicated materials to bolster coverage, the main emphasis in most cases should be local.
During my years at The Carthage Press, I tried to redefine the traditional stand-alone lifestyles coverage, which in many cases had earned its reputation for poor writing, and more emphasis on certain segments of the community.
First, lifestyles stories can be built around local stories that would not appear on traditional lifestyles pages. For several years in the 1990s, The Press was lucky enough to have Amy Lamb as its lifestyles editor. Amy accompanied the children of murder victims Harold and Melba Wampler of Jasper to the execution of the man who killed their parents. She later did a profile of an incarcerated child molester who wanted to warn about people like himself.
Amy mixed that coverage with features on students, women's club coverage, and numerous stories about health. Many of her stories landed on page one with sidebars on the lifestyles page. Nowadays, the odds of someone as talented as Amy ever getting a chance to do that type of well-rounded work are almost non-existent.
At The Press, every reporter was a feature writer. In addition to our coverage of news events, we regularly wrote features on the people who took part in those events and we also had regular photo features, especially on events that were a part of the community, events ranging from the annual football and basketball homecomings to the Midwest Gathering of the Arts to the annual Maple Leaf Gospel Sing. Our idea of lifestyles coverage was actually covering the lives of people in the community, a concept that seems antiquated these days.
Speakering of the Midwest Gathering of the Artists, the culture beat has also been almost forgotten at the smaller GateHouse newspapers in this area. When I arrived at The Carthage Press in 1990, the newspaper had veteran leadership like Managing Editor Neil Campbell and former Managing Editor Marvin VanGilder who knew the importance art and music played in the community, not just aesthetically, but with the emergence of Precious Moments and Red Oak II, financially. It was a major beat for The Press, and was expanded even more after Ron Graber joined the staff in August 1992. We had articles on the arts several times a week.
Now, with staffs cut to the bone and so much emphasis placed on special sections and advertorial material, the type of coverage that made newspapers eminently readable has almost entirely vanished.
Another culprit has been the growing number of niche magazines created by GateHouse and other newspaper companies (including CNHI, owner of the Joplin Globe). These publications are jam-packed with features (though again, most of them appear to be of the cookie-cutter variety). The solution to every perceived hole in reaching advertisers is a new niche publication. Every time one is created, the flagship newspapers die a little more.
So now GateHouse Media has come up with a solution to this problem- outsource the lifestyles pages. Is it any wonder the newspaper industry is dying?