Folker Hanusch

22Lifestyle Journalism

Abstract: Lifestyle journalism is a growing field of journalistic practice as well as scholarly analysis, at the heart of which is often the tension between citizen- and market orientations. Linked closely to the rise of consumption cultures in the second half of the 20th century, the field is still often viewed condescendingly by its critics, while others identify enormous potential in lifestyle journalism for producing information of public value. This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of lifestyle journalism, which details its relationship with other kinds of journalism, and investigates ways of conceptualizing a field that is often defined in varying ways. An historical overview demonstrates that lifestyle has been a part of journalism for considerable time, though events over the past five decades or so have accelerated this growth. An analysis of existing scholarly work on lifestyle journalism identifies four key themes of research: representations and notions of identity, political and critical dimensions, commercial and consumerist aspects, as well as democratizing elements of lifestyle journalism. Finally, the chapter offers five areas of the field which require scholars’ urgent attention.

Keywords: consumption, journalism, lifestyle, market-oriented, soft news

1Introduction

The enormous growth of lifestyle journalism over recent decades has been a remarkable development given the broader ‘crisis’ in traditional journalism. While traditional formats like political and foreign news appear to be shrinking, softer forms of news have experienced growing popularity, with lifestyle content – particularly in Western countries, but also increasingly in other societies – becoming ubiquitous through specially devoted newspaper sections and supplements, an exquisite variety of magazines, dedicated television channels, and a sheer endless assortment of websites. At the same time, lifestyle journalism is still often derided by the journalistic profession and an array of scholars, many of whom are critical of the field’s proximity to commercial interests and accuse it of “dumbing down” journalism. Seen from a normative standpoint that privileges citizen- over consumer-oriented news, processes like tabloidization are seen with much skepticism. The shift towards consumer-oriented journalism has meant, according to one critic, that “the task of journalism has become merely to deliver and serve up what the customer wants; rather like a deep-pan pizza” (Franklin 1997: 5). Yet, others argue that instead of “dumbing down”, the diversification of journalistic content is actually engendering a process of “braining up” (McNair 2009: 70). Such approaches generally critique the dumbing down thesis as being grounded in elitist and unrealistic views of the public sphere, and argue that less elite-driven news agendas can offer wider opportunities for political engagement across all sections of society (Temple 2006). McNair believes the growth of lifestyle journalism can actually be regarded as a positive move away from male-dominated news agendas to a more feminized and humanist kind of journalism, which is “less pompous, less pedagogic, less male; more human, more vivacious, more demotic” (2009: 74).

Despite the growing recognition of, and appreciation for non-news journalistic fields, lifestyle journalism has for a long time been starved of scholarly attention. However, recent years have seen considerable growth in the field, which has opened up promising lines of inquiry, making lifestyle journalism an immensely interesting and exciting field of study. To map out some of the emerging scholarly discourses, this chapter first provides an overview and definition of what can actually be regarded as lifestyle journalism. In a brief historical summary, it demonstrates that despite being considered a late 20th- and early 21st-century phenomenon, lifestyle journalism can actually be traced back to the very early days of news-making, thereby broadening our understanding of the term journalism itself. The chapter then provides a global overview of the kind of work that exists in the field. Finally, it outlines key areas for future scholarly exploration of what is undoubtedly one of journalism’s growth areas.

2Lifestyle journalism and its various (dis)guises

To begin any analysis of a specialization such as lifestyle journalism, it is crucial to define the object of inquiry. This is not an easy task in our case, as the term encapsulates a large variety of journalistic fields. For example, it can include areas such as travel, fashion, style, health, fitness, wellness, entertainment, leisure, lifestyle, food, music, arts, gardening, and living (Hanusch 2012a). Others include any kind of human interest stories, children, parenting and partnership, career, personal technology, as well as celebrity journalism (Brunsdon et al. 2001; Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013; Usher 2012). The definitional confusion continues, with little agreement on the term lifestyle journalism itself. Some have used “service journalism” to describe functions that are typically attributed to lifestyle journalism (Eide & Knight 1999) – not surprising given that one of the field’s key functions is to provide advice to audiences. Lifestyle journalism is also sometimes lumped in with the more general term of “infotainment”, as a key element is the provision of information in an entertaining way, consumed by audiences for pleasure (McNair 2006). As these differences in terminology suggest, boundaries are often blurred, with one further example the increasingly difficult distinction between cultural, consumer, and lifestyle journalism (Kristensen & From 2012).

Where to begin with a definition of lifestyle journalism, then? Kristensen and From (2012) suggest one way is to define what lifestyle journalism is not. Here, they refer to the distinction between hard and soft news raised earlier. These refer to the subject matter (whether the story is about issues of public relevance, or is focused on lighter issues related to the private sphere), as well as temporality (whether a story needs to be published immediately, or can be published at any time). Similarly, Hanusch (2012a) has argued that traditional definitions of journalism can help us better situate lifestyle journalism’s location in the field, pointing to the numerous existing definitions of journalism as influenced by a citizen-orientation. The rise in non-traditional journalistic formats has prompted some to provide more neutral definitions, which focus on journalism’s link to not much more than providing factual information about something previously not known to audiences, or what McNair (2006) has termed “factuality”. Focusing on journalism as being about real events also helps in distinguishing lifestyle formats such as travel journalism from travel writing, with the latter allowing authors significantly more poetic license (Fürsich & Kavoori 2001).

A number of aspects have been identified which make lifestyle journalism stand out from other types of journalism. The field’s focus on the private sphere, particularly in the provision of so-called “news-you-can-use” items that provide guidance or a service to individuals on how to live their lives has been a central feature (Eide & Knight 1999). Further, Hanusch (2012a: 2) reminds us of the field’s strong market orientation and close links to consumerism, defining lifestyle journalism as “a distinct journalistic field that primarily addresses its audiences as consumers, providing them with factual information and advice, often in entertaining ways, about good and services they can use in their daily lives”. Fürsich (2012) notes the term of non-fiction entertainment, but also warns that while “preferred by media industry executives [it] removes this content even further from the traditional realm of journalism”. Thus, she notes three key dimensions deemed constitutive of lifestyle journalism: providing advice, a review function, and commercialization.

More recently, Hanusch and Hanitzsch’s (2013; Hanusch et al. 2015) studies of Australian and German lifestyle journalists have provided an in-depth theoretical appraisal of lifestyle journalism and its functions, leading to an enhanced definition. Hanusch and Hanitzsch (2013) begin by defining what lifestyle actually means, noting that it is a contested term in itself with different interpretations. Marketing researchers, for example, view lifestyles as linked to consumption by seeing them as “patterns in which people live and spend their time and money” (Gunter & Furnham 1992: 70), while sociologists and cultural studies scholars tend to more dispassionately conceptualize lifestyle as “patterns of action that differentiate people” (Chaney 1996: 4). Featherstone (1987: 55) argues that lifestyle today is seen particularly in relation to consumption, connoting individuality, self-expression, and a stylistic self-consciousness: “One’s body, clothes, speech, leisure pastimes, eating and drinking preferences, home, car, choice of holidays, etc. are to be regarded as indicators of the individuality of taste and sense of style of the owner/consumer”. A number of sociologists have argued that the importance of lifestyles is a phenomenon of the mid- to late 20th century, closely tied to the emergence of consumption cultures. However, Bell and Hollows (2006a) argue that these processes actually reach as far back as the 1800s, when non-work time became “leisure time”. “The connections between consumer culture and rational recreation during this period gave birth to the very idea of lifestyle, in terms of ways of living that utilize the sign value of commodities and connect this with evaluative judgments of, or distinctions between, different socio-economic groups” (Bell & Hollows 2006a: 3). At the same time, Bell and Hollows argue that lifestyle is not wholly tied to consumerism, as there have been other sites, such as education, for the fostering of lifestyles. Indeed, Lonsdale (2015) has shown how lifestyle journalism during World War I, while undoubtedly lifestyle-oriented, did not promote consumption as most would understand it today. Rather, these stories offered “affluent middle-class readers the opportunity to ‘makeover’ their lives as thrifty, careful citizens patriotically doing without for the sake of the War effort” (Lonsdale 2015: 803).

Hanusch and Hanitzsch (2013) thus suggest that lifestyles have three dimensions. The formative dimension regards lifestyles as providing orientation for the management of self and everyday life, or guidance for behavior. The reflexive dimension relates to the performative aspects of lifestyle, which “engenders a great deal of consistency in individuals’ behaviors” (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013: 945). Finally, in the articulate dimension lifestyles are seen as a form through which identity, a sense of “who we are”, is articulated or expressed. They argue that any definition of lifestyle journalism should make reference to three key components: self-expression, the signification of identify, and consumption and everyday life. Their definition therefore sees lifestyle journalism as “the journalistic coverage of the expressive values and practices that help create and signify a specific identity within the realm of consumption and everyday life” (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013: 947).

While these definitions highlight how the field differs from traditional hard news journalism and place increased emphasis on the field’s ties to consumption, it is also important that traditional conceptualizations of journalism’s role – such as the watchdog role – are still relevant. In fact, as the discussion of recent literature on lifestyle journalism highlights throughout the remainder of this chapter, the tension between a consumer- and a citizen-orientation is very much visible in the field, and a recurring theme in scholarly debates.

3Histories of lifestyle journalism

Lifestyle journalism is typically regarded as a phenomenon of the late 20th century, strongly linked to the rise of consumption cultures in industrialized societies, which has resulted in individuals relying on the media for guidance on how to lead their lives and articulate their identities. Certainly, the term appears to have come into existence only relatively recently. If we examine the genre, however, and focus on the kinds of content its various constituents provide, we can see that aspects of lifestyle journalism have been around since the first news publications. Hanusch (2012a), for example, has pointed to the inclusion of human interest topics during the later years of the Acta Diurnal Populi Romani, hand-written newssheets which were displayed in public places across the Roman Empire more than 2000 years ago. Even then, these kinds of news were criticized by contemporaries, such as Cicero, as gossip.

Similarly, the first newspapers were published not merely out of a motivation to raise the level of discussion in the public sphere, but for purely commercial purposes (Weber 2006). Arguably, of course, the content of these early newspapers was still more hard-news driven than focusing on lifestyles, particular as Western societies at the time were still much more focused on survival than having any economic security to focus on self-expression. Nevertheless, journalism’s commercial motivations have been here from the beginning, and as newspapers aimed to widen their audience base over the coming centuries, they would continue to drive innovations and new additions to the kinds of material they provided.

This was no less the case when in the early to mid-19th century newspaper editors identified women as a new target market, and began publishing more society news in their pages. This interest in women readers, Colbert (2009) points out, also had the effect that it opened journalism to an increasing number of women journalists. Over time, newspapers would devote more and more space to women-specific news, culminating in the establishment of dedicated pages around the country. While it is not entirely clear who published the first women’s page, New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer is generally credited with popularizing them when he devoted a page in the Sunday World in 1891 (Marzolf 1977). Whitt (2008) notes that these pages, which were later also called “home pages” tended to cover fashion, food, relationships, health, etiquette, homemaking, interior decorating, family issues, social news, and news of women’s achievements. Sloan and Stovall (1999) argue that these pages played an important part in the doubling of newspaper readership in the US between 1892 and 1914. Rather than merely focusing on consumption issues, women’s pages over time also included more and more critical stories. Mills (1988) shows that women’s pages, run predominantly by women – who were left alone by the male newspaper editors who didn’t regard their work as real journalism – in the 1950s and 1960s were increasingly able to discuss issues far ahead of their time and which were more and more political topics, such as birth control and abortion. This shows that what are often considered light and soft sections of the news media – whether they are called women’s pages or lifestyle sections – can actually be quite political, a discussion we will return to later in this chapter.

By the 1960s and 1970s, women’s pages were slowly on the wane, and being replaced with broader lifestyle sections, again with the aim to attract a wider variety of audiences and advertisers. One example is the Washington Post’s 1969 move to establish a “style” section in the place of a women’s page, with topics such as food, fashion, fun, and culture for all audience members, rather than predominantly women. As a result, the number of lifestyle-type editors in US newspapers grew from nine in 1976 to 221 in 2006, with much of the change coming around the turn of the century (Colbert 2009). Most major newspapers have dedicated lifestyle sections, and there are entire television channels dedicate to lifestyle content. In the United States, the Discovery Channel airs a variety of programs on health, cooking, travel, and related topics, while in Australia, pay TV offers four dedicated channels and a public broadcaster has recently dedicated one of its channels to food programming (Dabbagh 2015). In the UK, the BBC had already introduced lifestyle programming into its schedule in the 1990s (Brunsdon 2003), with similar developments in a range of Asian countries (Lewis, Martin & Sun 2012). In China, the rise of the middle-class and consumerism has also led to the establishment of a large range of lifestyle magazines which increasingly transmit values of self-fulfillment and hedonism (Chen & Machin 2013).

The growth of lifestyle content across the globe has been theorized by Hanusch and Hanitzsch (2013), who focus on three important societal developments that have influenced how lifestyle journalism operates today, and how we may be able to interpret it. The first development relates to processes of individualization, which they regard as “one of the most fundamental transformations of modern society” (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013: 945). According to this view, traditional social institutions no longer provide collective normative orientations, with individuals increasingly required to articulate their own identities, which are not predetermined, but which they are required to shape themselves. This speaks to Giddens’ (1991) notion of “detraditionalization”. Second, the past few decades have seen enormous changes particularly in industrial societies, which have resulted in a shift away from survival values, as economic resources are now mostly guaranteed. Instead, there has been a stronger emphasis on self-expression values, which focus on the subjective well-being and quality of life, rather than economic and physical security (Inglehart 1997). This shift has led to more options for shaping one’s own lifestyle, which is often exhibited through consumer products. Thus, lifestyles become “almost inextricably related to consumption” (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013: 946). Finally, processes of mediatization – the ubiquitous presence and relevance of the media in all kinds of social processes (Krotz 2008) – have meant that the media have replaced or subsumed established social institutions like the family, education systems, and religion as the “most important providers of information, tradition and moral orientation for individuals”, making identity work and the expression of lifestyles almost unthinkable without the media (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013: 946).

4Relevance and importance of lifestyle journalism

We can see, then, that the rise of lifestyle journalism is closely tied to larger societal developments, and studying the production, dissemination, content, and reception of lifestyle journalism is crucial to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of these larger developments, as the field is at the same time influenced by these developments as it in turn influences and reinforces them. Further, as news media move increasingly towards providing entertainment over information (Turner 2014), lifestyle journalism becomes a crucial and all-pervasive component of broader journalism cultures. Lifestyle content is being accessed by ever larger shares of audiences, and it is simply not enough anymore to focus solely on hard news or political journalism as the only form of journalism worth studying. In fact, as hard news reporting is declining, lifestyle journalism may also take on some of its functions, at least to some extent. Most famously, Hartley (2000) contends that soft news formats, including lifestyle journalism, can have a beneficial impact. He argues that such practices are “the ones who extend the reach of the media, who teach audiences the pleasures of staying tuned, who popularize knowledge” (Hartley 2000: 40). Hartley thus sees enormous potential for these more entertainment-focused types of journalism to make substantial contributions to the public sphere. Examples include that at a time of declining resources in foreign correspondence, travel journalists are becoming increasingly important mediators of foreign cultures to audiences and have a responsibility to portray them accurately and work against stereotyping – something that many travel journalists at least say they try to do (Hanusch 2010). Technology journalists also play a crucial role in identifying and recommending new tools which have an impact on consumption behaviors and therefore the economy more broadly (Usher 2012).

A particularly eloquent argument for the study of lifestyle journalism is Fürsich’s (2012) discussion of the concept of public quality, proposed by Costera Meijer (2001), who aimed to overcome the duality of “popular” and “quality” journalism. Fürsich believes the standard of ‘public quality’ could usefully be connected to lifestyle journalism to assess its value, arguing that there is a range of lifestyle content that would empower all audiences in a democracy. For example, she notes that many of Costera Meijer’s dimensions of public quality were already part of some lifestyle journalism, such as the use of ordinary people as sources or turning complex social discussions and issues into issues with clear options. Thus, she argues, the task for lifestyle journalism researchers will be “what concepts of ‘public life’ are established and positively sanctioned in the coverage and what aspects are left behind” (Fürsich 2012: 19). In this way, scholars could usefully “develop more complex models of how issues of public concern are established and negotiated in the media” (Fürsich 2012: 19).

5Key themes in lifestyle journalism research

Factual lifestyle content has attracted considerable interest from media and cultural studies scholars over the past few decades. This has particular been the case in relation to lifestyle programming on television, such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Lewis 2007); programs on food (de Solier 2005); gardening shows (Taylor 2002); and home improvement programs (McElroy 2008). Brunsdon (2003) also examined the range of cooking, home decoration, fashion, and gardening shows screened in the 8–9pm slot on British television to examine lifestyle programming more comprehensively by focusing on the genre rather than just one particular type of show. Similarly, Bell and Hollows’ (2005) collection presents analyses of a wide range of different formats in the area of factual lifestyle programming, while Ouellette and Hay (2008) have focused on the importance of reality television in providing lifestyle advice. In addition, Lewis’ (2008) monograph examines the role of cultural expertise in lifestyle shows, focusing on presenters as key advice-givers. The global success of lifestyle programming is also paid tribute to through more recent studies focusing on the exploration of the role of lifestyle television in Asian countries like Taiwan and Singapore (Lewis & Martin 2010; Lewis, Martin & Sun 2012). Finally, the field has also been mapped through an historical approach in Bell and Hollows’ (2006b) collection of essays on various lifestyle media during the 20th century. Another important area, which, as we have seen earlier, is included by some scholars as a part of lifestyle media but not necessarily by others, is the field of celebrity media. Predominantly explored by media and cultural studies scholars, but also by sociologists and increasingly journalism and communication scholars, this field has proven extremely fruitful in recent years, given the increasing predominance of celebrity-based entertainment and journalism, resulting in a number of important contributions (see, for example, Dubied & Hanitzsch 2014; Turner 2014).

While there exists a wide range of literature on lifestyle media more broadly, work that focuses specifically on lifestyle journalism is much rarer, at least if we employ the definitional criteria presented earlier. Only in the recent decade or so have journalism scholars engaged with this field in more comprehensive ways, making it a vibrant and fast-developing area of study. Most of the existing scholarship has tended to focus on various sub-fields, such as travel, food, fashion, or music journalism, to name just a few. These studies have all very usefully highlighted a variety of important issues within their domains, but, as a result, there is a lack of literature that offers a broader assessment across sub-fields to identify how lifestyle journalism may be homogenous or heterogeneous to varying extents.

Four key themes can be identified in the literature on lifestyle journalism: a) the ways in which lifestyle journalism employs strategies of representations and identity formation; b) lifestyle journalism’s political and critical dimensions, highlighting ways in which the field can meet ideas of “public quality”; c) the commercial and consumerist aspects of lifestyle journalism, in particular the extent to which commercial aspects influence the production of journalistic work; and d) studies which track the impact of new technologies on lifestyle journalism, identifying a resulting process of democratization of the field.

5.1Representations and identity in lifestyle journalism

Much of the work that studies lifestyle journalism content approaches the topic from a cultural studies perspective, identifying the dominant discourses that are offered to audiences. For example, travel journalism studies have a relatively extensive tradition of examining the ways in which other cultures are presented. Cocking (2009) has identified a strong replication of orientalist discourses in British newspaper and TV travel journalism on the Middle East. Similarly, Hamid-Turksoy, Kuipers, and Van Zoonen’s (2014) study of British newspaper travel sections’ representations of Turkey found they created Turkey as an exotic and mysterious place with gorgeous beaches, and orientalizing its population. In the process, they argued, “both the linguistic conventions and the representational politics of travel journalism are inclined to commodify countries with new practices of consumerism” (Hamid-Turksoy, Kuipers & Van Zoonen 2014: 743). A study of newspaper travel sections in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also found that the determinants for the selection of countries are quite similar to those in foreign news reporting (Hanusch 2014a). This role of cultural mediation is one that is taken seriously by practitioners, with a survey of Australian travel journalists finding that the portrayal of other cultures is a significant component of their role perceptions, even if it is not as important as the desire to provide entertaining and enthusiastic stories about travel. More than two-thirds of journalists, for example, wanted to dispel stereotypes about foreign cultures and explain these cultures to their audiences (Hanusch 2012b).

Notions of representation and especially identity also arise in other fields of lifestyle journalism. Fashion journalism, for example, has long been recognized as promoting certain models of identity to its audiences (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2013; Rocamora 2012). An analysis of Norwegian women’s magazines has similarly argued that their provision of therapeutic discourses has created an ideal of empowered women who take care of themselves, which serves as an identity template for audiences (Madsen & Ytre-Arne 2012). A similar case can be made in food journalism. Here, Johnston and Baumann (2007: 165) examined food writing’s role in social status formation, arguing that food writers have significant power “to shape perceptions of food as high quality, fashionable, and worthy of attention from high status consumers”. Appadurai’s (1988) study of cookbooks, while perhaps not an example of food journalism in the narrowest sense, nevertheless found evidence that such writing contributes to national identity formation. Most recently, Duffy and Yang (2012) have explored the way in which the topic of food in food writing and general reporting in Singapore contributes quite significantly to the formation and maintenance of a Singaporean national identity that is grounded in multiculturalism.

5.2Political and critical dimensions of lifestyle journalism

Duffy and Yang’s (2012) aforementioned study also ties into the second theme of lifestyle journalism studies, which is concerned with political and critical aspects. Their study of food writing’s role in national identity also plays into important political processes, and may therefore serve as an example of Fürsich’s argument that focusing on ‘public quality’ can be important for studying lifestyle journalism. In her studies (see, for example, Fürsich and Avant-Mier 2013; Fürsich 2002), she highlighted how travel and music journalism could and did contribute to public quality in quite important ways. A further case where there is such an opportunity is the fast-growing field of green lifestyle journalism, which has grown out of consumer concerns for the environment. This sub-field is complex in itself, as it is situated within the area of consumption, while at the same time concerned with practices that challenge exactly that order of consumption (Craig 2016). In his analysis of green lifestyle stories in British newspapers’ online editions, Craig (2016) identifies two main types of green lifestyle journalism – one which focuses on the pleasures of a green lifestyle, while the other more explicitly links it to political participation and general environment reporting. The first is a “simple epiphenomenon of consumer culture”, while the second structurally connects it to “broader political and economic manifestations of environmental change” (Craig 2016: 136).

Related to environmental aspects, McGaurr’s work on travel journalism that deals with the Australian island state of Tasmania makes an important contribution to demonstrating how lifestyle journalism can contribute to public quality. In her interviews with foreign travel journalists visiting the state, she found a number of instances where these journalists subverted traditional conventions and engaged in reporting that was critical of environmental issues at the destination (McGaurr 2010, 2012). At the same time, an analysis of Australian travel journalists found that wanting to highlight social or political problems at travel destinations was the least supported role perception among these journalists, with merely one fifth saying it was very or extremely important. Only 45 percent saw it as their role to be critical observers of the tourism industry (Hanusch 2012b).

In terms of a broader view of lifestyle journalists, Hanusch and Hanitzsch’s (2013) in-depth interviews with journalists working across a range of lifestyle beats in Australia and Germany revealed that while providing advice and entertainment were arguably most important to them, many at least aspired to traditional critical ideals of journalism. Hanusch and Hanitzsch noted the ways in which lifestyle journalists resented being seen as doing something less than journalism, arguing that they, too, provided an important contribution to society. Usher’s (2012) interviews with personal technology journalists at The New York Times further demonstrated that these journalists see themselves as upholding traditional tenets of journalism, even if they are also providing advice to audiences.

5.3Commercial and consumerist aspects of lifestyle journalism

These tensions around the provision of critical content in lifestyle journalism tie into another key area of existing work in the field. We have already seen the ways in which lifestyle journalism is closely linked to consumption cultures, making this link a natural entry point for many studies. A number of these analyses have been concerned with shifts over time, highlighting how lifestyle journalism is closely tied to more consumer-oriented content. In China, for example, Chen and Machin (2013) have argued that lifestyle magazines are driving a transition to identities suitable for consumer capitalism. Their analysis of the magazine Rayli shows that such magazines focus on consumerist symbols that are largely oriented towards trivial and petty concerns, arguing that this was “not a world of social responsibility or political agency, but a neo-liberal world of enterprising selfhood and consumer-based individualism” (Chen & Machin 2013: 83). Li’s (2012) interviews with Chinese lifestyle journalists suggest that while they could be described as profit- or market-driven, they also still try to provide a service to their audiences. At the same time, industry insiders claimed it was easy to succumb to advertisers’ demands. In Norway, Puijk’s (2012) analysis of the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK’s provision of lifestyle programs has shown that entertaining lifestyle content has increased on television over time, partly as the broadcasting environment became more competitive with the arrival of commercial channels. This has meant even public broadcasters need to submit to the commercial logic to some extent to tie audiences to their organizations. The distinctions between classic and more consumerist approaches can also be seen in the field of cultural journalism, which, as Kristensen and From (2012) argue, is increasingly difficult to discern from lifestyle journalism. In the case of Portugal, Torres da Silva and Santos Silva (2014) have noted different approaches to cultural journalism in a news magazine and its supplement, with the magazine more focused on a classical artistic approach, while the supplement approaches culture more as a service and consumer good. Similarly, an analysis of arts journalism in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States between 1955 and 2005 has observed an increasingly commercial orientation in this field (Verboord & Janssen 2015).

For lifestyle journalists themselves, the tension between traditional ideals and commercial influences is a topic that is oft-debated. As we have seen, the increase in advertising related to lifestyle journalism’s development has undoubtedly created strong tensions, as have simultaneous pressures from public relations. While PR pressures have had a profound impact on journalism across the board, lifestyle journalists experience them even more acutely. For example, a study of German journalists found that those working on soft news beats such as lifestyle were slightly more strongly influenced by PR in their news coverage, even though the effect size was not great (Obermaier, Koch & Riesmeyer 2015). Australian travel journalists surveyed by Hanusch (2012c) noted that PR professionals exerted significant pressure on their work, but many also saw the positives of this, in that PR material could often provide valuable ideas for their stories. Across lifestyle journalism, most practitioners report advertising and PR as key influences on their work, but some fields appear to be more vulnerable than others. It seems that those working in travel, personal technology, and fashion journalism are most heavily affected in particular by the provision of free products, while commercial influences are stronger in less financially secure organizations (Hanusch, Hanitzsch & Lauerer 2015.).

5.4Democratizing elements in lifestyle journalism

Finally, a fourth area of study in research on lifestyle journalism relates to developments around new technologies, and the effects these have had, particularly in relation to a perceived democratization of the field. This approach is similar to wider developments in journalism studies, which have been concerned with the fact that new technologies have opened access to the media and enabled consumers to become media producers themselves (Bruns 2005). These trends, including the establishment of online blogs and dedicated specialist websites operated by digital entrepreneurs, have been ongoing in journalism for some time, and are increasingly observed in lifestyle journalism. The online developments have multiplied employment options for aspiring lifestyle journalists in a range of ways, enabling them to make a living online by finding their niche. In her study of online fashion blogs, for example, Rocamora (2012) has highlighted the ways in which this format is increasingly impacting established fashion journalism. She argues that the growing prevalence of such blogs has had a democratizing effect on fashion journalism, enabling a wider variety of labels to be presented and critiqued online. Large media organizations thus cannot dictate anymore which labels will be successful, with the online environment now making media access a lesser concern. In studying online and magazine fashion journalism, Boyd (2015) argues that the field’s evolution towards the online environment is creating considerably more diversity in terms of representations as well, with online blogs tending to publish more images of different ethnicities, especially minority women, while also displaying more “curvy” or plus-sized models. Analyses of online developments in other fields come to similar conclusions. Raman and Choudary (2014), for example, note that travel blogs offer an unprecedented open-endedness, which has the potential to open up travel journalism to new and unique practices. They also build communities that are outside the commercialism of mainstream media, thus potentially working against too much of a consumerist approach. Further, a study of travel bloggers and their audiences has shown that while authors lack traditional journalistic practices, they are still trusted and accepted by their audiences, who particularly value their personal and insider nature (Pirolli 2014).

6Future directions

While still viewed condescendingly by some journalists and scholars alike, the field of lifestyle journalism is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. In fact, it appears to be a growing field of media work that is also experiencing increasing popularity among practitioners. Countless journalism students aspire to work in lifestyle beats, the number of specialized training courses and even university degrees is growing, and as the field matures, it is becoming increasingly specialized as well. Far from just publishing “fluff”, the scholarly analyses presented in this chapter show that lifestyle journalism certainly has the capacity to make important and even critical contributions to the public sphere. As we have seen, lifestyle journalism is very closely tied to aspects of consumption and identity, and as such can have significant impact on audiences’ lives. Thus, its role needs to be taken seriously; a fact that is increasingly being recognized by researchers. At the same time, the field remains understudied to some extent, with five key areas in need of further sustained scholarly attention.

  1. As the literature reviewed in this chapter has shown, there is a shortage of work that conceptualizes lifestyle journalism as a broad field and analyzes it as such. Numerous studies focus on individual sub-fields, such as travel, food, fashion, or music. Future studies should, however, aim to take a more comprehensive approach by combining analyses of these different and at times divergent fields, in order to more deeply explore the differences and similarities among them. As recent work has demonstrated, there are important distinctions between sub-fields, yet our understanding of these is at a very early stage. This requires a comparative approach across sub-fields.
  2. A comparative approach is also required on a broader level by comparing lifestyle journalism across different countries in order to better understand the political, economic, social, and cultural contexts in which it operates. Extremely little work exists to this extent, yet comparative studies can significantly enhance our understanding as to, for example, what the conditions best suited to producing lifestyle journalism of public quality are.
  3. Much like journalism more generally, new technologies are impacting lifestyle journalism at an unprecedented rate, yet scholarly research on this aspect is at best in its infancy. This chapter has highlighted some studies that have engaged with the impact of the Internet on established practices of lifestyle journalism, in particular through studying blogs. Such studies are still few and far between, however, with the bulk of work focused on traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, and television. Future work needs to inquire more comprehensively into the impact that the Internet at large, but also tools such as social media may be having on the production and dissemination of lifestyle journalism. A view that sees lifestyle journalism as exclusively the domain of traditional publishers would thus be excluding a significant segment of the field that is increasingly successful in attracting producers and audiences.
  4. Longitudinal studies would help our understanding of various development stages of lifestyle journalism, and to what extent it may be entering the mainstream. Some scholars have noted that lifestyle and popular journalism is moving towards the news sections of newspapers (see, for example, Turner 2014), yet our understanding of the history of how and to what extent exactly this may be happening is still extremely limited. Such studies may also be useful to better comprehend the relationship between cultures of consumption and the development of lifestyle journalism.
  5. The economic conditions of lifestyle journalism need to be better understood. While many studies are concerned with lifestyle journalism’s relationship to larger economic aspects around consumption, there is still precious little work that examines the economic conditions of the field for its practitioners. The enormous economic shifts that have taken place in the media industries – to large extent the result of technological disruption – are having a significant impact on the economics of lifestyle journalism as well, with anecdotal evidence seeing huge increases in the number of freelancers in the field, as well as the importance for new entrants to the field to possess entrepreneurial skills in order to survive financially. These developments are ongoing, and questions need to be asked about the ways in which they are occurring, and what impact they may have on the production and content of lifestyle journalism. The increasingly precarious nature of work in a field that is already closely tied to advertisers’ and public relations interests may have considerable impact on what kind of lifestyle journalism may even be capable of producing public quality.

Much remains to be explored, then, in the field of lifestyle journalism as it continues to grow and continues to have enormous impact on journalism at large. Closely tied to broader societal developments, a deeper and more comprehensive analysis of lifestyle journalism will not only allow us to comprehend the field, but, perhaps even more importantly, allow us to better reflect on the impact the field has on political, economic, social, and cultural processes at large.

Further reading

Bell and Hollows’ (2005) collection Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste offers a thorough introduction to the wider field of lifestyle media, while the book Lifestyle Journalism (Hanusch 2014b) contains a number of useful studies of examples of lifestyle journalism, including chapters which provide theoretical advancement for the field. Further, the first part of Hanusch and Hanitzsch’s (2013) article “Mediating Orientation and Self-Expression in the World of Consumption” offers a useful theoretical discussion and definition of lifestyle journalism. For specialist analyses of different sub-fields, Bradford’s (2015) Fashion Journalism, Voss’s (2014) The Food Section, and Hanusch and Fürsich’s (2014) Travel Journalism provide valuable starting points.

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