On a recent cover in the At Home section of the New York Times, a mother and her adult child shake hands. The older hands are patinated, the younger ones tattooed in bright colors. Two generations have come together, having gone through the shared experience of the past year. Below the illustration, a headline captures the sentiment: “We’re reaching out and holding on. “
For more than a year, as the world suffered lockdowns and other coronavirus-related restrictions, this blend of empathy and hope came to define At Home, a section that offered a sense of solidarity as well as practical advice for readers who have suddenly been confronted with living most of life largely within four walls.
Now, as pandemic restrictions fade, readers tiptoe or re-enter the world, and The Times covers the many facets of the reopening, the Sunday Times’ weekly print At Home section comes to an end. . The latest edition will be released on May 30, although a digital iteration continues online.
At Home “really grew out of a time when we all needed advice and help,” said Amy Virshup, editor-in-chief of At Home. “We tried to create a culture of support in the section itself. “
The section began as an attempt to provide comfort in a sharply warped lifestyle, as well as fill the void left by a travel print section on hiatus. (Ms Virshup is also the editor of Travel.) A group of designers and writers – many of whom had never met before the lockdown – volunteered to produce layouts and content in addition to their regular duties at The Times.
The section they shaped has become a resource for many readers, offering tips on cooking, entertainment, parenting, wellness, working from home, and just spending time constructively.
From the start, “the reader clearly needed distraction, empathy, understanding,” said Sam Sifton, associate editor of The Times who oversees the At Home team.
The section also posted comments and suggestions from readers, whose personal reflections, in many cases, seemed universal. One reader, responding to an article on how to listen to family members, wrote that reading the story was “like a warm hug.”
For the At Home team, fostering a link with readers was a constant goal. “One of the things we did every week was this activity where you physically interacted with the newspaper,” Ms. Virshup said.
Readers were given instructions on how to turn the journal into items such as Halloween masks or piñatas, and then sent in photographs of their finished projects. In some cases, the team would get dozens of photos.
“There were a lot of great elements in the section that could lead to the possibility of a new section, or could be used elsewhere in the newspaper,” said Tom Jolly, associate editor, who oversees the print newspaper.
At Home “passed just now, because it was a moment,” Jolly added, referring to the impact of the pandemic on everyone. “That’s one of the things that made the section unique: it was a touchstone for this experience. “
Reader feedback, both positive and negative, has continuously helped the team refine their offerings. “Mental health advice is great – the list of superlatives is endless,” wrote one reader. Another was “appalled” by the plates of intact food in a dirty sink appearing on a blanket.
“I love to see this circle grow where readers see themselves in our coverage,” said Sifton. “And we see them and give coverage that allows that to continue. “
The bi-weekly digital newsletter At Home, written by Melissa Kirsch, associate editor for Culture and Lifestyle, will continue – she will become At Home and Away this week and cover travel – as will her watch of the At Home inbox. . The readers’ emails provided “a sense of the global community of people who were mostly at home during this time,” Ms. Kirsch said.
The newsletter invites people to write and often incorporates their thoughts or responses to the prompts. A friendly downward instruction simply says “Tell us.” “
This approach has proven to be effective for the print section as well, judging by the constant flow of letters received. And although the section is gone, all of the work that has resulted from this philosophy is a point of pride for the At Home team.
“We made the bet that we were going to be radically empathetic to the reader,” Sifton said. “And I think it was a good bet.”