In 2012, they said the world will end. In 2013, they are saying lifestyle journalism is dying a slow death!
I am opinionated but I prefer to keep most of my opinions to myself even when I have a reasonably active Facebook account and a slightly ignored Twitter account. But this time around I decided to get vocal with my thoughts on the ‘hype’ surrounding the death of lifestyle journalism because of the sudden action by Outlook group announcing the closure of its three licensed international publications, and Yes, it is extremely sad to see so many people losing their jobs in a jerk but I am not convinced that this is the end. How can it be? I don’t have statistics to share but a trip to any of the magazine vendors is enough to convince me that a lifestyle magazine is born every fortnight, a lifestyle journalist every day and a lifestyle blogger every hour. So it saddens me to think that shutting down of a handful of magazines is making us believe that soon there will be a time when no woman with kohl-rimmed eyes will pick up a magazine to know what she can cook for a festive dinner or how she can keep the flowers fresh. Or no man with his ‘magazines and soaps are for women’ attitude will flip through a magazine to read what are the latest boy toys or fairness products on the shelves. When you finish reading this piece I hope you understand that lifestyle journalism is not a frivolous fad but a real job, the death of lifestyle magazines (if it happens) can’t be blamed on the content of the magazines and that there are enough supporters, readers and writers to keep lifestyle journalism alive, kicking, FBing, blogging and tweeting!
When I landed in Dubai a few months back I had two choices, one to join a full time job as an editor of a lifestyle magazine or two, to start my own lifestyle magazine. I took the risk and chose the latter, my e-magazine for NRIs in Dubai is just one-issue old and I am facing teething problems in running the show. Yes, in the magazine we talk of Bollywood, gourmet, telly, fashion, memories…and the other ‘blah blah’ of lifestyle journalism and each time I approach an advertiser I fear he/she would tell me that they have enough ‘Likes’ on Facebook so they don’t need to place an advertisement. Each time I prepare an edit list of the magazine I am faced with the ultimate question, ‘What’s new in this? We’ve all been there; written that, read that…” Each time an intern (in the very Ranbir Kapoor of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) answers the question I want to be a journalist by saying, ‘I want to travel and host a travel show’ I am reminded of my days as an intern when for the first year all I was allowed to cover for the local city supplement were management seminar and blood donation camps. Yes, things have changed and will probably get worse with Google writing most of our copies, pre-framed emails forming our interview questionnaires and celebs sprouting faster than saplings but I am still not convinced that lifestyle journalism is a job that deserves no respect or lifestyle magazines deserve no readers. Yes, they say lifestyle journalism is the so-called easiest job on earth, often referred to one that allows you to get your hands on freebies but it is still not something that everyone can handle! You may be a party-hopper but what if your job involved attending parties and taking quotes from ‘not-so-sober’ socialites at one am? You may love the sight of free MAC products reaching your desk but can you work insane hours to meet deadlines at unearthly hours? You may get puppy-eyed at the chance of interviewing stars but do you have the patience to wait for them for hours and then keep mum when they annoy you with their egoistic replies (a lot of us have done that for we have a boss waiting for a story in the office)? Perhaps, not. And to top it all can you deal with people who think all you do at your job is take smoke breaks, attend fashion events, drink in evenings, go for food reviews….? Having said that I still know a lot of journalists who don’t behave like malnourished African kids at the sight of lavish spreads at press conferences or barter bridal spa packages for half-page coverage in the magazines. Yes, we don’t bring you the breaking news, we are not activists…we create leisure reading, something different than that daily dose of what’s happening in the zone of ‘timeliness’. Journalism is information about people/world on a public platform, nobody ever defined the contours of its context, weren’t we taught at our journalism schools about the hard and soft aspects of it? Yes, we sell dreams…we talk of what you should have, aspire for… we talk of things that we (journos) can’t afford… In my last job, I was the editor of a magazine of a luxury automobile brand while I drove a humble compact hatchback that came at a price of my annual salary (including the standard performance appraisal). But what’s wrong in selling aspirations and dreams? Why can’t we accept the journalism that extends beyond fierce reporting on rape cases or scams? Yes, we’re here to entertain you and that’s our job and we are not ashamed of it.
Now if lifestyle magazine will die it will not be because we are failing at making a reader read, re-read and re-visit the list of summer fashion essentials but because we simply don’t want to READ anymore beyond 200 words on FB or 140 characters on Twitter. We still love to know what’s happening in the life of SRK as much as we want to gossip about the lady in the neighbourhood. We still pick up a magazine to know the various options to dine or holiday at. We still take pictures, from a magazine, of a showstopper at a fashion show and take it to our local tailor to get the same outfit… There are still many more investing in starting new magazines every day! I for one, with no funds at hand, am still hoping that one day I will print my mag! How do I explain this better? Aah, that there are still many who prefer the smell and sound of flipping paper? Or that you can’t swat a fly with a laptop or kindle but can with a magazine? Or that you will get constipated if you don’t read a magazine on the shit pot? Electronic is the way but the death of lifestyle journalism has nothing to do with what we’re filling in the pages! And then here’s the stark truth lifestyle journalism will survive for all of us writers, together, will make sure it does. When I blog, I expect people to comment on it and to initiate the flow of comments on my blog I have to take out time to visit and comment on the blogs of others. When I put a status message on Facebook I know mostly those are going to ‘Like’ or ‘Comment’ on it on whose pictures & status messages I have made my presence felt. When I get a by-line I want my fellow journos to read it, and he/she will, if I also take interest in his/her writing. So we will help each other survive. I don’t know how to end this rather long piece but people keep the faith, we are not a dying breed nor are we in a dying profession!! And yes, till we don't respect what we do no one else will! And I can say so for I am at a position where I am responsible both for bringing in money in the magazine but also creating content for it.