Guardian’s lifestyle editor on balancing hard news and lighter content

• Newly appointed lifestyle editor Alyx Gorman spoke to Mediaweek

With Guardian Australia recently launching a lifestyle offering, journalist Alyx Gorman was appointed the new section’s editor, overlooking and commissioning stories that illuminate how Australians are living now. Gorman shared with Mediaweek how the launch of the new section came about, how Guardian Australia balances hard news and lighter content, and her plans with the section in 2020 as recently appointed lifestyle editor.

Gorman has been working as a lifestyle journalist for 12 years at media outlets including Fairfax and Bauer. “Prior to coming to Guardian Australia, I spent four years working with Time Out – in Australia as editorial director and then in New York and London as Time Out Group’s global strategy and engagement lead, overseeing our social media and video departments, as well as elements of our digital strategy,” Gorman told Mediaweek. “If you ever need a travel recommendation, you know where to find me!” 

Gorman said the lifestyle section has a small team of two; herself and her boss – Guardian Australia‘s associate editor (features, lifestyle, and membership) – Lucy Clark. “But, we work with a large stable of freelance writers and experts, like the brilliant organic farmer Palisa Anderson who writes a weekly column on growing and cooking fresh produce, and stylist Emma Read who curates our monthly shopping page.

“You’ll also find voices you already know from Guardian Australia in the section, like Alex Spring, who writes a heart-warming weekly column How We Stay Together profiling couples in long term relationships; and Josephine Tovey, who writes for us fortnightly.”

Gorman told Mediaweek that Guardian Australia will always, first and foremost, focus on incisive reporting on the issues that matter. “Our expansion recently hasn’t just been into lifestyle, we’ve also grown our news desk, launched a podcast Full Story – which I’m obsessed with, you should really listen – and expanded our investigations and environment coverage.

Lifestyle is there to act as a bit of reprieve from the news cycle, which can feel pretty grim – especially lately. And also to equip our readers with the information they need to navigate our turbulent times on an individual level. It’s our sprinkle of brown sugar to make the carrots caramelise properly.

Gorman said she wasn’t in the room at the time, but she has her suspicions of why the lifestyle offering now exists. “I suspect the decision to create a lifestyle section came because we knew our growing audience was ready for lighter stories from us – and because we wanted to introduce new audiences to what Guardian Australia does, in ways that appeal to their passions and interests.

“When we launched our lifestyle section, we wanted to take a very Guardian approach to lifestyle. That means grappling with leisure and domesticity with the same rigorous journalistic approach, and brilliant writing you see across the rest of Guardian Australia‘s offering. It also meant creating a section that really spoke to the issues our readers are passionate about – be it global heating, ethical eating or how the ways in which we relate to each other as families, couples and friends are changing.”

Gorman said the section isn’t just about being purposeful, it’s also about finding the joy and humour in life and looking at the lighter side of things. “A couple of months after the section launched, we also started working with Guardian Australia‘s culture desk on a Saturday morning email – Saved For Later – which is a really fun primer on the lighter side of life from Guardian and beyond; whether it’s the show everyone’s talking about, the funniest challenge on TikTok that week or a really juicy, thoughtful long read.”

When it comes to what Gorman is looking for from journalists, she’s wanting first person and reported features that really speak to what it feels like to live in Australia right now. “Whether that’s Jayne Tuttle writing about the difficult decisions you have to make as an Australian parent living overseasLuke Ryan trying to live like a Hemsworth for a week, or Wendy Syfret exploring the alluring but unsettling world of micro-apartments.

“Pitches that are tied to the news cycle or a major trend and feel very ‘of the moment’ are hugely welcome; but so are evergreen stories that are useful, funny or just make you feel something.”

In terms of PR, Gorman said most of their features aren’t really PR-led. “Although we do some shopping stories, we don’t tend to cover things like product launches or new lines. I’m always interested in hearing about fascinating people to interview as well as new data and survey results (as long as the methodology behind them checks out).

“This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send me press releases – it’s very useful for me to know as much about what’s going on as possible; just that it’s more likely what you send will end up as part of a broader trend piece, rather than a stand-alone feature about brand x’s new y.”

Gorman said the lifestyle offering consists of content surrounding sustainability, travel, food, fashion, fitness and wellbeing, relationships, homes, even a bit of personal finance. “I don’t have a favourite section per-se, but one of my favourite things to edit is definitely a really well-thought-out trend piece that collates an idea or phenomenon that’s been bubbling under the surface and really explains why it’s happening and what it means for people.” 

Gorman revealed that the tone of the lifestyle section is pretty varied. “We can be gleefully silly or beautifully poignant, depending on the writer and the topic at hand. It’s about finding an approach that suits the story you’re trying to tell at the time. For more service-driven features, I always prefer they’re written with one eyebrow raised, so they’re fun and relatable to read, as well as functional.”

In terms of their demographic, Gorman said it’s really more of a psychographic. “We want to appeal to audiences who are smart, curious, open and progressive – and deliver them the kind of coverage they crave and deserve. Traditionally, lifestyle skews a little female, but I don’t see why men wouldn’t be interested in great weeknight recipes or a juicy first person story too.

When asked what her plans are for the section in 2020, Gorman said it’s still early days. “As the section grows and we learn more about what resonates with our audience, we switch up the mix to make sure we’re serving our readers’ needs. I’m looking forward to finding new voices (pitch me!) and working on some larger projects as we learn more about what’s important to our readers.”

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