The Washington Post is creating a wellness department staffed with almost 20 journalists.
The newspaper said the new section will try to relate conventional science reporting to readers’ everyday concerns and that they see it as “essential for our current and future audiences”.
The Post’s managing editor in charge of diversity and inclusion Krissah Thompson told Press Gazette the unique selling point for the wellness coverage will be a mix of accountability, rigour and consumer appeal.
She added that the Post was capitalising on its authoritative reputation with the new department.
“We really feel like we already have some of the world’s best health and science coverage,” she said.
“And this really will form a new department to be fully focused on bringing that into how people live – these questions around lifestyle, the benefits, using a real science-based approach to answer the questions that people have around things like mental health and exercise, [and] coping with the pandemic.”
The new section will be edited by Tara Parker-Pope, who is joining from her role as founding editor of The New York Times’ Well consumer health section, Well. She will begin at the Post on 11 April and the rest of the almost 20-strong team is expected to be up and running by the summer.
Thompson said the Post has benefited from prior experiments with this type of coverage.
“We have a small team at this point that has been focused on wellness coverage, and really found great success in looking at news moments and helping us to understand how they impact our wellness.”
She said the Post describes them as “utility” or “service-oriented” stories.
“There are a range of examples. One of the stories, believe it or not, that did really well last year was just answering the question of how to shower”. (Apparently, you shouldn’t use a scrub or rub yourself dry.)
Another example, she said, was a story published in the wake of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars last month, which “looked at why it was so emotionally impacting for people to see what happened… how people were processing that, and bringing a reporting wellness lens to that news”.
However the investment has come after “months of in-depth research” in which audiences, including younger consumers, told the Post “this is what they’re telling us that they really want and need from us,” Thompson said.
“Health and wellness is a subject area that’s resonating. And so realising that, we feel like the same kind of investment we’ve made in other important areas of coverage, that wellness is ripe for that.”
One such area had been climate, which the Post announced in February would see 20 new positions added this year.
“It’s another subject area that we have consistently heard from our readership that they want more of, and that’s resonating. And we’ve already begun to do that. But we expect to have some significant hires on that team too, in the weeks and months to come.”
The wellness movement has developed a reputation for pseudoscience and misinformation. Would debunking wellness myths form part of the new department’s work?
Thompson said: “This will all be science based. And we have, both in wellness but throughout our coverage, really had a focus on writing about misinformation and disinformation.
“And the coverage will also include the Post’s hallmark investigative deep dives, focused on the healthcare industry, along with consumer-focused pieces that really look at how you navigate the healthcare industry effectively. And we’re going to bring all the aspects of Post journalism, the same rigour we bring to other aspects of our coverage, to wellness.”
From Parker-Pope’s former wellness home at The New York Times to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle venture Goop, there are numerous publishers serving readers wellness news. What will the Post bring to the beat that specialist wellness titles might not?
“Really leaning into the rigour that the Post brings to any subject area is important,” Thompson said.
“We have described our mission as scrutinising power and empowering people. And you can really think about bringing that lens to wellness – the ways in which we’ll bring accountability, strongly fact-based science reporting to this subject area, and then also doing it in a way that is very consumer-oriented and audience-friendly.
“Giving people answers to the questions that they really have as they’re making decisions about how to live their lives.”
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