A little over a year ago I was asked to lead a team to create a new division for the New York Times in response to the sudden and drastic changes in our domestic lives caused by the pandemic. The first issue of At Home landed on the readers’ doorstep just a few weeks later, on April 26, 2020.
Today, after 57 weekly installments, we are releasing the final edition of the At Home print area.
We started the section to meet a specific need: to help readers get through the extraordinary times when many cities and towns were completely closed off. Little was understood about how to control the spread of the coronavirus, and overnight our homes turned into offices, schools, gyms, and more.
The plan was to put all the best service journalism The Times published in one place, and then supplement it with stories that would help readers live full lives through Zoom and from their living rooms as well. We’ve made a few basic rules that you may or may not have noticed. No essays, profiles or trending articles. Each article had to provide actionable advice. Each headline would be a call to action, with a verb asking you – the reader – to learn, grow, examine, understand, question. In short, to thrive despite the pandemic. To emphasize the collective nature of our experience, none of our articles would be told in the first person. Our covers would not illustrate specific articles, but would be works of art themselves, conveying the feeling of the moment.
Life had to be rich and as fun as possible even during a pandemic. So every week we gave you five delicious things to cook with, suggestions for books, movies, TV shows, and more, as well as a weekly newspaper crafting project – from a simple printer’s hat to a geodesic dome that required 65 double-sided sheets to assemble. One of my favorite rituals soon was to search our email inbox, look for your photos of these completed projects and read the letters you sent to share details of your own life, suggest topics we should address, or sometimes to make us work. The feeling of connection between the section and its readers felt extraordinary to me. I think it was due to a simple fact: the pandemic wasn’t something we, as reporters, editors, picture editors and art directors, told you about. It was something we went through with you.
Now the world is changing again, maybe not as fast as it was after March 11th last year, when it felt like a metal gate had fallen that forever divides time into “before” and “after”. But travel restrictions are being relaxed, masks for many people are a thing of the past, more children are attending personal school and, most importantly, more than 165 million Americans have been vaccinated at least partially against the coronavirus.
That is why we chose this moment on the cusp of a summer that we hope will be filled with wonderfully ordinary joys to bow off the stage. The Times will continue to provide advice both online and in other print sections, but readers will not find At Home in their Sunday paper. And that’s good. This is another sign that the journey back to “normal” is underway. What’s next …? It will take us some time to find out.
But now we say our goodbyes and march into the future with our printer caps and flippers up.