A little more than a year ago, I was asked to lead a team to create a new section for The New York Times in response to the sudden and drastic changes to our domestic lives brought about by the pandemic. The first issue of At Home landed on readers’ doorsteps just a couple of weeks later, on April 26, 2020.
Today, after 57 weekly installments, we are publishing the final issue of the At Home print section.
We started the section to serve a specific need: to help readers get through the extraordinary times they were facing, when many cities and towns went into total lockdown. Little was understood about how to control the spread of the coronavirus, and overnight our homes turned into our offices, schools, gyms and more.
The plan was to assemble in one place the best service journalism The Times was publishing, and then supplement it with stories that would help readers continue to lead full lives, even over Zoom and from their living rooms. We laid out a few ground rules that you may (or may not) have noticed. No essays, profiles or trend articles. Every article had to offer actionable advice. Every headline would be a call to action, with a verb exhorting you — the reader — to learn, to grow, to investigate, to understand, to question. In short, to thrive, despite the pandemic. Additionally, 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, communicating the feeling of the moment.
Life, even during a pandemic, needed to be rich and, as much as possible, fun, so we gave you five delicious things to cook each week, suggestions for books, movies, television shows and more to enjoy, and a weekly craft project involving the newspaper — from a simple printer’s hat to a geodesic dome that required 65 double-page sheets of paper to assemble. One of my favorite rituals soon became scanning our email inbox, looking for your photographs of these completed projects, and reading the letters you sent sharing details of your own lives, suggesting subjects we should tackle or, sometimes, taking us to task. The feeling of connection between the section and its readers felt extraordinary to me. I believe it stemmed from a simple fact: The pandemic was not something we as reporters, editors, photo editors and art directors were telling you about; it was something we were living through with you.
Now, the world is changing again, perhaps not as swiftly as it did after March 11 of last year, when it felt as if a metal gate fell, forever dividing time into “before” and “after.” But restrictions on travel are being loosened, masks for many people are becoming a thing of the past, more children are in some form of in-person school and, most important, more than 165 million Americans have been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus.
So we’ve chosen this moment on the cusp of a summer that we hope will be filled with delightfully ordinary joys, to bow off the stage. The Times will continue to offer advice both online and in other print sections, but readers will not find At Home in their Sunday paper. And that’s a good thing. It’s another sign that the journey back to “normal” is underway. As to what comes next …? We are going to take some time to determine that.
But for now, we’ll say goodbye and, with printer’s caps on our heads and flibbers hoisted high, march off into the future.