On a recent cover of The New York Times’s At Home section, a mother and her grown child clasp hands. The older hands are weathered, the younger ones brightly tattooed. Two generations come together, having moved through the shared experience of the past year. Beneath the illustration, a headline captures the sentiment: “We’re reaching out and holding on.”
For over a year, while the world endured lockdowns and other coronavirus restrictions, that blend of empathy and hope has come to define At Home, a section that has offered a sense of solidarity along with practical advice for readers who were suddenly faced with making the most of life largely within four walls.
Now, as pandemic restrictions fade, readers tiptoe or stride back into the world and The Times covers the many facets of reopening, the weekly At Home print section in the Sunday Times is coming to a close. The last edition will appear on May 30, although a digital iteration will continue online.
At Home “was really born of this moment when we all kind of needed guidance and help,” said Amy Virshup, the editor of At Home. “We tried to create a supportive culture in the section itself.”
The section began as an attempt to provide comfort in an abruptly distorted way of life, as well as to fill the void left by a Travel print section on hiatus. (Ms. Virshup is also the Travel editor.) A band of designers and editors — many of whom had never met before the lockdown — volunteered to produce layouts and content in addition to their regular duties at The Times.
The section they shaped evolved into a resource for many readers, dispensing tips on cooking, entertainment, parenting, wellness, working from home and just passing the time constructively.
From the start, “there was a clear reader need for distraction, for empathy, for understanding,” said Sam Sifton, an assistant managing editor at The Times who oversees the At Home team.
The section also published observations and suggestions from readers, whose personal reflections, in many cases, felt universal. One reader, in response to an article about how to listen to family members, wrote that reading the story was “like a warm hug.”
For the At Home team, fostering a connection with readers was a constant goal. “One of the things that we did every week is this activity where you’d interact physically with the newspaper,” Ms. Virshup said.
Readers received instructions on how to craft the newspaper into items like Halloween masks or piñatas, then would send in photographs of their finished projects. In some cases, the team would get dozens of pictures.
“There were a lot of great elements in the section that might lead to the possibility of a new section, or could be put to use elsewhere in the paper,” said Tom Jolly, associate masthead editor, who oversees the print newspaper.
At Home “rose to the moment, because it was a moment,” Mr. Jolly added, referring to the pandemic’s impact on everyone. “That’s one of the things that made the section unique: It was a touchstone for that experience.”
The feedback from readers — both positive and negative — continually helped the team refine its offerings. “The mental health tips are great — the list of superlatives is endless,” one reader wrote. Another was “appalled” by the plates of untouched food in a dirty sink featured on one cover.
“I love to see that circle develop where readers are seeing themselves in our coverage,” Mr. Sifton said. “And we’re seeing them and assigning coverage that allows that to continue.”
The twice-weekly digital At Home newsletter, written by Melissa Kirsch, an assistant editor for Culture and Lifestyle, will continue — it will change to At Home and Away this week and will touch on travel — as will her monitoring of the At Home inbox. Reader emails provided “a sense of the global community of people that were mostly at home during this time,” Ms. Kirsch said.
The newsletter beckons people to write in and often incorporates their musings or responses to prompts. A friendly instruction toward the bottom says, simply, “Tell us.”
That approach proved effective for the print section, too, judging from the constant stream of letters received. And though the section is going away, the body of work that resulted from that ethos is a point of pride for the At Home team.
“We made this bet that we were going to be radically empathetic toward the reader,” Mr. Sifton said. “And I think that was a good bet.”