The Travel Section Was the Original Animals Section
In A.M. Rosethanl’s 2006 obituary in the New York Times, Robert McFadden explains of Rosenthal’s tenure as managing and executive editor:
By the end of the 1960's, The Times, despite a distinguished journalistic history, had a clouded future. Its reporting and writing were widely regarded as thorough but ponderous. Revenues were declining, profits were marginal, circulation was stagnant, and some studies said The Times might be doomed in the age of television to join a dozen New York newspapers in the elephant graveyard.
Mr. Rosenthal's objective, often stated in memos to the staff and in public comments, was a delicate one: to forge dramatic changes in The Times, to erase a stodgy image with a new look and to improve readability and profitability — all this while maintaining the essential character of the newspaper.
Many innovations during Mr. Rosenthal's tenure are familiar components of today's Times. He expanded the weekday paper from two to four parts, including separate metropolitan and business news sections, and inaugurated new feature sections for weekdays: SportsMonday, Science Times on Tuesdays, the Living section on Wednesdays, the Home section on Thursdays and Weekend on Fridays.
Critics said the feature sections undercut The Times's reputation for serious reporting, and some called articles on gourmet cooking and penthouse deck furniture elitist in an age of homelessness and poverty. But defenders said the sections usurped no space from regular news and brightened the paper's tone. The innovations, highly popular with readers and advertisers, were copied by many newspapers across the country.
Mr. Rosenthal also redesigned most of the Sunday feature sections; started suburban weeklies for New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and Westchester County; and began a series of Sunday magazine supplements that focused on business, travel, home entertainment, leisure activities, education, fashion, health and other subjects.
The Sunday innovations drew a similarly split critical reaction — defended as stylish and colorful, disparaged as distractions from important news. But most were also popular with readers and advertisers, and the supplements became sources of large advertising income.
Travel and living sections broke the mold, bringing a new type of content to the Times, and they continue to be extremely popular content sections today. Similarly, Animals is a new kind of leisure content of this era.
For millennials (18-34 year olds that make up 60% of the BuzzFeed audience), a generation born of and native to the web, animals, memes, and web culture are the equivalent of a Travel Section. And just as people wonder at how BuzzFeed can break political, technology, and sports scoops adjacent to adorable animals, so too did 50 years ago people wonder how The Times could have such lighthearted fair as Travel and Cooking adjacent to “real news.”
BuzzFeed actually evolved in reverse, starting with leisure content, albeit a different type of content, and then moved into hard news.
When thinking about Leisure sections, I’m reminded of the phrase “don’t yuck my yum.” As tastes and interests in leisure content change, it’s striking to see the same concerns raised yet again, as the formerly “too light” categories of content like Style or Food, become mainstays and new categories of “too light” fare emerge. It’s the cliche of our parents’ parents saying The Beatles and Elvis are noisy rock, only for our parents in turn to criticize Nirvana. I can only imagine my children’s rock.
Every generation has it’s own pop music, every generation has it’s own Travel Section. The new hard news is hard news. But the new Travel and Fine Dining sections are: animals, memes, animated gifs, and a wide range of social, emotional content that serves as a way for people to express their feelings to one another on Facebook and Twitter. And the new network is the social web.
[Thanks to Les Hinton for pointing me to this obituary and excerpt in response to my query about the rise of sections like Travel.]