It makes practical sense that The New York Times would temporarily stop printing the travel section. But it's hard not to see the symbolism of the move.
As if the travel industry needed more confirmation of its crisis, The New York Times travel section will temporarily stop appearing in the Sunday print edition, as first reported by Cheddar.
The reason for the pause is obvious: At present, no one can travel. In addition to the travel section, the sports section will be temporarily dropped as a stand-alone print section, and both will be replaced by a new quarantine-focused lifestyle section called At Home. The new section will debut this Sunday and will be edited by Amy Virshup, the Times’ travel editor, “at least through the duration of the pandemic,” according to a statement from Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet.
Skift reached out to Virshup, who said the Travel section will continue to publish content online, in the form of “news, service and more essayistic or creative pieces, rather than destination coverage.” While some of that coverage will be online only, other travel-focused stories will appear in appropriate print sections of the paper. Travel will also continue to have a digital section front, she said.
While the rationale behind the move makes practical sense, it is somewhat symbolic, too. Even before the pandemic, what remained of travel sections in mainstream media publications occupied a strange position. Generally avoiding the geopolitical and business forces that underpin the industry, they focused on the seemingly uncomplicated business of telling people where to go. The Times’ Travel section’s marquee yearly feature, “52 Places to Go” — released in January, with a virtual version appearing in mid-April — was a perfect example of what most people expected when they read a story about “travel.”
But as recently discussed in a livestream with Skift editors, the role of travel media — and media who cover travel — has been upended by the coronavirus crisis. Instead of being covered as a “lifestyle” topic, or a fragmented collection of industries, the global travel industry as a whole has become ground zero for one of the biggest stories of modern times. Suddenly, a section focused solely on trip inspiration and tips seems to miss the point. Travel’s story has become much bigger.
“Over the last ten, fifteen, twenty years the travel sections for most of the newspapers had gone away — all the smaller and the midsize [papers] except for some exceptions like The New York Times etc. And so even people who are covering travel from a leisure perspective had basically gone away,” Skift founder Rafat Ali said in the conversation in mid-April.
While the Times has said the travel section will return, it’s hard to imagine it returning in exactly the same form as it was in the pre-Covid times. Travel — and the coverage about it — will never be the same.
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Photo credit: The New York Times Travel section Skift