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We're taking a fresh look at your Lifestyle

July 03, 2005|by JAKE WOMER

I feel like a newspaper god shook me and slapped me on the back of the head as if knocking on the back of a plugged ketchup bottle to get the ideas flowing again.

As Lifestyle editor, I had been more or less tending the section, getting part of the paper out every day. But we weren't necessarily improving the past couple of months.

But that changed last month.

It happened at a weeklong seminar at the American Press Institute in Reston, Va. The institute offers more than 40 seminars per year to develop media industry leaders. This one, though, was made for lifestyle editors.

It's exhilarating to be reminded that typical lifestyle section content - health and fitness, entertainment, feature stories, etc. - forms some of the most widely read in many newspapers.

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The topics, issues and people we write about are sometimes fascinating, other times fun, at the very least interesting - I hope.

But we can do better, and you'll be seeing some changes that we are planning with that in mind.

The Hamilton Spectator in Hamilton, Ontario, went so far as to overhaul its publication, killing the business section, lifestyle section and entertainment sections. The Spectator launched a new lifestyle-type daily section - equal in size to its hard news section. A single section can span 20 pages with food, style, entertainment, health and fitness, pop culture, shopping and more.

We're not aiming for anything that radical, but I have some new ideas.

A presentation on the changes at the Spectator got me thinking about the theme sections that make up Lifestyle during the week. Does a Health section, a Food section or a Family section serve readers better than one that mixes such stories? Would it be better to have a story on making hot dogs more appealing on the same page as a health story about new procedures to improve eyesight and a preview of the Gin Blossoms concert July 9?

Well, that's a mountain to climb later.

The first project we're working on is punching up the weekly Next page for teens. Assistant Lifestyle Editor Chris Copley has recruited about 20 young writers and photographers to start producing stories they want to read.

Their first stories will run Tuesday: We have the scoop on a little-known place where hanging out is encouraged; two teens size up the movie behemoth "War of the Worlds"; and one writer found a cool Web site to recommend.

It's a start.

We're looking for more. We need a fashionista to find unique styles. I'm looking for a couple of video game players to tackle the newest games and compare notes.

And, if you have an iPod, tell us your top 10 songs. Just flip me an e-mail.

Teenagers and young adults are writing for the page - which will be expanding to two pages - but it's for anyone who feels young, follows pop culture and tech trends, or is just looking for things to do.

It should be an evolutionary process that leads to a redesigned, renamed section.

After that, we'll be looking for new ways to reflect a growing interest in home entertainment - DVDs, video games, the Internet.

Does anybody go out anymore? I hope so because another project will be to take a fresh look at our Thursday entertainment section, Out & About.

And then ... Well, I'm running out of space, but not ideas.

Jake Womer is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340, or by e-mail at jakew@herald-mail.com.

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