Lifestyle writing: My take-aways from AA Patawaran

I’m not a lifestyle journalist and so I haven’t come to know Arnel Patawaran, who is the lifestyle editor of the Manila Bulletin. This is not to say though that I haven’t come across a lifestyle article or that I haven’t read one.

I got acquainted with AA Patawaran after joining the ED Talks: A Journalism Training for Regional Media held August 2019 in Iloilo City and supported by San Miguel Corporation. I was able to attend upon the invitation of Iloilo-based journalist Tara Yap who also facilitated the activity with the help of veteran Ilonggo journalist Runji Jamolo.

The ED Talks is an advocacy of Nate Barreto who served as a former provincial editor for the Manila Bulletin. He retired in November 2018 or after 24 years of service, but he intends to continue working with provincial correspondents on the area of learning and knowledge sharing. 

Admittedly, lifestyle journalism is an under-emphasized area of focus in journalism, especially among regional or provincial journalists. Its coverage is usually subsumed among feature writers, as such, its distinctiveness did not gained much attention and most journalists didn’t find it as a field worthy to build a competency on.

Participants to Ed Talks by San Miguel Corp. and Manila Bulletin held August 2019 in Iloilo City. Photo is by Tara Yap.

The spontaneity by which AA Patawaran discussed lifestyle journalism inferred the magnitude of his experience and that alone solicited respect. By breaking down some of the enduring impressions and misconceptions about lifestyle journalism and the role being played by lifestyle journalists, AA Patawaran conveyed a general aura of humility.

His unpretentious and ‘arrogance-deprived’ character allowed a more relaxed learning experience. It brought about renewed appreciation to lifestyle journalism and it opened points for reflection on lifestyle journalism as practiced by society writers in Iloilo. 

There are few lifestyle writers in this part of the archipelago. Some of them were stereotyped as snobbish, arrogant, and sosyal for they too personify the rich and extravagant high-life of the persons that they write about with branded clothes, luxurious items and jewelries, VIP and exclusive access to clubs and inner circle groups, first class tickets, hotel suites, sports cars, and so on.

This stereotyping perhaps describe the love-hate-relationship between mainstream journalists and lifestyle journalists. Mainstream journalists are uncomfortable with the requisites of lifestyle reportage especially if it will entail events coverage that requires them to dress up, adjust a conduct, or use the lingua franca familiar among PR executives, business intellectuals and CEOs during a conversation.

The gap is also manifested in many ways and foremost of which is the order of priority among topics. Lifestyle reports are mostly assigned on society sections which are buried inside the pages both on print and online. Having understood the nuances of lifestyle journalism and the challenges that lifestyle journalists have confronted in the newsroom, AA Patawaran articulated that writing about lifestyles is news worthy, relevant and with economic value. Therefore, it is unjust to appraise that lifestyle journalism is only for the rich. It can be learned and it is a niche worth pursuing on.  

Today, however, lifestyle journalists have come face-to-face with lifestyle bloggers. The debate is ongoing whether bloggers is an adversary or an associate. One thing is clear though, bloggers have gained access on society events across different classes. Their entry into media coverage have magnified the aspect of competency, professionalism, and competitiveness.

Lifestyle bloggers also have the skills needed in reporting through the use of mobile devices and applications to show a content. While they are not trained as a lifestyle journalists, the method and the language that they use to report an event has obviously posed a challenge to Iloilo’s aging lifestyle writers.

The struggle for relevance has intensified with social media considering that almost everybody is now connected on the internet giving them an unlimited space to post a lifestyle event if only to gain instant praise and affirmation from a virtual audience in the form of likes and positive comments.

Notwithstanding the classes that has defined who we are in society, instant praise and gratification has become everybody’s entitlement. While it may have appeared as a seemingly harmless function of lifestyle journalism, there are journalists who performs this conventional task for the society pages that they manage. 

Facebook have changed all that and the digital natives have generally found this particular function as unnecessary. As AA Patawaran have explained, the audience in our digitized society have found a raw news material as real and genuine. As a result, there is also a diminishing demand for lifestyle journalists if only they function to describe a lifestyle event that might worth a praise.

But lifestyle journalism lives on and apparently AA Patawaran exemplified it. He shared that lifestyle writing is also evolving because lifestyle is a broad concept and it deals with human cultures, behavior, and attitudes. As far as lifestyle is concerned, there is a lot to write about apart from high-society.

First, high society events does not define lifestyle journalism. Although society events are worth covering (and reporting), it must not serve as an end-all of lifestyle journalism. There is a gamut of topics about people’s lifestyle whether they are rich or poor. The type of rice that they eat is also a lifestyle topic.

Their day-to-day attitude of people or how they start or end their day is a lifestyle topic worth writing.   

Second, lifestyle journalism is not an inferior practice in the field of journalism. AA Patawaran recounted an experience about an editorial conference that he attended early on in his career. It left an impression that lifestyle writing is “casual journalism” and that lifestyle writers are “happy-go-lucky workers.” Unlike politics, lifestyle topics may not usually be a headline maker, but it doesn’t mean that it has a low relevance to people and society. 

Lifestyle writing is journalism in a strict sense, said AA Patawaran, because it functions like any other reporting and that is to inform, to entertain, and to empower.

Third, lifestyle journalism carries other significant functions. A lifestyle journalist also plays the role of a service provider, a life’s coach, an entertainer, and a community advocate. Write-ups by lifestyle journalists offers a lot of helpful information that can help the citizenry shape good values.

And one important role that lifestyle writers carry is being a community advocate – pushing the agenda of a community for social good.  AA Patawaran reminded us that “everybody has the power to tell a story and that stories can change lives.” May we recognize this power by writing lifestyle stories that can help change the lives of people for the better.

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