Lori Leibovich on How She Approaches an Evolving and Expanding Health Beat

From a Times Insider column by Sarah Diamond headlined “Getting Well With Lori Leibovich”:

The editor of Well shares why she tries to be a stand-in for readers when she is editing, and how the desk is diving deep into mental health.

One might think that Lori Leibovich, the editor of the Well desk at The New York Times, has an ultra-rigorous wellness regimen. In reality, Ms. Leibovich approaches her health just like most Times readers do. “I don’t have some crazy fitness routine, and I’m not taking fistfuls of supplements,” she said in a recent interview. “I just feel worse when I don’t take good care of myself.” For Ms. Leibovich, that means going for walks and meditating for 10 minutes a day — what she calls her “non-negotiables.”

A longtime health and lifestyle journalist, Ms. Leibovich joined The Times in 2021 following leadership roles at outlets such as Time Inc., The Huffington Post and The Skimm. Below, Ms. Leibovich shares how she approaches an evolving and ever-expanding beat. Her responses have been edited and condensed.

How did you learn to cover the lifestyle, health and wellness beat?
I have always applied the same reporting rigor to lifestyle topics as my colleagues have to news, business and sports. At a time when there is rampant misinformation about health, we’re providing something unique at The Times because of how rigorous we are with our reporting. I want to make sure the information we’re giving readers is going to help them lead safer and healthier lives.

Why is a reader-first approach so important for the Well desk?
Whether the topic is mental health, physical health, families or relationships, the takeaways really matter to people. We’re not just entertaining them. We’re not always delivering straight news. We’re providing guidance around the topics that people are the most concerned about, so it feels extra important to get it right. Of course, it’s always important to get it right, but it feels like the impact here is immediate.

What is the editorial strategy behind Well’s coverage?
It’s a combination of what is surprising and what is universal. Or, when we’re covering something like Covid-19, we’re trying to anticipate and report on the questions that readers have. We also have different beats that we cover, such as mental health, relationships and fitness. We try to stay ahead of the curve and report on trends in those areas. We listen to our readers and do call outs around topics that are important to them. We did this last year for a big story about sleep and got thousands of responses.

Are there types of stories or projects you want to see more of or introduce?
Right out of the gate at The Times, I really wanted the section to double down on mental health. It was clear for years before the pandemic that we were struggling with a mental health crisis in this country. Now the pandemic has made that a lot worse for people of all ages, backgrounds and genders. I assigned a reporter and an editor to cover that beat, and we’ve done some outstanding work in that area. We’re also continuing to cover the virus and are looking at more aspects of functional medicine like psychedelics.

We’re also trying to have more fun with fitness. We just launched a column called Why Not Try, which gives people an accessible way to try new, exciting activities such as biking and kayaking. We also launched a video a couple of months ago called The Joy Workout, which provides fitness coverage that is less about calories burned and more about bringing people joy through movement. A huge part of what keeps people healthy is their relationships, so I also hired a reporter to cover that beat.

Do you have a dream Well project?
This question makes me think of one of my favorite movies of all time, “Boyhood.” Richard Linklater, the director, followed a mother and father and their kids over the course of 12 years and captured the family at different moments. I’ve always thought about that movie and wished that, journalistically, I could launch a project like that. Illness and the art of healing are long and complicated and bumpy. Relationships are complicated and bumpy. Sometimes a snapshot doesn’t tell the full story, and things can change so quickly. It would be really nice to have a longer story arc.

What is your approach to editing?
I have two hats on: the editor and the reader. I am a voracious consumer of media, so I know when an article loses me. Sometimes it’s because of the length, but sometimes it’s because the writer has gotten too in the weeds and I’ve lost the thread. I try to be a stand-in for the reader when I’m editing. I’m hoping that we are the one-stop shop for trusted guidance and that we cut through the noise to get readers the answers they are looking for.

You’ve been covering this beat for a long time. Where does your personal passion for this type of journalism come from?
If I hadn’t become a journalist, I would have become a therapist. I come from a family of therapists; my father was a psychiatrist, and my mother is a psychiatric social worker. So much of what drives me is understanding the things that shape our lives. I’m curious about a lot of things, but the things that really fascinate me are human behavior and the way that our minds and bodies work.

What I hope comes through in our coverage is empathy — the idea that we’re all trying our best and that we’re all in this human experience together. We’re all trying to figure out how to be as healthy and happy as we can be. If we can give people the tools to take care of themselves and their families, to be a better friend, partner or parent, that’s what we want to do.

Sarah Diamond manages production for narrated articles. She previously worked at National Geographic Studios.

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