Too similar or very dissimilar? In conversation with lifestyle journalists about Instagram influencers


There is a considerable overlap in the themes and functions of lifestyle journalists and influencers. Do lifestyle journalists feel threatened by this regarding their professional existence?

Article by Adriana Sofia Palloks (✉

Within the scope of a qualitative study conducted by the University of Vienna and the Appalachian State University, 63 lifestyle journalists from Austria and the United States were interviewed on their perceptions toward Instagram and influencers. Specifically, the researchers wanted to investigate "how journalists deal with this "type of threat" and how their profession has changed since the presence of their competitors, explains co-study author Folker Hanusch. The interviews were held from September 2020 to February 2021. The interview recordings were transcribed and translated into English, resulting in a consistent analysis material for the researchers. These were analyzed in several stages and compared with each other to determine possible differences and overlaps in the reactions of lifestyle journalists to influencers.

With the rise of the image- and video-based social platform Instagram, a new profession has emerged whose actors are known as influencers. They serve as role models for their followers and share recommendations on various lifestyle products and services. What many people may not be aware of is that conventional lifestyle journalists have come under strong pressure from these "semi-journalistic competitors" who deal with similar topics. For instance, "influencers who have a high reach are often preferred at fashion shows because companies hope to get less critical coverage from them," explains study co-author Folker Hanusch.

In this context, the present study investigated the extent to which the presence of Instagram influencers affects the profession of lifestyle journalists. For the study, 63 journalists from Austria and the United States were recruited through a purposeful sampling method and interviewed in depth. The interviews were held between September 2020 and February 2021, transcribed, and analyzed in multilevel procedures with the goal of identifying possible differences or comparisons in the journalists' experiences interfacing with Instagram influencers. How does the existence of influencers impact the everyday professional lives of lifestyle journalists?

The golden years of travel journalism have faded with the influx of travel influencers

Many lifestyle journalists partially recognize the work of influencers as a journalistic practice, since they inform their audience about certain topics, e.g. in the form of articles. On the one hand, this poses the risk that they take on the role of journalists; at the same time, this competition motivates journalists to perform their work even better than their contenders. The co-existence of the two professions undoubtedly creates tensions, as the interviewees report. The change is particularly noticeable in travel journalism; in the past, travel journalists were "spoiled" with research trips. However, with the influx of Instagram influencers, such assignments and funding are stagnating.

Journalists are distinguished by their critical reporting

Even though influencers have entered the journalistic field, lifestyle journalists still try to distinguish themselves from them by referring to traditional principles of journalism such as "neutrality" or "independence". The researchers view this justification critically, as lifestyle journalism is also influenced by commercial interests. The interviewees expressed that, in contrast to influencers, they would engage in critical reporting, especially through elaborate research and questioning. In their view, influencers were primarily motivated by monetary considerations and would only promote those products for which they were paid.

Lastly the journalists were asked which professional characteristics they would use to distinguish themselves from influencers. In the interviews, the concepts of audience proximity and the notion of professionalism emerged. The interviewees argued that lifestyle journalists own a large general audience, to which they maintain a distance. Instagram influencers, on the other hand, would tend to target a niche audience of younger age, to whom they have a closer connection due to their self-portrayal. In addition, journalists see themselves as professional actors in the dissemination of information, which would also set them apart from influencers.

The respondents draw a clear line between lifestyle journalists and influencers

In summary, lifestyle journalists recognize some of the activities of Instagram influencers as journalistic practice(s). Nevertheless, it is important for them to distinguish themselves from them due to the differences presented and to classify those (influencers) at the edge of the journalistic field. "This is interesting in that lifestyle journalists have traditionally been seen by, for example, political journalists as being on the periphery of the journalistic field. This gave the lifestyle journalists an opportunity to feel that they belonged more to the core of journalism and to argue that they did," Hanusch concludes.

Publication details

Perreault, G., & Hanusch, F. (2022). Field insurgency in lifestyle journalism: How lifestyle journalists marginalize Instagram influencers and protect their autonomy. Advance online publication. New Media & Society. doi:10.1177/14614448221104233 (Image © Yan Krukov)

Gregory Perreault Associate Professor of Journalism in the Department of Communication at the Appalachian State University. (Image © Gregory Perreault)


Folker Hanusch is Professor of Journalism at the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna, Austria. (Image © Folker Hanusch)